HAT I SAW AND HEARD at Our Lady of the Atonement during my all-too-brief visit went far beyond what I had gleaned about the place from other sources. Fr Christopher Phillips has helped to build a tremendous team who have created an atmosphere where the very air you breathe is Catholic! The care for the sacred liturgy and discipleship formation, the school, the music: I recommend to every priest, school principal and church musician that they make a long visit and learn from what they have accomplished there in such a short time. May their tribe increase: floreat atque vivat!
— Rev. Fr. Christopher Smith
ANY READERS will be familiar with Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas. As the founding parish for the Anglican Use Liturgy within the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, it was established as a Personal Parish under the terms of the Pastoral Provision promulgated by St. John Paul II (1980). It was canonically erected on August 15, 1983, the same date on which the founding pastor, Rev. Christopher G. Phillips, a former Episcopalian priest, was ordained to the Presbyterate. The title “Our Lady of the Atonement” originated in the Episcopal Church in the 19th century, and was brought into the Catholic Church by the Graymoor Friars and Sisters of the Atonement in 1909. It is the only parish in the United States under the patronage of this particular title of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
From its very modest beginnings — eighteen members in all including Fr. Phillips, his wife and their five children — the parish has grown to over six hundred households. Throughout its history, the parish has never lost sight of one of its most important founding principles: the preservation, nurture, and sharing of the Anglican patrimony. One of the most tangible elements of this patrimony is the reverence of the liturgies, as celebrated according to the Book of Divine Worship, as well as its extraordinary sacred music program. Since 2004, the music program of the church and school has been under the leadership of Edmund and Chalon Murray, a husband and wife team who left thriving music programs in Boston — Edmund at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, and Chalon at a large parish metrowest of Boston — to make a leap of faith and move their family to San Antonio. Together, with the support of the pastor, they have built a program of exceptional breadth and quality.
The Atonement Academy
A significant element in the growth of the parish has been the development of the parish school. In 1993, just after the tenth anniversary of the canonical erection of the parish, permission was sought to establish a parish school. When permission was granted by the archbishop, the members of the parish were able to accumulate sufficient funds in just six weeks which would allow the building project to proceed. On August 15, 1994, The Atonement Academy opened its doors with an enrollment of sixty-six (66) students in grades Kindergarten through Third. Additional grades were added each year. The upper school opened in 2004 and today the Academy has over five hundred fifty (550) students in grades Pre-Kindergarten through Twelfth. The Academy’s mission statement compels students “to strive for excellence in the physical, the intellectual, and the spiritual virtues through a challenging course of classical and Catholic education.”
Since the very beginning, music has been an integral part of the curriculum. Part of Fr. Phillips’ vision in founding the school was to make the study of music available to every student and to become, in essence, though not in name, a choir school. However, unlike most choir school the students are not auditioned. Each student who attends The Atonement Academy receives choral music instruction four or five days per week for a total of approximately three hours per week. The curriculum includes age appropriate training in music theory, ear training, sight-singing and repertoire development. Elements from various music education methods are employed including Ward, Kodaly and Royal School of Church Music. The repertoire is founded on the English choral tradition, and draws from the best Catholic and Anglican sources. The Murrays are assisted by three additional faculty members: Miss Laura Johnson, Mr. Gary Marks and Mrs. Amy Zuberbueler, Director of the Ward Center of San Antonio.
One of the most unique aspects to the education of students at The Atonement Academy is attendance at daily Mass. Each day the entire student body participates in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. On Monday through Thursday, the Mass is celebrated according to the Book of Divine Worship. On Fridays the Mass is celebrated in Latin according to the Ordinary Form. Each day, the music is provided by one of the school choirs which leads the singing of the hymn and the Ordinary of the Mass, and also sings an anthem or motet appropriate to the day or season. In addition, a schola of high school men sings a Communion antiphon taken from the Graduale Romanum, Graduale Simplex or one of the many collections of English propers. On feast days and solemnities the schola sings the complete Propers.
We hope you enjoyed this guest series by Mæstro Edmund Murray.