Priest as Music Man
By Ted Alcuitas
”I …thought his soul was in his fingers,” was how one priest described Fr. Geoffrey Angeles’ playing the piano, leading him to recommend that he (Angeles) be one of the composers for the mass setting of the new Liturgical Music introduced tin 2208.
Fr. Angeles’ ‘Gloria’, composed together with John Dawson of Toronto, and Michel Guimont, the organist at the Roman Catholic cathedral in Ottawa is now officially part of the Catholic Church hymns.
The 38-year-old Winnipeg native is the only Manitoban and lone priest among the three Canadians commissioned by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) to set the new liturgy to music.
“It was music that lead me to God,” he told me as we sat for an interview at St. Mary’s Cathedral where he is Rector – the first Canadian-born Filipino to attain the position.
“What I’ve been doing is not promoting my own mass settings, but all the settings,” says Angeles, director of sacred music for the Archdiocese of Winnipeg and Chairperson of the 7-member National Council for Liturgical Music of the CCCB. The Council advises the Episcopal Commission on matters concerning liturgical and sacred music. They also assist Bishops across the country by assessing music submitted by composers for liturgical use.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, the eldest of two brothers, he studied piano at the age of 13. One day whole he was with his elementary classmates he was asked to play at the St. Peter’s Church choir.
“That was the beginning of my exposure to the church,” he says.
From that initial start, he went on to join the St. Mary’s Cathedral as an organist where he met Fr. Darren Gurr, then pastor at the cathedral, who ‘challenged’ him to consider becoming a priest.
For Angeles, who views himself as Canadian first, his challenge is to minister effectively to his large parish, a majority of whom are Filipinos like many of Winnipeg’s other parishes. while overseeing the large cathedral facility, which occupies half a city block.
In more than an hour-long interview after celebrating the 11:30 AM mass at the cathedral, he related his journey to the priesthood, his roots and his influences.
His mother, a garment worker from Holland, moved to Winnipeg in the 70s where she met his father, an accountant.
“Who would have known that 95 years after St. Mary’s became a cathedral that a son of Filipino immigrants would become only the 10th rector of the cathedral?” his father, Rudy, told The Winnipeg Free Press in an interview.
“As parents, that speaks volumes.”
Last year, the Cathedral celebrated its centenary with a massive gathering attended by 14,000 people at the MTS.
It was Fr. Angeles (with Bernadette Gasselin) who composed the Eucharistic Hymn and conducted the choir.
He said they were not particularly ‘religious’ in the traditional sense but they were supportive of his musical inclinations enrolling him in music lessons and nurturing his desire to participate in music especially school and church choirs.
The Kelvin High School graduate studied music at the University of Manitoba and after completing his seminary studies went on to complete a Master’s degree in Liturgical Music at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
“It was a real challenge for my parents when I decided to enter seminary,” he said, reflecting on the fact that he thought he was not meeting their expectations.
“I see my parents changed a lot, transformed in their faith.”
“Faith should never be taken for granted, ” adding that now he has” a platform of encouraging faith and the potential God has for us.”
“Vocations today are under siege,” he says when asked about the lack of vocations in the Filipino community, given that a majority are Catholics and populates practically all urban churches. He wonders whether the Church will be alive many years from now without Filipinos.
“Among Filipinos, especially the Canadian-born, there is a lack of identity. Many of them are struggling to find their place in the new society.”
“My priority as a leader is to foster faith and help them identify, to look deeper into their hearts at the ways of the world has to offer.”
He says the youth of today has many questions left unanswered and “may not understand the traditions of the church – why we are doing things the way we do.”