JOLIET – Known primarily for its three recordings of sacred music, The Priests’ musical repertoire extends beyond the religious genre, said one of its members, the Rev. David Delargy.
Irish Songs. Neapolitan Arias. German and French art songs. Operas. Even “contemporary classical crossover songs.” The Priests may sing any combination of these during its March 19 concert at the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet.
The goal of the versatility, Delargy said in an email interview, is to connect to as many people as possible.
“Many people nowadays have little experience of church in their daily lives, but that doesn’t mean that they are not spiritual or that they don’t have spiritual hungers,” Delargy said.
“Sacred music can sometimes be their only point of contact with the world of religion and faith. In that sense, religious music provides a real service.”
Joining them for select times onstage as sopranos will be classical singers Claire and Sarah Halbur of Joliet and Agne Giedraityte, 13, the 2012 winner of Rialto Idol Junior.
Claire, who recently appeared on the Lifetime series, “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns,” had sung with The Priests when the trio appeared at the Rialto in 2013.
All three have beautiful voices that complement The Priests’ style, said Lori Carmine, Rialto technical director.
Despite their talent, the Rev. Eugene O’Hagan, the Rev. Martin O’Hagan and Delargy – all full-time parish priests, classically trained and singing since boyhood – never pursued a professional career. They simply never stopped singing,
“As priests, we have many opportunities to sing as part of the sacred liturgy, the Mass,” Delargy said. “But singing is also our hobby, and so we are able to do that in our spare time as well.”
The O’Hagans learned to sing from their mother, Joan, a church organist, and accompanied her at events, Delargy said. Delargy likewise grew up in a musical family that sang for pleasure. As a boy soprano, Delargy also sang in local choirs.
By their teens, all three knew they were pursuing the priesthood.
They entered the former St. MacNissi’s College, Garron Tower in 1974, where they studied the classical singing known as bel canto, and participated in the college choir and the annual Gilbert and Sullivan opera, Delargy said. They continued their vocal training at Queens University and when they studied in Rome. They also competed at local music festivals.
Eventually, they returned to Northern Ireland and to pastoral appointments in the Diocese of Down and Connor. Eugene O’Hagan was ordained in 1986 and now is the chancellor for the diocese. Martin O’Hagan and Delargy were ordained in 1989.
Naturally, they continued singing.
“The Psalms are designed to be sung, as are many of the prayers and responses,” Delargy said. “The ability to ‘hold a note’ is a great advantage, and it’s good if a priest can lead and support congregational singing in the absence of a cantor or a choir.”
But they also sang at parish events, hospitals and nursing homes, Delargy said, and discovered it was a gentle and nonthreatening evangelization tool for people who needed consolation and inspiration, as well as faith and hope.
Rise to fame
The musical part of their ministry received a twist in 2007.
Mike Hedges – record producer for U2, Dido and Sarah Brightman – approached Sony about a project that required a classically trained priest, Delargy said.
Eventually, Sony learned about – and listened to – the O’Hagans and Delargy, which led to a global release of a self-titled album in 2008. The Guinness World Book of Records recognized it as the fastest-selling debut for a classical act.
They’ve since recorded “Harmony” and a Christmas album, “Noel,” Delargy said, and sold millions of records.
Recording at a local studio makes it easy for the members of The Priests to attend to pastoral duties. They also donate most of their money to charities that support Catholic values, Delargy said.
Delargy believes accumulating wealth isn’t compatible with Christian vocation. Furthermore, Delargy said their music is really a “humble service” to others, one that makes a real difference in others’ lives.
It certainly has made a difference in Delargy’s life. Singing with The Priests, Delargy said, has taught him to rely less on self and more on God, to use his musical abilities for God’s glory instead of personal fulfillment and to appreciate the priesthood more fully.
“The words of the songs lead me to meditate more deeply on my relationship with God, and they connect me in a profound way with the lives and experiences of members of the audiences who come to hear us,” Delargy said. “That is a marvelous privilege.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: The Priests
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. March 19
WHERE: Rialto Square Theatre, 102 N. Chicago St., Joliet
TICKETS: $28.50 to $68.50