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A ‘Thank You to God’: St. Louis Jesuits plan final concert

St. Louis JesuitsThe songs are familiar, their melodies deeply entrenched in the minds of countless churchgoers.

“One Bread, One Body.” “Here I Am, Lord.” “Be Not Afraid.” And so many more.

With a musical legacy spanning almost 50 years, the St. Louis Jesuits have composed many of today’s most memorable liturgical titles. The group’s music has for decades captured the hearts of assemblies for its contemporary folk sound and clear lyrics rooted in Scripture.

This fall, the five members of the group will assemble for a final live performance, “The St. Louis Jesuits – Coming Home.” The concert, a fundraiser for a Jesuit nonprofit, will begin at 3 p.m. Sept. 29 at Powell Hall in St. Louis. Tickets are available at powellhall.com or by calling 314.534.1700.

“Given that people are doing individual projects now, and just due to the simple fact of aging, it seemed to me to be a good idea to do one last concert and say thank you to God and thank you to the people who have supported this music by singing it,” said the Rev. Roc O’Connor, SJ, a member of the group and former rector of the Jesuit community at Creighton University.

The group that became the St. Louis Jesuits – which in addition to Fr. O’Connor includes composer-performers Dan Schutte, Tim Manion, the Rev. Bob Dufford, SJ, and the Rev. John Foley, SJ – was formed in the early 1970s while the five men were studying to become Jesuit priests at St. Louis University. (Manion and Schutte would later leave the order.)

Since then, the group has produced seven musical collections together and more than 30 albums individually. The musicians and their music have been recognized with many awards, including Grammy nominations throughout the 1970s and honorary doctorates from the University of Scranton in 1978 and Creighton in 2006. Their second album, Earthen Vessels, remains one of the most successful Catholic albums of all time, with more than 1 million copies sold.

The group has always considered itself a collective of individual composers, rather than a band of performers, said Fr. O’Connor, who left Creighton in 2013 and is now based in Milwaukee, writing and composing full time. But over the years, the five musicians have come together for various fundraiser performances.

The September concert will benefit the Ignatian Spirituality Project, a nonprofit that provides Jesuit-Ignatian retreats to people who are homeless and recovering from addiction. The project is active in more than 30 cities throughout North America, including Omaha.

This final performance, said Fr. O’Connor, presents an opportunity for the musicians to reflect on their legacy – to consider all the people who have been touched by their music over the years – and to formally pass the torch to a new generation of performers.

“There are all kinds of young composers who are wonderfully gifted and doing wonderful sorts of music. We’re passing the baton,” he said. “In one sense, we’re back to where we started. And the best thing to do is to put it in God’s hands. Let’s celebrate what’s been given and bless those that will come after us.”

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