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Bishop Fisher Catholic Life Features

Church Musicians Guild to hold anniversary Mass on Sept. 30


The Church Musicians Guild of Buffalo will finally celebrate its 75th anniversary. This year actually marks the 76th anniversary of the guild’s founding, but due to Covid restrictions the guild decided to celebrate “75+ years” this fall.

The charismatic Cecilia Roy Kenney, co-founder of the Church Musicians Guild of Buffalo (Photo courtesy of the Church Musicians Guild of Buffalo)

A special Mass will be held Friday, Sept. 30 at Fourteen Holy Helpers Church with Bishop Michael W. Fisher presiding. The event will begin with a prelude at 6:30 p.m. with Mass at 7 p.m. followed by a champagne reception. Nationally known musician Dr. James Kosnik and liturgical theologian Sister Judith Kubicki, CSSF, also will attend. 

The extended prelude will feature Tim Socha, music director of St. Joseph Cathedral in Buffalo; Gail Shepherd, music director for SS. Peter & Paul Parish in Williamsville; Frank Scinta, music director for St. Louis Parish in Buffalo; and Don Fellows, formerly of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Pittsburgh. Peter Gonciarz, Maria Chomicka and Heather Loveless will direct the music.

 “We think we have a remarkable history, and after the relative quiet of the past couple of years, out of necessity, we want to take this up a notch and celebrate all that our musicians do in our parishes,” explained Bill Fay, CMG board member. “We’re going to use this as a springboard for the next 25 years.”

Guests can view an exhibit on the history of the guild, which traces the development of American Catholic Church music from 1890, when Leo Roy, a graduate from the Catholic Normal School in Wisconsin, settled in Western New York. He became a weekend organist and, with his wife Magdalene, had 10 children. Four of those children became church organists. Daughter Cecilia Roy Kenney, known as a real charismatic woman and aviator, founded the guild with Msgr. Paul Eberz, Msgr. Henry Kawalec and Sister Mary Grace Ryan.

“They had a true vision of what Church music could and should be. So, they modeled the beginnings of this in an educational way, both musically and liturgically, to the average church musician. I’m sure there was a lack of places to learn about music,” said Gail Shepherd, music director for SS. Peter & Paul Parish in Williamsville.

In 1952, Kenney and Msgr. Kawalec published a diocesan hymn book that received critical acclaim across the country. The book provided standardization of hymns and Mass settings, which strengthens congregational singing.

“All of those people who started this way back when, I think they were envisioning what became Vatican II,” said Shepherd. “In those three decades before Vatican II, all of that was beginning to gel, that notion of the Mass in the vernacular and congregational singing. That was starting to happen. Pope John XXIII understood that. And then Vatican II happened.”

The organization was first called Catholic Choirmasters Guild. The name changed in 1975 to reflect the number of ministries that were flowering after Vatican II. Guitarists and cantors joined the traditional multi-voiced choirs in a growing music ministry.

“Previously, the organization was mainly for choir directors. And after the name changed, we felt that opened us up more to instrumentalists, cantors, other people involved in liturgical music,” added Michael Hauser, music director for St. Jude the Apostle in North Tonawanda.

Now, the guild carries on the tradition of education young musicians, with camaraderie among fellow musicians a joyful byproduct. The guild provides many activities for continuing education, as well as a scholarship program to encourage and assist other people who are interested in using their musical skills in a liturgical setting.

The Mass is open to everyone. Guests are asked to RSVP at 716-873-0180.