National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Playing for the Pope (and Other Cool Things Catholic Musicians Do)

BY Eddie O’Neill

June 6-19, 2010 Issue | Posted 5/31/10 at 10:02 AM


Curtis Stephan is no stranger to performing at big events. Over the years, he has done numerous retreats, conferences and even performed at World Youth Day. However, nothing prepared him for what he experienced on stage as Pope Benedict XVI pulled up in front of him during his visit last month to see the Shroud of Turin in Italy.

Stephan was part of an international youth event staged outside the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin on the day of the Holy Father’s visit.

“I was singing the English verse of the (World Youth Day) theme, ‘Emmanuel,’ when the car pulled up right in front of the stage, and the Pope got out,” Stephan recalls. “He stood no more than 15 feet from me. It was really stunning.”

The music director at St. Ann’s Catholic Parish in Coppell, Texas, got the Turin opportunity through relationships he had formed in the Catholic music world via his publisher, Spirit and Song.

“The whole thing was just really powerful,” says Stephan, who can be found online at “To see 30,000 people in the square just celebrating the Resurrection was amazing. That’s why we were there. If it wasn’t for the shroud, none of us would have been there.”

Part of a Bigger Ministry

Since 1999, Brian Flynn has served as the director of religious education, the coordinator of youth ministry and the director of music at St. Mary’s Church in Westphalia, Mich.

His journey has involved God opening one door after another.

The father of six and former music leader at Franciscan University of Steubenville says he never made a conscious decision to pursue Church music as a career. He simply tries to remain faithful to God’s call each day.

“Over the years, I have come to realize that all of my gifts have come from the Lord. I’ve continued to ask him, ‘How do you want me to serve?’ And in that, doors have kept opening,” says Flynn, whose website is

Last year, Flynn released his third CD, “Beyond the Veil.” It is his first recording that’s composed entirely of his own music.

His theology degree helps his ministry.

“I do not get up and give a talk on theology for 10,000 people, but I have no problem getting up and singing a song that has Catholic theology in it,” he shares.

Several months ago, Flynn was on stage in front of 18,000 people at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Massachusetts on the feast of Divine Mercy. While much of his ministry is local, Flynn tries to perform at several big conferences or retreats a year.

Sharing God’s Love

Jackie Francois, 26, says that music has been a part of her family as long as she can remember. She prides herself in being a disciple first and a musician second. She enjoys sharing her reversion story: how she went from being a lukewarm Catholic in high school to a Catholic who is “passionately in love with God.”

“God has called me to share his love specifically through speaking and music,” she says.

In 2006 Francois was invited to be part of Oregon Catholic Press’ music division, Spirit and Song ( Her debut CD “Your Kingdom Is Glorious” was released two years later (

These days, her music ministry has her performing at about 80 events a year. Despite her busy schedule, Francois says that she is never burnt out.

“Prayer is the foundation of everything I do,” she says. “I make sure to fill myself with Mass, frequent adoration and spiritual reading. Even when I am exhausted physically, or emotionally, I am never burnt out or dry.”

In the Nashville, Tenn., area, Jaime Thietten also grew up singing. She was raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and by the age of 13 was singing solos at church, graduations and weddings.

Four years ago, Thietten came into the Catholic Church. It was her husband’s journey and witness of his own conversion to the Church that inspired her.

“I haven’t put a big Catholic banner on my forehead,” she says. “I want the message to speak for itself. I don’t like putting labels on people. But, if people ask, I am not bashful in sharing my Catholic faith.”

In an average year, Thietten performs 50 or 60 shows. While she has shared the stage with a list of big-name contemporary Christian recording artists, she is most proud of the lives that she has touched through her music.

“To be able to read the stories and comments that people make at my site [] or on YouTube, and knowing that the message and songs are reaching and touching people is really the only thing that keeps me motivated,” she says.

There’s always something new happening in the world of Catholic music: new CDs and concert opportunities. Even performing for the Pope.

As Stephan says, “To be literally singing for the Pope went beyond my wildest imaginations.”

Eddie O’Neill writes from Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Other New Catholic Music

Father Stan Fortuna released his latest CD, “Seraphic Wanderer,” in May. “The majority of the tracks were recorded on the road and in some instances, in different countries. There was a wide range of inspiration from events and places that are expressed through melody and groove thanks to the help of many musician friends,” says Father Fortuna. “The feeling of this whole project will hopefully lighten the burden of moving along the path of life.” Highlights include

“1-11-04,” an ode to the day that his mentor and community founder, Father Benedict Groeschel, was involved in a serious accident; and “Love Giver,” a tribute to his mother who passed away during the making of the album and to whom the entire project is dedicated. Visit

Composer Brian J. Nelson’s latest is “Vocalise,” which spans the sacred, choral and chamber music genres. “In all of my work, I desire to share my music with a wide audience, both within the Church and with the culture at large,” he says. “I also want to be a proponent for the arts within the Church, and a witness to Christ in the world.” Visit

Father Bill Quinlivan from Buffalo, N.Y., who “had the awesome experience of doing some music ministry at the international priest retreat in Ars” during the Year for Priests, released “Lives of Praise.” “My new CD has a feature you don’t often find on the albums of singing priests,” he says. “A disco song!” Visit