Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005 and before that a regular correspondent for the paper. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds a graduate degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
The recent revelations about clerical sex abuse allegations in the Diocese of Buffalo have certainly shaken and affected many good priests. Among them is Father Quinlivan, who is pastor of two parishes — St. Martin of Tours and Thomas Aquinas in South Buffalo.
He knew fellow priests as well as laity needed healing graces. Soon, using his talents as a musician who has made several CD’s of inspiring, joy-filled songs for the public, he hoped to help bring those graces and reassure fellow priests as well as laity through a new CD album.
“The time period during which I composed these songs could be described as a combination of the Gospel story of the Storm at Sea (Mark 4:35-41) and the Agony in the Garden (Luke 22:39-53) in my diocese,” says Father Bill as he explains what happened.
As a result of hearing about numerous allegations of child sexual abuse resulting in priests being suspended pending investigations, he found himself “drawn more and more deeply into prayer.”
The overwhelming challenge the Church is facing involves how to best minister to victims of abuse. “Stunned into a state of shock over months of news stories revealing names of brother priests accused — most from decades ago — I suddenly noticed how often the prayers of the Holy Mass refer to Christ as victim,” Father Bill stated.
“Our theological application of that title acknowledges how our Lord, the perfectly innocent, sinless one took ALL sins’ weight upon himself,” he says. “Even these present-day scandalous sins, crimes, outrages.”
“One of the songs on I Call You Brothers takes this tragic and painful time and points to Jesus using that title, Christ the Victim. It begins by referencing the horror of an abuse survivor's plight: ‘Where are the words to describe where you've been?’ And eventually the song's chorus becomes a pastoral response to the horrible, helpless question: What do we do now? ‘Bring it all to the Victim, He absorbs innocent pain... every hurt of his people he gives strength to sustain.’”
Song after song began taking shape as he prayed.
He vividly remembers how “During numerous holy hours before the Lord Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament, song ideas and lyrics flowed,” he says. “The writing process was healing, consoling and grace-filled.”
The result is his ninth album, I Call You Brothers, filled with very soothing, healing music and reassuring lyrics throughout its 14 songs. He not only composed them, but as a gifted musician he sings each song as well as plays the guitar and piano, one instrument on each song. Some other accompanying instruments were added by the producer.
Woven among the songs there are also 10 moving, heartfelt prayers. Father Bill wrote all but two of them. The “Prayer of Abandonment” is from Blessed Charles de Foucauld, founder of the Jesu Caritas movement, priest fraternities, one of which this priest and songwriter-singer belongs to.
Father Bill graciously shares more highlights from the CD album.
He begins, “The song Beloved came while reflecting on the disciple Jesus loved. It dawned on me that every priest — and believer, by extension — can approach Jesus like St. John did at the Last Supper, leaning into His heart.”
Then there’s Mass Rocks, which is not what you think it might be at first. It’s very inspiring with a feeling of gentleness yet great determination. What gave him this idea?
“Mass Rocks was inspired by the heroic Irish priests during post-Cromwell times of persecution, where the Catholic faith, priesthood and sacraments were outlawed,” he says. “After reading a book entitled The Priest Hunters by Collin Murphy (O’Brien Press, 2014), which told stories of the lengths priests had to go to celebrate Mass in hidden hollows and fields upon rocks, the song idea came. As an Irish-American by heritage, it moved me profoundly — in dramatic contrast to the horrific allegations-accusations of child sexual abuse by clergy decades ago that were seeming to dominate the daily news — to learn of priests who risked their lives for their flock. Often these Irish priests, if captured and turned in to the British authorities, were jailed or expelled from Ireland. They would find their way back to their people, and celebrate the Eucharist on Mass Rocks.”
Father Bill shares the details of another unique song. “Because of my deep devotion to Divine Mercy, St. Faustina and Blessed Father Michael Sopocko, I wrote A Confessor's Prayer as a song and the Prayer before Confession based on my experience as a priest-penitent,” he explains. “Catholics can sometimes forget that priests need the Sacrament of Penance. Our limited minds can’t ever really grasp the magnificent gift of being an instrument of his Mercy. I find that my approach to hearing confessions is aided by remembering my personal experiences of being healed, freed and filled with the joy of forgiveness when I confess my sins.
“I sang A Confessor's Prayer at two reconciliation services soon after completing the lyric and melody. One was a day-long Catholic Women's Retreat where I asked the ladies to pray for the priest who would be the Lord's minister in their forgiveness. Soon after that, I shared it at our diocesan Lenten Priest Penance Service, where I sang it as part of the prayer that prepared my brothers and myself to approach the tribunal of Mercy for grace."
The song begins:
Lord, to be your vessel of mercy
Help me first to number my sins
Humbled, awestruck by sacred privilege
Come, now stir your spirit within
Come, be seen in mercy’s eyes
Speak your truth, he’s not surprised
Wash in mercy, his, not mine
Absolutely freed by love divine
Human woundedness Christ can heal,
What a joy to witness, o Jesus
Just how lavishly you forgive
Then, forgetting, you say to your people:
“You were lost, I have found, go and live”
Besides Mass Rocks, the Irish connection continues in the album. Father Bill explains the song Living Priesthood was written from notes he took at an Intercession for Priests retreat in Dublin, Ireland where Vincentian Father Kevin Scallon and Sister Briege McKenna of the Sisters of St. Clare collaborated in ministry to priests. Father Scallon’s Rosary recording done with his sister-in-law, the well-known Dana, is familiar to EWTN listeners. Father Scallon who died in 2018, was a long-time friend of Mother Angelica, and he and Sister Briege were guests on Father Mitch Pacwa’s program reminded Father Bill.
“My dear friend Father Kevin Scallon was what we call a ‘priest’s priest,’ a true brother,” Father Bill explains. “As a Vincentian for over 50 years, he exhibited the charism of the founder St. Vincent DePaul in his ministry to brother priests, leading retreats for over 40 years. To priests who knew him, he was a constant source of encouragement to strive for holiness as well as living the joy of Jesus. Father Kevin was not afraid to apply the principle of fraternal correction. His zeal for uplifting and renewal of the priesthood were amazing.”
Father Scallon founded the international Intercession for Priests ministry in Ireland in 1976. Sister Briege, the well-known healing nun, joined as his co-worker in this worldwide outreach of the Mercy of God for suffering priests.
Father Bill describes how these connections on this latest album led to including some powerful prayers mixed throughout.
“It was Sister Briege who suggested that I include prayers in between songs on the album, to make it like a musical holy hour,” he says. And it works beautifully in the very peaceful, inspiring way the prayers mingle with the uplifting songs.
Prayer and song combine in a very prominent way in the very moving I Knew That Was You.
As Father Bill explains, “I Knew That Was You is a prayer that Father Kevin wrote. After his sudden passing, I flew to Florida, where he lived part of the year, to concelebrate his funeral. His secretary was putting together the funeral program and showed me the prayer as she re-discovered it in her files of his writings. She wondered whether it should be on the back of the program because it seemed to sum up his great love for the Eucharist as well as the priesthood.
“I agreed, then she left to drop the design off at the printer for that afternoon’s memorial Mass since Father Kevin would be buried in his home town in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland the next week.
“I continued to pray in the chapel, and the words of the prayer seemed to lend themselves to becoming a song lyric. So I hurried to the home where I was staying and spent some time at the grand piano. A melody came quickly, and I was honored to sing the song for the first time after Holy Communion at the Mass that day.”
The only other prayer Father Bill didn’t write is “The Intercession Prayer for Priests.” Since it was written by Father Scallon, the songwriting priest used some poetic license in adapting it for this version and put it directly before I Knew That Was You.
Father Bill pointed out more reminders of Father Scallon in this CD. “Father Kevin’s chalice and paten are pictured on the cover of I Call You Brothers, and the project is dedicated to his memory. The times we’re living in seem to highlight the importance of priestly brotherhood in stormy times.”
The beautifully insightful and inspiring songs and prayers on this I Call You Brothers CD is meant to calm the storm and encourage fellow priests. And laity who can benefit from the songs too. What a gift this would make for a parish priest.
I Call You My Brothers is available for purchase at www.FrBillSings.com.
Listen to a sample on youtube.com/watch?v=InZchMxcveE.