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Ministering to a bigger audience

They are not pop artists nor celebrities. Yet, they get unbelievable media mileage, amazing worldwide following among music lovers and enjoy enviable exposure on European TV which are all unfamiliar glare of publicity to them.

They are humble servants of God who discovered their singing talent and came out with a debut album of sacred music simply titled The Priests, released by Sony BMG Music Entertainment.

Father Eugene O’Hagan, Fr. Martin O’Hagan and Fr. David Delargy met for the first time at St. MacNissi’s College in Country Antrim, near Derry in Northern Ireland. Nicknamed Holy Holy Holy by their peers due to their shared determination to enter the priesthood, they realized their musical prowess as a singing trio.

After leaving St. MacNissi’s, they followed their vocation training at The Seminary in Belfast, where Fr. Eugene specialized in English and scholastic philosophy and Fr. Martin and Fr. David mastered in ancient history and scholastic philosophy. At that time, they all studied under the Belfast-based singing teacher Frank Capper.

The Priests concluded their training at the revered Irish College in Rome. While there, Fr. Eugene particularly took advantage of having singing lessons under Sergio Ballani, the noted musical director at the Vatican. Not too long after that, their combined and rare talent was recognized. They were invited by the Pope’s private secretary, Monsignor John Magee (the Papal Master of Ceremonies) to sing for the Pope in the sacred liturgy.

When they embarked on the daunting yet exciting project middle of last year, The Priests didn’t think, even for a minute, that they would make an impact with their version of sacred music for an album, released in November 2008.

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“We never thought that the short demo tape we started at the Good Shepherd Center in Belfast would lead us back to Rome and the much loved Basilica of St. Peter, where each of us had previously sung at liturgies celebrated by the late Pope John Paul II during our study for the priesthood,” shares Fr. Eugene.

The Priests was released simultaneously in more than 30 countries, including Europe, North America, the Philippines and numerous Latin American countries, fulfilling an unprecedented global demand. The three have pledged a percentage of the proceeds from the record sales to the charities of their choice.

“Music is a powerful means of communication in itself,” Fr. Eugene maintained. “It has been our shared personal experience that music and singing in various places have played a significant role in helping change attitudes and demolish some of the walls of prejudice.”

The trio has been amazed by the interest of the public and the media in their musical venture and how the album was embraced by music lovers around the world. As certified by the Guinness Book of World Records, the album officially became the “fastest-selling debut for a classical act” in the UK. The Priests entered the UK music charts at No. 5, just behind Rhydian, Guns and Roses, The Killers and Leona Lewis.

A documentary, simply titled The Priests, giving a glimpse on their everyday life and work and how they recorded their debut album, was aired last month in the UK. They also performed the single, Pie Jesu in a TV network in the UK. Moreover, they were featured in Time Magazine, something that thrilled them no end.

The album includes classics like Ave Maria, Pie Jesu and O Holy Night. Other tracks are Benedictus, Hacia Belen, Abide With Me and Be Still My Soul. The tracks feature the choir of the Philharmonic Academy of Rome and singers of the Basilica of St. Peter’s in the Vatican.

After the album, The Priests returned to Ireland, where they continued their individual ministries and other projects. Each now lives the life of a full-time parish priest, tending the spiritual needs of their parishioners and official duties at all church services, including christenings, marriages and funerals of members of their Catholic community.

Father Eugene leads the Parish of Ballyclare and Ballygowan: Church of the Sacred Heart and Church of the Holy Family.

Father Martin O’Hagan is at the Parish of Cushendun: Church of St. Patrick (Craigagh), Church of St. Mary, The Star of the Sea (Culraney).

Father David Delargy is stationed at the Parish of Hannahstown in West Belfast: Church of St. Joseph and Church of St. Peter, the Rock, Diocese of Down and Connor.

“In a very significant way, all of us were deeply affected by what we had experienced together over the last six months,” Fr. Eugene said. “Recording the album was a privileged moment for all of us. What a fitting climax to an unbelievable journey. To paraphrase the words of a song we often sang during our seminary days, it is indeed, a journey ended but it is also, a journey just begun.”

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