by KEN JOBLIN and JEFF DILLON
On Sunday, October 6, a special occasion took place at St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Christchurch.
At the 10.30am Choral Mass, thanks was given to God for the work of the director of music at the Christchurch Catholic Cathedral, Don Whelan, who has served this community for 50 years. The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament Choir and Orchestra (CBS) was joined in the choir gallery by former singers and yet others who swelled the congregational singing below. The first Sunday of every month offers an orchestral setting of the Mass, and on this occasion, Mozart’s Piccolomini Mass provided the musical centre-piece, along with congregational hymns and liturgical music.
North Canterbury parish priest Fr John Adams was joined by Emeritus Bishop of Christchurch Bishop Basil Meeking and pro-cathedral assistant priest Fr Edwin Colaco in celebrating the Mass.
In his homily, Fr Adams acknowledged “the person who has kept [the] great treasury of Catholic music alive as it has been in this diocese for fifty years”.
“Good musicians are rare enough, but to find a person who possesses not only the necessary musicianship, lively faith, and drive to sustain the musical programme of such great breadth is rare indeed,” Fr Adams said.
“Thank you, Don, for all you have brought to our cathedral and our pro-cathedral for so long now, for fifty years. We salute you this morning and give thanks for the remarkably generous way you have served the people of God with your gifts . . . .”
Mr Whelan began his association with the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament as the organist in 1969. At the time, a choir was not wanted. However, over the years Mr Whelan began to build not only a choir, but also an orchestra to enhance the celebration of the main Sunday Mass.
This development saw a rotation pattern of orchestral, contemporary, polyphonic and chant Masses each month. The musicianship was very much appropriate for the magnificent F. W. Petre-designed cathedral.
Mr Whelan’s passion and enthusiasm for music saw him lead many tours over the years, with the orchestra and choir through New Zealand, Australia and further afield to Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Holy Land. That provided supporters and friends of the choir and orchestra the opportunity to join in these travels.
After the October 6 Mass, some 105 of the CBS musical community converged on Rydges Hotel for a formal celebration.
Speeches were supplemented by musical performances, a photo presentation and a number of short video clips from the CBS diaspora.
Diocesan sacred music advisor (and also CBS bass section leader) Ken Joblin gave the keynote address.
He concluded: “Don has been honoured for his work by the Vatican and the Royal School of Church Music. In being here with you today, Don, we do likewise. In your work, the lives of many in New Zealand and beyond our shores have been touched at a profound level. It is unlikely that we will again see a 50-year commitment to sacred music on the scale you have achieved. We are forever grateful to you, Beris and your family for allowing us to be part of the CBS movement and of your lives. We know that through the music made under your direction, our voices join those of the angels and saints and that as our sound leaves the church on earth, it is heard in our heavenly home.”
The music of heaven was then sung by the whole assembly in Bruckner’s four-part motet Locus Iste.
The diocese was pleased to support the reception. Later, diocesan general manager Andy Doherty stated “We are very fortunate to have someone of Don’s skill and passion in our diocese. I liken him to our early exporters, travelling the world telling our unique story. CBS Music is internationally known, largely because of the drive and determination of Don and the team at CBS Music.
“You then have to back that up with a quality performance and they do this each and every time,” Mr Doherty added.
“Don sets a high standard and this is evident in the performances and then the success of those that have gone through this CBS experience. Many of those people celebrated Don’s inspiration and guidance yesterday. Well done to Don and Beris and we look forward to more successful years of CBS Music. Thanks Don!”