Church of St. John of St. Paul


Choir 1914
Choir - 1914

Choir - 1997

Gregorian Chant

Gregorian Chant Schola - 1997

Gregorian Chant is the liturgical chant of the Roman Catholic Church, and is named after Pope St. Gregory I (“The Great”), who reigned from 590 to 604.  One traces its roots to the Jewish synagogue; one notes a strong Jewish influence in many early chant texts that are taken from the psalms.  Moreover, the Church’s Hours of Prayer (The Office) are modeled after the prayer hours of the Jewish synagogue.

Early development of Gregorian Chant took place in the East, especially Jerusalem and Antioch.  During the reign of Pope Damasus I, who reigned from 366 to 384, the center of chant’s development shifted to Rome.  He was the first of the popes to start a chant cycle for the liturgical year.  Pope St. Gregory did much to organize chant.  Under him the type of chanting was fixed for centuries to come.  Legend has it that he was actually instructed by the angels in the methods of chant.  From the 14th to the 19th centuries the melodies and rhythmic interpretations of chant began to deteriorate.  At the same time, we note an increase in the prevalence of polyphonic music settings (hymns, and parts of the Mass).

The return to the correct medieval interpretations of Gregorian Chant is due largely to the Benedictine Monks of Solesmes, France, particularly Dom Gueranger.  The process began in 1833 at a time when each diocese in France had its own books for the celebration of the Mass, none of which were approved by Rome; Solesmes was alone in celebrating the approved Roman Rite.  Dom Gueranger realized that any restoration must begin with chant, for it is the authentic expression of the texts of the Latin Liturgy.  In 1904 Pope St. Pius X issued his Motu Proprio in which he declared that the Gregorian melodies were to be restored in their integrity and identity after the authority of the original manuscripts.

Today the restoration process of Gregorian Chant goes on at Solesmes, and the papacy has directed them to produce all of the official revised chant books.  An example of a recently released book is the Gregorian Missal (released in 1990) which includes all chants and prayers, in both Latin and English, for the Masses on Sundays and Holydays, according to the new and revised rites.

In the 1960’s Gregorian Chant was largely abandoned due to incorrect and faulty personal interpretations of Vatican II by liturgists and diocesan liturgy committees and commissions. Vatican II’s Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, dealing with sacred music, said that Gregorian Chant is to have “pride of place” in the Catholic Liturgy and the people are to be taught chant.  In April of 1974 the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship sent a letter and a copy of Jubilate Deo (a small booklet of Gregorian Chant, organized by Pope Paul VI, containing a minimum selection of chants that each parish should be able to sing) to every bishop in the world.  The letter explained to liturgists how to give it the pride of place it demands, and how to teach it in each parish.  The following is a quote from the new Catechism of the Catholic Church.  “The musical tradition of the universal church has created a treasury of inestimable value which surpasses the other arts, owing above all to the fact that, as sacred song joined to words, it comprises a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium)

We, at St. John’s, are attempting to follow the wishes of the Vatican, and its Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship.  The large choir, under the direction of Mary Smisek, sings the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, from the Jubilate Deo, each Advent and Lent at the 9:00 a.m. Mass on Sunday, as well as various chant hymns.  Also the parts of the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament are sung in Latin.  Most importantly, St. John’s has been truly blessed to have had pastors, in Frs. Fink, Dolan and Welzbacher, who have promoted sound, orthodox liturgies and good music in accordance with the desires of the Vatican.

This fall the Gregorian Chant Schola at St. John’s will begin its eighteenth year together as a group.  It consists  very dedicated and talented men who are also members of the large choir.  As its leader, I grew up singing chant.  At St. Bridget’s Grade School, in Minneapolis, in the 1960’s, the good Sisters of St. Benedict taught Gregorian Chant to the students.  Each Friday, at the school Mass, the entire school would gather and sing The Mass of The Angels (VIII).  Also, each class would take turns singing the Gregorian Chant Requiem Mass at funerals.  More recently I have been a member and substitute conductor of the St. Agnes Chant Schola. I am much indebted to its leader, Mr. Paul LeVoir, and the former pastor of St. Agnes, Msgr. Richard J. Schuler, for the wealth of knowledge I have acquired about chant.

The Gregorian Chant Schola’s schedule of singing at St. John’s is as follows.  We sing at the 9:00 a.m. Mass on alternate Sundays.

We are very much open to new members, and extend an invitation to any men who would be interested in joining us.  If you are interested please contact  the St. John’s rectory at 651-771-3690

May God Bless You All.

Deacon Ron Smisek  (Director of the St. John’s Gregorian Chant Schola)

St. John's Church Organ

October 2000

This weekend will be the last at St. John's for one of its oldest members.  If all goes according to schedule, the console, or keyboard section of the church's organ will be removed and replaced by the new one, as described in last week's bulletin article.

Mr. Charles Hendickson, a well-known organ builder, related the history of St. John's organ to us after a recent evaluation of the instrument.  According to him the Hall Organ Company built our organ in the late 1920's.  It was probably one of the last instruments built by this company before it went out of business in the Great Depression.    It consists of 16 ranks, or groups of pipes; 5 in the great, 9 in the swell, and 2 in the pedal.  This amounts to about 1000 pipes.  Although certain minor changes were made to some of the ranks of pipes, the present instrument, with all of its wind chests, shutters, air reservoirs, and pipe facades, is essentially the same as that constructed in the 1920's.

The original console was replaced by our present one in 1958.  It was constructed by the Wicks Organ Company, and appears to have been donated in memory of Ben Telinda, as a dedication plate to him is present on its front wall. 

As we bid farewell to this present console, we are grateful for the uncountable number of Masses, weddings, and funerals that this instrument has played since its arrival. Next week we will continue this article by describing the new organ and thoughts for future restoration of the existing pipe portion of the organ. 

Deacon Ron and Mary Smisek  (Church of St. John's Music Directors)

New Organ - 2000
October 2000

In today's article we want to tell you about the new organ that was installed in our church this past week.  The Rodgers Organ Company in Hillsboro, Oregon built the new instrument.  Built to American Guild of Organists standards, model #950 has three manuals, or keyboards, a full sized pedal board, and lighted stop tabs and piston push buttons.  The console is a walnut color, and is slightly larger and taller than the one it replaces.  Before it came to St. John's it was involved in a week of concerts at Orchestra Hall.  The music heard was Beethoven's Missa Solemnis.

The new organ, with its digital and MIDI technology, allows for multiple voices and effects, thus allowing the organist to create various performance or musical styles.  It also allows the organ to make the various wind effects heard on pipe instruments.  Each note of every stop can be tuned by itself, and the entire electronic portion can be tuned to the existing pipes.  This and a "re-tuning" ability of the organ allow for coordination between the two parts of the instrument (pipe and electronic).

The new organ also incorporates software technology as found on computers.  This will allow each organist to not only store their individual choices for sounds, but can also re-create their actual playing styles.  All such information can be stored on regular computer floppy disks.  For all interested, the new organ, as well as other interesting information, can be viewed on the Internet at

At the present time our new instrument will incorporate only the pipes in the Great manual (the pipes on the right side of the organ loft, as you face it).  The other pipes will remain in place, but will remain silent for now.  In the years to come plans call for the complete restoration of the existing pipe portion of the organ, and their connection to the new instrument.  This will produce a most wonderful and unique instrument that will praise God for years to come, and be a wonderful part of our parish.

Deacon Ron and Mary Smisek

Choir Loft