The Priests

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

February 18, 2010


Fr. Peter Daly talks about his friends, Fr. Eugene O’Hagan and Fr. Martin O’Hagan, two members of the Irish singing groups “The Priests.” .


            I flipped on the TV and stopped in my tracks.

            There on screen was a good friend from seminary days, Fr. Eugene O’Hagan.

            He was singing Panis Angelicus. Next to him was his brother Martin, also a priest. There was a third priest singing with them whom I did not know, Fr. David Delargy.

            The banner at the bottom of the screen said they were singing in the Cathedral at Armagh in Northern Ireland. Behind them was a full orchestra and chorus.

            It was magical. Then PBS interrupted to ask for money. I sent them some money so I could get the CD. Their CD, entitled simply “The Priests” went platinum last year in northern Europe. Since then they have come out with another CD called “Harmony.”

            To me it was a magical moment. To see someone I know singing on television in such a setting.

            I have known Fr. Eugene for more than 25 years. Eight years ago he sang at the dedication of our parish church. Five years ago he and his brother Martin sang at the dedication of our parish family life center and theater.

            But now they had hit the big time, recording contract and all.

            Over the years I have heard Fr. Eugene sing many times.

            During our time in Rome he often sang for the Holy Father at Papal masses. I remember once that his mother was visiting Rome and showed me a picture of Eugene singing for John Paul II. She said in a classic Irish phrase, “There is himself, singing for himself.” I knew what she meant.

            Gene was the deacon at the ordination mass when I was ordained to the deaconate. He frequently entertained the Irish College community on St. Patrick’s Day and other occasions. He was a participant in our talent shows at the North American College.

            But the most significant thing about Fr. Eugene and his singing was his use of music in his ministry. He used music to try to heal the wounds and divisions of Northern Ireland. He called it practical ecumenism.

            Back in the 1990s I visited Fr. Eugene in Belfast. At the time he was working for the Archdiocesan Tribunal for his day job. He processed annulments and such.

            But in the evenings he had a ministry, with a Presbyterian minister, hosting sing-a longs. The idea of Protestants and Catholics getting together to sing popular music does not seem so radical in the American context, but in Northern Ireland it is positively revolutionary.

            Fr. Eugene and his companion would travel to community centers and parish halls in little towns around the north of Ireland and bring people together for a musical evening. It might be the first time in their lives that some of them had shared a social occasion with someone from across the religious chasm.

            I am delighted with Fr. Eugene recent fame and success. He and Fr. Martin and Fr. David have marvelous voices, as we might expect from Irish priests.

            But the greatest achievement of his musical career is not getting on BBC or PBS. I think it is the work he did over the years with his “practical ecumenism.”

            That is exactly what Jesus would want of his followers. The Lord would be delighted that two of his “servants” were using the gifts given to them to bring people together in peace. This is not an idle concern in Northern Ireland.