“On Eagle’s Wings” composer retires – newsroom


Mark Brown / University of St. Thomas

World-renowned composer Father Michael Joncas ’75, artist-in-residence at St. Thomas, retires from full-time ministry effective January 1, 2022. As he contemplated his upcoming retirement from active ministry, many memories appeared.

There was a time in 2003-04 when Joncas contracted Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurological disorder. “I returned home after a three month stay at the Mayo Clinic to find that the house the university had provided for my accommodation had a ramp built between my parking areas and my back door and railings installed for me. help get out of the ground. on the ground, ”said Joncas. “I was immediately struck by how careful the administrators and members of the physical factory were to prepare my house for as long as I lived with a wheelchair. ”

Joncas, who became a faculty member in 1991, worked in both the Department of Catholic Studies and the Department of Theology.

“His artistic sensitivity and his love for the liturgy during these 30 years have been a great blessing for the liberal and Catholic mission of Saint Thomas”, declared Michael naughton, director of the Center for Catholic Studies.

Joncas said he made lifelong friends through college.

I can’t say how blessed I feel, as I have had the chance to teach at all levels … [There are] now generations of students with whom I have interacted.

“While I enjoyed teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels here and at other higher education institutions, I had the most fun teaching for the Selim Center for Lifelong Learning. life, ”said Joncas. “Those who came to the classes came because they were interested in the topic (not because it was a requirement), they came with a life experience which led to fascinating ideas and discussions on the topics. that we reviewed, and that there were no exams or papers to assign and grade as participants were there for the sheer pleasure of learning.

Joncas also says he has bonded with members of the music department, as well as with Victoria Young, professor of art history and president of the College of Arts and Sciences, with whom he shares a common interest. for church architecture.

As you might expect, Joncas also mentioned the students in his reflections.

Joncas created memories for people around the world for his anthem “On Eagle’s Wings”. The anthem was one of the great moments in people’s lives.

At the funeral of tenor Luciano Pavarotti in 2007, the choir sang the hymn in Italian. Native Americans as well as the US Air Force Academy adopted the anthem, and it was popular at baptisms, weddings, and funerals.

Joncas attributed the popularity of “On Eagle’s Wings” to its versatility, or its ability to have many meanings.

“I think what is happening is people are taking [the hymn’s] central imagery and then find new references in their culture, ”said Joncas. “Among Native Americans, an eagle carries an important cultural marker for them. Likewise for the US Air Force Academy.

Joncas gained new insight into “On Eagle’s Wings” when President Joe Biden quoted the anthem.

“I think he sees this as an image for the United States working at its best. I think he symbolically believed that an eagle with only one wing cannot fly, ”Joncas said. “A nation that has only one ideology or a dominant group that won’t pay attention to anyone else is not going to steal. It takes two wings. Rather than saying, “I’m a conservative and I will never talk to a progressive” or “I’m a progressive and I will never talk to a conservative,” America is flying on both wings.

Joncas also struck a chord in 2020, when he released the prayer song “Shelter Me”, designed to provide comfort during the pandemic. He expects “Shelter Me” to have a similar impact to “On Eagle’s Wings” across denominational lines. There are many different versions of “Shelter Me” on YouTube; one of Joncas’ favorites comes from a Lutheran church in Oslo, Norway. Locally, Joncas was touched by the Catholic charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis by creating a public service announcement using the first verse of “Shelter Me” to accompany photographs of the clients they serve in the Twin Cities.

Like others in education, Joncas had to learn to teach online during the pandemic and felt isolated. However, the pandemic also had a positive result: he deliberately lost 75 pounds by being able to control his diet and exercise.

“I told people that I had lost weight roughly with two toddlers.”

Retired, Joncas doesn’t expect his life to change much, however. He will always help out in parishes on weekends, celebrating Mass, preaching and celebrating the other sacraments.

In the letter to Joncas accepting his retirement from full-time ministry, Bishop Bernard Hebda of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis wrote: “Your priestly gifts have blessed not only this Archdiocese, but the worldwide Church through your music, writing and teaching. … I hope that when you retire, you will now be able to contribute even more fully to the building up of the Church through your exemplary witness to prayer and your willingness to share your past experience to help our young priests.

Joncas also plans to continue teaching virtually or in person, writing articles and possibly books, and composing music.

“I am incredibly grateful to St. Thomas for allowing me to spend decades here,” Joncas said. “It was a wonderful place to exercise the priestly ministry.


Comments are closed.