Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Youth Choirs Sing In Pueri Cantores Festival

By JENNIE PRATER, Special To The Bulletin | Published December 15, 2005

Three area youth choirs participated in the second annual Pueri Cantores Student Choral Festival Nov. 6 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah. Performing at the regional event were the choir of Mary Our Queen Church, Norcross, under the direction of Kevin Faulkner; the youth choir of St. Catherine of Siena Church, Kennesaw, under the direction of Nila Alexander; and the Holy Spirit Singers of Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, conducted by Lester Walker. The event included 11 choirs from the Archdiocese of Atlanta, the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., and the Diocese of Savannah. The full day of rehearsals with acclaimed conductor Lee Gwozdz culminated in a Mass at the Cathedral attended by Bishop J. Kevin Boland of the Diocese of Savannah. Although the bishop was unable to celebrate the Mass due to illness, he made opening remarks in which he encouraged the boys and girls—ages 7 to 18—to “use the gift of their voices in praise and beauty.”

Beauty was very much in evidence as the children’s 175 voices filled the historic sanctuary with songs of praise from the Pueri Cantores national repertoire, including “Sing to the Lord God,” by Giovanni Pergolesi and “Ave Verum,” by Gabriel Faure. They sang with drama and precision, moving many in the congregation to tears. Father David Dye, from Mary Our Queen, American Federation board chairman, had earlier told the parents, “After only the first few bars, the children will understand why they are here.”

Individual choirs had been working on the pieces in their own parishes and schools for months. When they arrived in Savannah, they had only hours to learn to sing as one choir. Gwozdz brought not only expertise but obvious enjoyment to the task, employing animated gestures and even a menagerie of stuffed animals. In a short time, the choristers became able to “sing with their eyes,” letting him direct them in a subtle interpretation of the complex music. His high expectations caused the children to work hard and to be surprised at the musical capabilities of their group.

Pueri Cantores is a Latin phrase meaning “young singers” or “little singers.” It is the official worldwide student choral organization of the Catholic Church, with juridical status within the Holy See and federations in 30 different countries. It was founded in France in 1947 by a priest who noticed that children’s voices, raised in praise, could restore the weary spirits of the survivors of World War II. The American Federation of Pueri Cantores (AFPC) grew strong throughout the decade of the ‘50s but was largely abandoned from the 1960s on, when more contemporary styles began to dominate Catholic worship.

Now the AFPC, having been re-established more than two years ago, is set to expand rapidly. It has grown from seven to over 80 choirs in 20 different dioceses, and in both Chicago and Los Angeles, festival choirs have each been comprised of nearly 500 voices.

Pueri Cantores has a two-fold vision. First of all, the organization seeks to bring a priceless ancient heritage of music back into the church while fostering excellent new liturgical works, and secondly, the group works to provide an avenue for children to grow both in their talents and in their faith. Father Dye, a convert from Episcopalianism, said, “No other faith or human institution has a treasury of music equal to that of the Catholic Church, where choral music dates back to the seventh century.”

The AFPC also stands by the notion of “preaching to the choir,” espousing the belief that children who understand the eternal quality of church musical traditions are likely to remain active in the church their whole lives. Participating in this program is an opportunity for them to realize their evangelization potential, showing their community and the world the glory of the Catholic faith. Children who participate also broaden their cultural horizons, singing with others from many different places and walks of life. Says Michigan conductor Michael Bradley, “Pueri Cantores is just like any sport except everyone gets to sing all the time.”

The AFPC sponsors both regional and national festivals and provides opportunities for member choirs to participate in international events. In addition to the annual Savannah Festival, Atlanta area choirs plan to travel to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., for a 2008 festival that will include singers from Canada, Mexico and Central America. The AFPC also sponsors week-long songfest choir camps to teach basic music reading and choral singing. On Jan. 1, 2006, Father Dye and other priests will concelebrate Mass with the Holy Father at the Pueri Cantores International Congress at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Singing at the Mass will be 4,000 youth choristers from around the world, and 400 of them will be from the AFPC.

All parish and school children’s choirs are invited to become involved in this program. For more information, visit the Pueri Cantores Web site at or call the national office at (714) 633-7554.