The Collegium Cantorum, a name that is loosely translated as “a company of singers,” sang for the last time at Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas this past weekend. Over 100 members of the Collegium, both past and present, sang at a Mass celebrating the 70th anniversary of Father Ralph March’s ordination as a priest. He is the last of the original Hungarian Cistercian monks and he worked directly with the Collegium Cantorum as the director of the Gregorian Schola.
The Mass was held on Sunday, May 3 in Cistercian Abbey. Every seat was full, and many people stood and sat in the wings. The Collegium Cantorum, directed by Marilyn Walker, sang in Latin. After the Mass, a reception with refreshments was held in celebration of Fr. Ralph.
“The Collegium certainly made our First Friday Masses more beautiful in a way our poor monastic chants can’t,” Father Thomas Esposito, a Cistercian monk and UD theology professor, stated. “There’s a graced magic about the First Friday Mass that is really irreplaceable, and that’s thanks to them. It’s a privilege to pray and a privilege to listen to them sing.”
According to Fr. Thomas, the only monk to ever sing as a member of the Collegium Cantorum was Father Augustine Hoelke, who graduated from the University of Dallas in 2000. Over 400 University of Dallas alumni were members of the Collegium, and many were present for Fr. March’s 70th anniversary celebration.
There is only one other Collegium Cantorum in the United States; it is located in the greater Washington, D.C. area. The Collegium Cantorum at UD was established in 1993.It was initially a course offered at the university that was available by audition only. When funding for the group ran out, the university stopped supporting it. The Collegium was forced to operate independently of the university. No longer able to recruit new people on campus, the Collegium Cantorum had few new members joining, which contributed to the end of the choir’s existence.
“We never look at our singing as a performance,” said Teresa Shumay, a member of the Collegium and UD alumnus who graduated in 2013. “We pray the music. We sing the Mass — never at the Mass. We never perform. We pray and help others to pray.”
Though the end of the Collegium Cantorum has saddened many, Fr. Thomas advised people to enjoy the memories they had.
“The liturgy is the essential part,” Fr. Thomas said. “They offered us a very dignified way of entering more deeply into the Mass. There is an added sense of mystery and awe when the Collegium sings. Things come and go, and music comes and [goes], but take the time to treasure your memories of the Collegium Cantorum.”