For this first “installment.” I want to hold up in memory, the lives and ministries of Jacques Berthier, Leon C. Roberts, and Bishop Kenneth Untener.
JACQUES BERTHIER (1923-1994)
As one who leads a monthly Taize’ Prayer community, I have experienced, as millions have, the power of the music from this community. Jaques Berthier, while not a member of France based Taize’ community, he was able to tap into the spirituality and genre of their spiritual life, and the music he created for this style of prayer, has permeated worshipping communities of every Christian tradition throughout the world.
Berthier was born at Auxerre, Burgundy, in 1923, to musician parents. His father, Paul, was a composer and student of Vincent d’Indy at the Schola Cantorum, and in 1907 founded the famous Little Singers of the Wooden Cross. He was master of the chapel and organist at the Cathedral of Auxerre for fifty years. At first, Jacques was a student of his parents. He studied piano, organ, harmony, and composition with them. Soon, he began to compose melodies and original instrumental pieces.
After the war, he entered the César Franck School in Paris. There he became a serious student of composition under Guy de Lioncourt (the nephew of Vincent d’Indy) whose musician daughter he married. He also studied organ, the fugue, and counterpoint with Edward Souberbielle. He became acquainted with other musicians there, including Pere Joseph Gelineau. Gelineau asked him to compose a series of antiphons for his celebrated psalms. In 1955, Berthier was to compose his first works for the Taizé Community, which at that time consisted of only twenty brothers who sang beautifully in four equal voices.
In 1961 he was appointed organist at St. Ignace, the Jesuit church in Paris—a position he held until his death. He continued to compose and publish, receiving requests from various parishes. The brothers of Taizé once again approached him in 1975, asking him to compose simple repetitive chants for use by the increasing numbers of young people who came from all parts of the world each year to gather at Taizé. Little by little, over a period of nearly twenty years, a vast repertoire of original and altogether new music was created and became known thought the world as “Music from Taizé.” The concept for this unique form of congregational song was developed by the late Brother Robert, one of the early members of the community. He gathered and prepared the texts, sent them to Berthier with rather specific form guidelines, and the extraordinary Berthier compositional craft and creativity produced what may be the most widely sung contemporary Christian music in the world.
For a week in October of 1983, GIA editor Bob Batastini participated in the process with Jacques Berthier and Brother Robert to edit, and in some instances compose, the music for the second volume of the Music from Taizé. Berthier’s genius was so evident in the way he, with a careful spontaneity, clothed text after text in eminently tuneful melody. Most impressive was his ability to sense the natural word accent of languages, such as English, which he did not speak. Jacques Berthier composed the “music from Taizé” for texts in more than twenty languages, reaching all parts of the globe.
At the same time as he was writing this vast body of work, Jacques Berthier continued to compose for traditional Catholic parishes as well as for large gatherings of people where the assembly plays an important role. He composed complete masses for monastic communities, collections of liturgical instrumental pieces for flute, oboe, and organ, as well as larger sacred works for concert performance. His style (other than the Taizé music) was quite personalized and almost always used the Gregorian modes.
On June 27, 1994, Berthier died at his home in Paris. For his funeral, which was celebrated at St. Sulpice in Paris, he had requested that none of his own music be sung. One observer suggested that perhaps he knew something that most of us fail to grasp. But what he did grasp, was that the voice of God is to be found in the holy and simple sounds of sung prayer. (Tribute by GIA Publications, and DH; 1.17.18))
LEON C. ROBERTS (1950-1999)
Leon began his piano studies at the age of six with a local teacher he knew as “Mr. Ben.” His grandmother, Mrs. Mary Bookman, became a religious mentor in the musical growth of her grandson. Being from a family of devout Baptists, Methodists and Pentecostals, he gained an integrated understanding of faith. He first learned skills of directing congregational worship at his mother’s church, the First Apostolic Fire Baptized Holiness Church of Coatesville. It was there that he also had a deep personal encounter with Jesus Christ. His talents and strong faith in God were reflected in the musical groups that he formed and directed such as the “Voices of Love” and the “Jubali Movement of Southern Pennsylvania.” Leon was equally talented during his years in the Coatesville Area School District as a member of the various choral groups such as the Meistersingers and the many theatrical and musical productions.
In 1968, Leon came to Washington, DC, to attend Howard University where he received a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education. Later, he completed course work for the Liturgical Studies Certificate from Georgetown University. While at Howard University, he was a co-founder, pianist and composer for the 100-member Howard University Gospel Choir. Additionally, during this period, he directed the Mount Zion Baptist Church Young Adult Choir and the Library of Congress Gospel Choir.
The defining event of Leon’s career and life came in April 1977 when he was invited to direct the struggling Gospel choir of Saints Paul and Augustine Catholic Church in Washington, DC. Embraced and mentored by the church community, he converted to Catholicism and made his life’s work the integration of the energy and emotion of African-American Gospel music with the traditions and rituals of the Catholic liturgy. From 1977 until 1994, he was the Director of Liturgical Music at Saint Augustine’s and an instructor of choir and music appreciation at their elementary school. From 1978 until 1983, he directed the Mackin Catholic High School Choir and the Archdiocesan-wide Gospel Choir at Saint James Cathedral in Brooklyn, New York. In 1982, he founded and directed the Archdiocesan Mass Choir for the Archdiocese of Washington, DC. He also was music director of the Bishop McNamara Senior High School Gospel Choir.
Leon was the co-founder and music chairperson of the REJOICE! Conference on Black Catholic Liturgy. In 1989, the REJOICE! Conference was held in Rome, Italy, and the Vatican where he spoke on “The Development of African-American Liturgical Music Since Vatican II.”
He was an internationally recognized African-American composer, arranger, liturgist and recording artist. The following are among his works: “Mass of Saint Augustine,” published by the Gregorian Institute of America and dedicated to his late sister, Claudette Shatteen; “I Call Upon You God!-The Mass of Saint Martin de Porres,” published by Leon C. Roberts and Associates of which he was president; “He Has the Power” (GIA) and “Deliver the Word,” (OCP) recorded by the Saint Augustine Gospel Choir; “The Coming,” and “Come Bless the Lord” (both with OCP) recorded by Roberts’ Revival.
Leon was also a major contributor to the first African-American Catholic hymnal, the first edition of “Lead Me, Guide Me” (GIA), which included twenty liturgical settings and was distributed nationally in 1987. In 1993, his psalm settings were published in the African-American hymnal of the Episcopal Church entitled “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” And, he also worked with the late Sister Thea Bowman to produce her “Songs of My People” and “Round the Glory Manger.” The most recent manifestation of this hymnal, “Lead Me, Guide Me: Second Edition” (also with GIA) has continued this influence, and his music continues to be at the center of this resource. Leon’s music has broken through the usual categories, and found a home in many hymnals and congregational resources for both Catholic and Protestant faith communities.
Leon’s liturgical music and seminars are famous around the world. He toured with various choirs throughout the United States, Italy, Japan and the Caribbean Islands. During his tour of Rome, Italy, he directed the Saint Augustine Choir at a special audience with Pope John Paul II. In 1990, his concert tour of Japan with Roberts’ Revival received critical acclaim and resulted in appearances on ABC-TV, FOX-TV and a number of radio stations. On Christmas Eve 1991, he directed the Saint Augustine Gospel Choir in a special program on “The History of Gospel Music” on ABC’s Nightline. From 1994 through 1996, he and Roberts’ Revival performed annually in Hawaii at the BILAC, Big Island Liturgical and Arts Conference.
He was a clinician and lecturer for many organizations including the National Office of Black Catholics, the National Pastoral Musicians Conventions, the East Coast Conference for Religious Education, Notre Dame University, the Catholic University of America’s Liturgical Studies program and many dioceses and archdioceses. In 1994, Leon moved to Brooklyn, New York, to become the Florence Van Keuren Artist-in-Residence at the Concord Baptist Church of Christ. He served as the director for Concord’s Gospel Chorus and the Male Chorus. He also was music director of the Union Theological Seminary Gospel Choir in Manhattan. In 1998, he was honored by the Office of Black Ministry of the Archdiocese of New York. During that ceremony at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, New York’s Archbishop John Cardinal O’Connor presented him with the “Special Achievement Award” for his many contributions to Black Catholic worship and the development of liturgical music.
I was so very blest to be his friend, and to be able to collaborate with him on amazing project that we did together with GIA, entitled “God Has Done Marvelous Things.” Our goal was to find a way, musically, liturgically, and spiritually, to come together as a singing and praying church in unity and reconciliation – all pointed to discipleship to serve God’s people. The recording sessions for our music for this project brought together Robert’s Revival, Fr. Ray East,and many of the liturgical music community that I have come to know in Minnesota. The result was an amazing gift of the Spirit – a gift that can be heard and felt when listening to the recording.
Leon was taken from us far too soon. His funeral celebration at Saint Augustine’s was a prophetic wedding of both sorrow and joy. Fr. Ray Kemp, Leon’s former pastor and the preacher for this final celebration for Leon, quoted the line from the Gospel reading of the multiplication of the loves and fishes, that became the litany for not only the homily, but for all of us to consider as we attempt to echo Leon’s commitment to ministry and a life filled with faith: Jesus admonished the disciples: “You give them something to eat.” Well, Leon most certainly gave us all something to eat. We miss him terribly. We can honor him best by giving our people something to eat – the very best of ourselves. (DH; 1.17.18)
BISHOP KENNETH UNTENER (1937-2004)
Bishop Kenneth Edward Untener was born Aug. 3, 1937, in Detroit. He attended St. Charles Borromeo grade and high schools in Detroit, Sacred Heart Seminary College in Detroit, and St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Detroit by Cardinal John F. Dearden in 1963. He served as assistant pastor of St. Mary of Redford Parish in Detroit, as assistant chancellor for the archdiocese, and assistant vicar for parishes. For several years, he was co-host of a weekly television program entitled “Dialogue” on which he engaged in discussion with various Protestant Ministers.
From 1969 to 1971, he was assigned to graduate theological studies at the Gregorian University in Rome where he obtained his doctorate in theology. He returned to Detroit in 1971, and was appointed assistant to the Delegate for the Clergy Office in the Archdiocese of Detroit. In 1977, he was appointed Rector of St. John’s Provincial Seminary, Plymouth, Mich.
In November of 1980, he became fourth Bishop of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan; which also happens to be my home diocese, and what I refer to as, my “spiritual home.” While Ken was Bishop I was already a permanent resident in Minnesota, but during many of my visits back home, I was able to come to know him well, and I was so blest to have worked together with him for diocesan and national events over the years.
Shortly after his arrival in Saginaw, he sold the bishop’s mansion, and spent the next 23 years moving from parish to parish. Over the years, he had made 69 moves throughout the 11-county diocese. This was only the beginning of a prophetic ministry that re-imagined the role of Bishop, a vision that touched not only the local church of Saginaw; but people throughout the United States and beyond. He humanized his leadership role. He memorized the gospel proclamation for every liturgy that he led; he loved to play the piano and lead sing-alongs. Ken strived to awaken the baptized, and worked diligently with his priests to raise the quality of preaching, and every aspect of the liturgical renewal was very important to him. Over the years, Bishop Ken served as a member of several committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, including the Committee on the Liturgy, the Committee on the Laity, and the Committee on Pastoral Research and Practices, and on the board of the National Catholic Telecommunications Network.
His articles have appeared in various periodicals. He wrote two books, “Sunday Liturgy Can Be Better” and “Preaching Better: Practical Suggestions for Homilists.” More recently, he wrote a popular series of Little Books for Advent, Lent and Easter, as well as for stewardship. In the books, he encouraged people to spend six minutes a day in prayer while meditating on Scriptural passages. This led to the creation of what has come to be known as the “Little Books of the Diocese of Saginaw” that now continues to be a very popular resource for parishes and individuals throughout the world. Bishop Ken regularly presented retreats to priests and theological/pastoral talks throughout the country, including Alaska, and in Australia and throughout the world.
While he is no longer with us, he presence remains – through the “Little Books” and the witness that continues in the Diocese of Saginaw, and among those who knew him personally. (DH; 1.17.18)
Little Books of the Diocese of Saginaw