Gerard John Benedict Farrell, OSB
October 28, 1919 - January 9, 2000
October 28, 1919 - January 9, 2000
John Benedict Farrell was born October 28, 1919, in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the first son of his Boston Irish parents, Daniel and Mary Catherine (Greene) Farrell. The child John had two older sisters, one of whom died at the age of four and a younger brother. His mother died when he was only six years old. During his mother's last illness and after her death, the Farrell children were cared for by his Aunt Catherine. Like Pope John Paul II after the early death of his mother, John Farrell turned to our Blessed Mother for consolation. He attributed his vocation to the religious life and the priesthood both to his own mother in heaven and to the Virgin Mary whom he felt nurtured that desire.
In his earliest years, the future Father Gerard developed a passion for music that would span his entire life. The young John inherited from his father, not only his Irish dark hair and eyes, but also his love of music. John's father reported that his son would spend all his time at the Graphaphone (phonograph) playing music records day in and day out, over and over again.
While living with his aunt Catherine, he attended public school. When the burden of caring for the Farrell children became too much for his aunt, John and his younger brother were sent to a boys' boarding school run by the Sisters of Mercy. John was a boy soprano and loved singing in the choir for the sisters and for visitors. While he did not have any formal music training he would play by singing and using his desktop as a keyboard. It was not until his voice changed that the Mercy Sisters gave John formal piano lessons. His piano teacher's love for Gregorian Chant was also shared with this eager young student of music.
John was glad when his father remarried one of the nurses at the hospital where he worked. His stepmother, Marion, was a widow and had no children of her own. She enabled them to be a happy home once again. John remembers that Marion had exquisite taste in decorating their new home.
John attended Saint Peter's High School in Worcester, a school that demanded much home work in addition to his own practicing piano a minimum of an hour a day. A priest, Father Bernard L. Doheny, from Saint Paul's parish, asked him to come and hear his choir. Soon the young musician found himself not only playing the organ but even directing the choir. The exposure to Gregorian Chant that John had received earlier from the Mercy Sisters had by now developed into a deep love for this music of the Church's liturgy. Chant was becoming central to John's life.
Father Doheny directed him to the Benedictines at Saint John's Abbey even though he did not know anyone there personally; the publication of ORATE FRATRES was recommendation enough. The added fact that John's middle name was Benedict seemed to be a prophetic sign of his future vocation to the Benedictines.
John was given the religious name Gerard when he entered the novitiate in 1940. He graduated from Saint John's University in 1942 and completed his priesthood studies and was ordained in 1946. After his ordination Father Gerard became part of the Saint John's University Music Department for 28 years (1946-74) with interim periods for his music education. Father Gerard received his Bachelor of Music from Montreal University and a Masters Degree in Music at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, in 1951. In 1960 he was awarded a Certificate in Organ and Music Composition from the Royal Flemish Conservatory of Music in Antwerp, Belgium.
Father Gerard was abbey organist from 1946 to 1969 and choirmaster from 1951 to 1969. He became schola director in 1954. In 1952 he introduced the practice of singing Vespers every day of the week, not just on Sunday as previously. As choirmaster he directed the recording for The Liturgical Press several albums of organ music and of Gregorian Chant sung by the monastic schola. He also developed an impressive program of organ recitals that brought leading organists from around the world to Collegeville to perform on the new Abbey organ.
Father Gerard worked with Flor Peters in designing the organ for the new Abbey Church in 1960. It was largely due to his influence that the console was placed in the sanctuary and that The Holtkamp Organ Company was commissioned to make and install the organ. Mr. Holtkamp even flew to Antwerp where Father Gerard was studying to go over the organ specifications with him and his teacher, Flor Peters. Flor Peters gave the inaugural organ concert in the new Abbey Church.
Father Gerard's last years as abbey choirmaster fell in a stormy time for the Catholic Church. Father Gerard supported the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council and strove to implement faithfully, as he put it, "what the Church asked of us." He favored vernacular and diligently began developing English church music by adapting Gregorian melodies to the English language, by composing new pieces, and by drawing upon the hymnody of other Christian traditions. He also sought to follow the directives of Vatican II that Latin Gregorian Chant be retained in the reformed Roman liturgy. Since no suitable agreement and balance could be found with the vernacular and the Chant, Gerard resigned from his position as choirmaster in 1969.
A new chapter in Father Gerard's life then began, with the remainder of his life's work in church music and Gregorian Chant now taking place away from Collegeville and the milieu of the monastic liturgy. He returned in 1974 to the East Coast and studied early music and paleography at Boston University and Harvard University. In 1976 he became professor of Gregorian Chant and Catholic Church Music at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, where he taught through this past December. He was also adjunct professor of Gregorian Chant at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He gave organ recitals across the country, and he became known as a national leader in Gregorian chant studies through his many scholarly publications. It was a special joy for him when he was welcomed back to Collegeville by the Saint John's community beginning in 1996 to teach week-long courses in Gregorian Chant in the graduate summer program of the School of Theology. For his faithful work in preserving the Gregorian Chant legacy, he was awarded the medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice by Pope John Paul II in 1996.
Priestly work was always important to Father Gerard. He served as associate priest at Saint Paul's Church in Princeton, and on May 26, 1996 he celebrated the Golden Jubilee of ordination at his home parish of Saint Denis in Dedham, Massachusetts.
After over a year's battle with cancer, Father Gerard returned home to the abbey on December 30, 1999. From his infirmary bed he was pleased to hear, via closed circuit television, the closing Latin chant antiphon to the Blessed Virgin that now ended the evening monastic prayer. Finally at peace with the many turns his monastic life had taken, and thankful for the rich opportunities he had been given, he died at 6:30 a.m. on the feast of the Baptism of Jesus.
Father Gerard is survived by his sister Edna Todesca of Dedham, Massachusetts, and brother Francis Farrell of Walpole, Massachusetts, and his monastic confreres.
The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated for Father Gerard Farrell at Saint John's Abbey on Wednesday, January 12th, with burial in the abbey cemetery.