Arts Festival to celebrate vibrant, creative students in celebration of 150th anniversary of diocese

Event to feature World Premiere of chorus piece by liturgical musician and composer Tom Kendzia


PORTSMOUTH — Bring chairs, blankets, coolers and snacks and relax by the bay as students from Catholic schools across Rhode Island inspire through the gift of the arts, as the faithful celebrate all the great things the Lord has done over the past 150 years in the Diocese of Providence.
On Saturday, May 21, from noon to 4 p.m., all are invited to the Catholic Schools Arts Festival at St. Philomena School of the Sacred Heart, 324 Cory’s Lane, Portsmouth. The festival is an outdoor Performing Arts Showcase Concert featuring the creativity of students from across the diocese. Food from locally-owned food trucks will also be available for purchase.
Brian Cordeiro, principal of St. Philomena School of the Sacred Heart, shared that this Arts Festival is a celebration of the God-given gifts that are on display in Rhode Island’s exceptional Catholic schools.
“There is no better time than during our 150th Anniversary to honor the impact that Catholic education has had in shaping generations of young people,” Cordeiro said. “Catholic schools are known for their commitment to forming the whole child and the arts are just one of many ways that our students come to celebrate their talents.”
He explained that the students are very excited to showcase their school presentations while also having an opportunity to gather for the first time in such a large and unique celebration. Sixteen schools, featuring about 250 students, will be taking part.
“We are so very proud of all our schools, teachers and students and their commitment to strong, vibrant and important creative experiences. Our celebration is a way to see all the great things God has done with and for our young people in the diocese,” Cordeiro said.
This special day will also feature the world premiere of a combined chorus piece by Tom Kendzia, a local liturgical musician and composer.
Cordeiro feels that Kendzia has captured the enthusiasm and energy of Psalm 126 — the psalm chosen to serve as the theme of the diocese’s 150th anniversary.
“I love it! He created the perfect piece for our young people to present. It is joy-filled, enthusiastic and inspiring,” he said.
Kendzia’s music has been published since 1980. In 2020, he celebrated the 40th anniversary of the release of his first collection, “Light of the World.” Since then, he has been featured regularly at national conferences, diocesan workshops and parish events throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean.
He has been a director of liturgical music in parishes throughout the U.S. since 1977, and the director of music at Christ the King Church in Kingston, since 1986. He also is a 2014 diocesan Lumen Gentium service award recipient. He lives in Westerly with his wife Mary Carol.
When he was asked to prepare a piece in celebration of the milestone anniversary of the Diocese of Providence, he said he was beyond honored and thrilled, especially being a Catholic school alum himself.
“To be involved with the Catholic schools in Rhode Island at this point in my life is so gratifying to me both personally and professionally. It is especially exciting to create music for children’s voices,” he said.
As a child, he remembers looking forward to hearing the organ and choir sing in church. He shared with Rhode Island Catholic that this experience had a huge impact on his appreciation of the importance of music at Mass.
“I was blessed to grow up in a parish that had beautiful sacred music,” Kendzia said. “I was in the sixth grade when the guitar was first used at Mass and I loved that as much as the traditional music that I first knew.”
This appreciation has only grown in knowing that there are many ways to sing the liturgy of the Catholic Church, he noted.
“Since I love all types of music, as do all people of faith and all ages of people of faith, it has been my mission to be as creative as possible in my ministry as composer and practitioner and offer as much variety in my writing to fit the many varied needs of the singing church,” Kendzia said.
He described this unique anniversary piece as lively, singable and usable for young people.
“I have never set this psalm to music, and was excited to take a shot at it,” Kendzia said.
“I decided to use the approved text found in our lectionary, making the song easier to publish, although it might end up with additional texts when it is published. I also had to keep focused on the musical energy that would best suit young voices for this event as well as making it possible to use at liturgy.”
He said that he cannot wait to hear the whole group sing this song together and that he enjoyed his time working with such talented young people. Kendzia recalled after a rehearsal at Bishop Hendricken, how the kids took the time to offer a word of thanks to him.
“It was so wonderful, unexpected and unforgettable,” he said.