Portsmouth — Under bright blue skies Saturday about 225 students from 15 Catholic elementary and high schools across the diocese stretched out on the lawn at St. Philomena School of the Sacred Heart to celebrate the arts and to make some music history. The Catholic School Arts Festival was a signature event in the Diocese of Providence’s yearlong celebration of its 150th anniversary.
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With temperatures in the upper 80s, food trucks served up ice cream to provide some respite from the heat, as well as gourmet empanadas to satisfy the appetites of the hundreds who gathered to participate in the music and stage performances, along with their families and friends who came to watch.
Around the edges of the expansive grounds, several schools set up tables showcasing other aspects of their creative arts programs.
“As you know from the very beginning of our diocese, Catholic schools have been an important part of the life of our Church,” Bishop Thomas J. Tobin said, addressing the crowd from the stage.
Expressing his gratitude to all who make Catholic schools so successful, the bishop said that Catholic schools are important in fulfilling the mission of Christ and teaching the faith, informing communities of faith and motivating young people to engage in Christian service in their churches and in their communities.
“Our schools continue to do such a great job in fulfilling their mission, their ministry that they have from Jesus himself to continue preaching the Gospel and proclaiming the kingdom and building the Church. We’re so proud of all our Catholic schools in the Diocese of Providence that have been part of our history from the very beginning. This is such an amazing and impressive event today.”
“So today we thank God. The Lord has indeed been good to us for 150 years and we’re filled with joy and filled with hope as we move on to the future.”
Diocesan Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia Msgr. Albert A. Kenney said the festival was a powerful way to showcase the arts in the diocese’s Catholic schools..
“It’s really a great day to highlight the central role of Catholic education here in the Diocese of Providence and to specifically honor all the arts programs throughout our diocese which are filled with faithful women and men who really work well with our young people to teach them about Christ and the joy of music,” Msgr. Kenney said.
The focal point of the four-hour event was the world premiere of a combined chorus piece by local liturgical musician and composer Tom Kendzia, whose talents are known and respected far beyond this region.
Kendzia was tasked with composing a combined chorus piece that pays tribute to the theme of the diocese’s 150th anniversary celebration, taken from Psalm 126.1: “The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy.”
“When I was asked to write this, the war that is happening in Ukraine had just started and it was difficult to get started with something that is upbeat and joyful to sing,” Kendzia said of the process he followed to write the music.
“When I realized that I was writing this for kids, it was easier for me to just look at who it was for and really look at the words of the psalm and let the words carry me away to a place where I was able to write something that is joyful and fits the text, at least for this need today.”
After a 20-minute live rehearsal, Kendzia, accompanied by conductor Richard Sylvia, arts director at Bishop Hendricken, led a stage filled with elementary and high school students who had never practiced the composition together before in a rousing and thunderous performance of the newly created music.
“This has been just a culmination of waiting two-and-a-half years to bring together one of the great assets of our Catholic school family, which are the arts communities,” said St. Philomena Principal Brian Cordeiro, who said he has been trying to stage a day to celebrate the arts in the local Catholic schools since the last time it was done about 15 years ago at the Providence Performing Arts Center.
“This has been a great gift,” added Cordeiro, who coordinated Saturday’s program.
Isabella Caporaso, an eighth-grader at Our Lady of Mercy School, East Greenwich, said she enjoys learning in her Catholic school and was happy to see so many schools come together to celebrate a common theme.
“It’s such a warm and welcoming environment,” Caporaso said of her school.
“And it’s so great seeing all the schools together. Sometimes there are rivalries with sports. But it’s just so great to see them together here.”
Caroline Graybill, a junior at The Prout School, Wakefield, displayed some of the amazing art pieces that she has created through her participation in Prout’s IB Art program.
“I really love the arts program at Prout. It’s a full-year art course, which is amazing because it lets you experiment with all different mediums. We have super supportive teachers,” Graybill said, noting how Art Department Director Michael Elson is so supportive of all his students.
Local musician Ryan Tremblay, who has performed internationally and teaches music and chorus at Our Lady of Mercy and St Rose of Lima School’s, performed several songs for the crowd, including a piece inspired by Bishop Tobin’s former long-running column Without a Doubt.
“This is such a beautiful day. I think that, especially coming out of the season we’re coming out of with COVID, to think where we started at the beginning of the year, now we’re out here on these beautiful grounds, celebrating the unity brought about by Catholic music and Catholic schools altogether. The kids have done a phenomenal job,” Tremblay said.
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