Music and Choir History at St Francis

Some notes on History of Music and liturgy in the parish

(early research courtesy of choir member Chantal Celjan, editorial comments by the DOM, Noel Debien)


PRIOR TO 1915 

Old St FrancisBy 1915, the St Francis Choir was being conducted by Mr John Anthony Joseph Post, an enthusiastic conductor much involved with church choirs and suburban musical societies. When Mr J.A.J. Post (as he is often called) was not conducting, he was a law clerk.

His wife, Annie Theresa, was a talented soprano who joined him in the St Francis Choir as a soloist. Another regular soloist was contralto, Mrs Josephine O’Reilly. She belonged to the St Francis’branch of the Irish National Foresters and would sometimes take the title of Sister. Under her direction, Forester members sang their Annual Communion Mass. Completing the partnership was Miss Alice Thompson who could always be relied upon to provide organ accompaniment for all things musical taking place in the parish. With the Choir, they performed the Solemn High Mass at 11am on Sundays.

Mr Post’s selection of music was eclectic, ranging from the Masses and motets of Mozart, Haydn and Gounod, to the works of long-forgotten composers, to his own compositions. Articles in the catholic newspapers of the time would shower praise on the music, said to be ‘rendered by the grand choir in fine style’.

On occasion instrumental accompaniment was provided by Messrs J.Sinfield and F.Gatland, and members of their orchestra, which performed at church fundraisers free-of-charge.

Not unexpectedly, Mr and Mrs Post gave their three sons extensive, informal musical training. All received the names of composers as middle names. John Verdi and Noel Schumann became professional musicians. The eldest, Joseph Mozart, of ABC and State Conservatorium of Music fame, was considered a child prodigy. As a ten year old in 1917, he was a pupil of Sister Seraphim of Mount St Patrick’s Convent, Paddington. 

Historic References to the Choir and Music at St Francis of Assisi, Paddington 

(research courtesy of choir member Chantal Celjan)


“Memorial to late Samuel Carlisle Jeffcott [d.10 August, 1910]. As a tribute to the memory of the late Mr S.C.Jeffcott, for many years conductor of St Francis’ Choir, Paddington, a large gathering assembled at the Waverley Cemetery on Sunday afternoon to assist at the unveiling of a memorial to thelate esteemed musician.

In the morning a special Mass was offered up at 11am by the Reverend J.S.Joyce OFM, for the repose of his soul. Mercadante’s Mass in B Flat was rendered by the choir, under the baton of Signor Colletti. The principal soloists were Misses F. and C.Smith [sops]; Miss K.Carty [cont]; Mr J.Hinchy [ten]; Mr G.Watson and Mr F.Leston [bass]. At the offertory, Mr Hindmarsh Jamieson sang Millard’s ‘Ave Verum’. Miss Alice Thompson presided at the organ. At the close of Mass the choir journeyed to Waverley, where the memorial stone was uncovered by Mrs Collins [sister of the deceased], after which the Reverend Father Fisher OFM, delivered a brief address. A vote of thanks was, on the motion of Mr Leston, passed to the many friends and pupils who had been responsible for the erection of the lasting tribute to his memory etc.

The proceedings were brought to a close by the rendering of Gounod’s ‘AveVerum’ by the choir and others.”


“The 25th anniversary of St Francis’ Paddington was celebrated on Sunday, 27 June, when Solemn High Mass at 11 o’clock was sung by the Rev. Fr. Joyce OFM; the Rev. Fr. Birch OFM being deacon; and, the Rev. Fr. McNamara OFM, sub-deacon. Special music was rendered by the choir for the occasion, Miss Alice Thompson presiding at the organ. The conductor, Mr J.A.Post, selected Mozart’s 12th Mass which was rendered exceptionally well by the fine choir, the choruses being a particularly striking feature.

The soloists were: soprano, Mrs J.A.Post; alto, Mrs Josephine O’Reilly; tenori, Messrs J.Keogh and W.Kirwin; basso, Mr Victor Gibson. At the Offertory an Ave Verum bass solo, the composition of the conductor, was sung by Mr Arthur Burke. The composition admirably suits the basso who interpreted it in fine style.”


Sacred Music was healthy in the 30’s at Paddington. The Catholic Press reoprted that on April 16th at High Mass celebrated by Father Wogan, the choir sang Gounod’s ‘Messe Solonnelle’. Further remarking that ‘ Mrs Hooper presided at the organ, and Mr V.Nugent conducted’. Soloist for the day were reported as ‘Miss Stollery, Mrs H.Hanna and Messrs V.Gibson, B.Farrell and S.Hickey’. 

Catholic Press, 16 April, 1931, p19:

St Francis’, Paddington. Impressive Ceremonies.
The ceremonies of Holy Week were carried out with due solemnity at St Francis’. Those officiating at the ceremonies were Rev. Fathers A.Wogan, OFM, R.Healy,OFM, J.C.Bartley, OFM, Carthage Sharkey, OFM, and Damien Nolan, OFM. Crowded congregations attended the Masses on Easter Sunday, large numbers receiving Holy Communion. At the 9.30am Mass, the Children’s Choir rendered Lamilotti’s ‘Alleluia’ and ‘Resurrection’. Miss McMah [sic] presided at the organ. At 11am, High Mass was celebrated by Father Wogan, assisted by Father Healy, deacon, and Father Bartley, sub-deacon, supported by the choir, rendering Gounod’s ‘Messe Solonnelle’ (St Cecilia). The principals were Miss Stollery, Mrs H.Hanna and Messrs V.Gibson, B.Farrell and S.Hickey. Mrs Hooper presided at the organ, and Mr V.Nugent conducted.

 1980’s to 1995

Sr MargaretDuring the 1980’s the choir was robed (an aqua-blue couloured choir robe) and sang each Sunday. Sr Margaret Beirne RSC was Director of Music, and Dessie Costa was organist during this time.

1995 to 2006 

In 1995, with the intercession of the previous director, Sr Margaret Beirne RSC,pastmusicians_BernardK

Bernard Kirkpatrick was appointed director of music by the then parish priest Geoffrey Plant ofm. Margaret was at that time departing for the Ecole biblique in Jerusalem to take up her doctoral studies in the Gospel of John.

The agreement between Fr Plant and Bernard was to further establish the choir as an examplar of Roman Catholic liturgical music. The position of Director of music was stipended, and an initial grant was made by the parish priest and finance committee for the purchase of music to re-establish music repertoire in continuity with the reform of the Second Vatican Council.

Under Kirkpatrick, the choir grew to 35 members, and began a regular repertoire of multi-part masses and motets, drawing on the treasury of sacred music available to Catholic parishes. Over ten years, the parish re-established the weekly singing of the psalm, the common of the mass and the acclamations of the mass (Gospel, Sanctus and Eucharistic acclamations).

Through further grants from the parish priest, hymnody was further extended by the purchase of Together in Song. The standard weekly choral repertoire came to include once again Gregorian masses and masses by Byrd, Charpentier, Haydn, Langlais, Lassus, Mozart, Palaestrina, Vierne, Vittoria and the other composers of the Catholic musical tradition, as well as the addition of contemporary English language masses by Richard Connolly, William Mathias and Harold Darke. With money raised by the choir through weddings and concerts, the repertoire of masses and motets grew to include an extensive range of composers from the earliest musuc to the present day.

From 1995 regular cantor was stipended to ensure the continuity of liturgical music on non-choir Sundays. The choir secretary from Waverley Franciscan Parish, Sharon Johnson, agreed to take on the responsibilities for the choir library for both parishes.

From 1998, through money raised by the choir, orchestral masses were instituted on the feast of Christ the King, Easter and Christmas – and guest musicians began to appear regularly at St Francis.

The musical profile of the parish grew nationally and internationally with concerts given not only by the parish choir, but by groups including the Brandenburg Orchestra, Christ’s College Cambridge, Kampin Laulu and appearances by the choir on ABC radio.

In 2005, the Australian composer Richard Connolly composed and gifted the parish with a mass in English, Greek and Latin titled “Missa Pax et Bonum”, dedicating it to the priests, choir prefect, choir and people of the parish of St Francis at Paddington.

In late 2005 a Liturgical Music Scholar was appointed, and stipended through the generous gift of a parishioner as a gift to the Archdiocese and a means of ensuring musical training and continuity for the music so loved and admired by members of the parish. A Second generous donor came forward for the 2007 Year.


Under Noel Debien the choir has continued to build on the polyphonic repertoire in itsNoel_conducting proper context of the Roman liturgy re-established under Bernard Kirkpatrick, as well as focussed further on congregational participation in the acclamations, the Gregorian chant, hymns, and new Australian congregational repertoire. Congregational rehearsals have been introduced for special events such as First Communion and Confirmation as a means of extending and encouraging congregational participation. The use of the Kyriale by the people has been extended with the production of congregational cards in both the Gregorian and modern notation, and the congregational mass by Bernard Kirkpatrick made a standard piece of congregational repertoire.

Voice leaders were introduced into the choir parts in late 2006 as a means of encouraging less confident singers, and as an administrative and musical support to the director of music.


Through its own money raising efforts, the choir has extended the music repertoire with major purchases including Britten’s “Rejoice in the Lamb” (performed St Francis Day 2007), Ralph Vaughan-William’s “Mass in G minor” for double-choir, as well as purchasing its own orchestral parts for masses on special occasions. Likewise, new motets including Morten Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” have been introduced into the repertoire through purchase with choir funds and by use of the Choral public domain library.

Also in 2007, James Dixon, the Liturgical music scholar was appointed Assistant Director in recognition of his strong progress in leadership and facilitation of music within liturgy.

The Australian Brandenburg Orccestra and choir, under its director of Paul Dyer (a member of St Francis Choir) performed two of its series of “Noel, Noel” concerts in the church of St Francis Paddington in Advent 2007. Australian Brandenburg Orhcestra members were also kind enough to perform at Christmas midnight mass in 2007.


In 2008, the choir continued to consolidate its position as one of Australia’s finest Catholic liturgical choirs with musical offerings including more Gregorian masses including Orbis Factor, De Angelis, Cum iubilo, more Gregorian propers from the Graduale Triplex, the Mass in g minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams (for feast of Christ the King – and sung for the first time in this parish) and the Stabat Mater of Palaestrina (Good Friday). Further musical purchases were made with funds raised by the choir including the Mozart Orchestral Mass KV 49 in G, the RVW Mass in G minor, the Lauridsen “O nata Lux”, the Festival Te Deum in F (with instrumental parts) by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the Te Deum in G by Ralph Vaughan Williams. New editions of brass parts for the RVW Te Deum in G were introduced for Christus Rex. Soprano voice leader Emma Johnstone produced a new edition of Charpentier’s motet “Salve Puerule” for the feast of the nativity – as well as a new edition of the Missa O Magnum Mysterium of Vittoria. New brass arrangements were also procured for Christmas carols including “O Come all ye Faithful”, Once in Royal David’s city” and the Advent carol “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”

Robust discussion and debate on the place, nature and purpose of sacred music in the parish and the wider church took place in Pastoral council and at special meetings during 2008, and much soul searching was done on the fine line between ‘performance’ and appropriate ‘liturgical service’ at the 10 am Sunday Mass and major feast days where the whole parish gathers. The Parish community at St Francis has been characterised over this period by three recogniseable streams of theological and practical emphasis during this period of discussion and dispute. These groups have been by no means exclusive or highly defined in membership, but rather represent trends. These trends of understandings of church have been described thoroughly in academic writing by Cardinal Avery Dulles in his book “models of the Church”. One local group has emphasised Social Justice issues, another has emphasised Litugical, nmusical and lay involvement issues, and yet another has emphasised the traditional roles of clergy and laity in parish life. The conflict between represntatives of these groups has at times tested the resolve and charity of parishioners and clergy alike, but serve to highlight streams of thought and emphasis also dynamic and dispouted within the wider Catholic church. The common meetings of parishioners have served to both challenge and focus the role of celebrants, people, organists, musicians and choir in the ministry of music within the parish, and have the cause of serious analysis of the ministry of sacred music within the parish liturgy as well as the role of lay leadership. While theological views and personal feelings on liturgy (including taste) have been strongly held among individuals, discussion and consideration is ongoing – within the spirit of the Catholic church as ‘semper reformandi’ (always reforming).

The choir took part in World Youth Day 2008 though providing musical and liturgical assistance at the masses with Schoenstatt sister Mary Luka, Claire Pate, Canadian bishop O’Brien, Geraldton bishop Bianchini and his excellency Archbishop Balvo, Nuncio to New Zealand and Oceania for catachesis in the parish. The choir also participated in the Franciscan YOUFRA youth festival, a number of members participated in the World Youth Day Choir, and the entire choir through the celebration of solemn vespers and benediction with his eminence, Cardinal Napier of Durban at Waverley church.

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and choir, under its director of Paul Dyer (a member of St Francis Choir) performed two of its series of “Noel, Noel” concerts in the church of St Francis Paddington in Advent for the calendar year 2008.

In 2008 Fr Peter McGrath ofm, owing to the strong field of young and promising contenders who applied, decided upon the engagement of two liturgical music scholars. Daniel Canaris (organist and bass) was given the full scholarship, and Elizabeth Williams (organist and alto) was given a half-scholarship. As well as benefitting from their abilities, the parish pledges to both the give them opportunites to learn by experience as well as to educate, train and encourage these two promising young Catholic musicians in sacred music in the liturgical context as a gift to the wider church. James Dixon was farwelled with both gratitude and not a little sadness as he went to his new appointment as assistant organist of St Patrick’s Cathedral Parramatta. He was given the gift by the choir of the Graduale Triplex by the choir as a mark of gratuitude, and also as a sign of mission in the renewal of sacred music in the Australian church.

In January 2008, four members of the choir attended the week-long Summer School conducted by the world-reknowned Tallis Scholars at the Sydney University college of St John’s, including James Dixon (liturgical music scholar, and who was sponsored by a generous parishioner). The Summer School was led by Peter Phillips, and also facilitated by Janet Coxwell and Deborah Roberts (both of whom are members of the famous singing ensemble). The Summer School concluded with a concert in the chapel of St John’s College.  


In January 2009, after singing mass for the Epiphany in St Mary’s Cathedral, some eight members of the choir attended the week-long Summer School conducted by the world-reknowned Tallis Scholars at the Sydney University college of St John’s. The intensive workshop in Tudor music was also an excellent musical interaction with other singers (including former litugical music scholar James Dixon – now assistant organist at Parramatta Cathedral). The Summer School was led by Peter Phillips, and also facilitated by Janet Coxwell and Patrick Craig (both of whom are members of the famous singing ensemble). The Summer School concluded with a concert in St Francis Church on Saturday January 25th.

In 2009, the parish priest Fr Peter Mc Grath relinquished his commision as parish priest in mid- term, and the Franciscan order provided the parish with an administrator, Fr Mario Debattista.

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and choir, under its director of Paul Dyer (a member of St Francis Choir) performed two of its series of “Noel, Noel” concerts in the church of St Francis Paddington in Advent for the calendar year 2009.

Major music purchases over 2009 have included the completion of sets of 40 copies for The Oxford Book of Tudor Anthems, The European Sacred Music Book, A Tallis Anthology, a complete set of Duruflé’s “Quatre Motets”, and a complete set of the Byrd Mass for five voices (given by a kind donor).

Liturgical Music Scholars Daniel Canaris and Liz Williams continued their roles, Edward Theodore as parish organist, Nicole Smeulders  as chief assistant cantor, Sharon Johnson as Choir Secretary and Noel Debien as Director of Music.

2010 onward

327011_10150280977177514_7380079_oOver the calendar year of 2010 the choir and people of Paddington were served by two priests – Fr Mario DeBattista (as P.P.) and Fr Pacificus Scarf (who took over in 2010 as Administrator). Friars Paul Ghanem and Barry Kirby have been resident in the friary. The choir and parish also had the blessing of ministry from American liturgist, academic and friar James Vacco ofm during his sabbatical stay in Sydney. The energetic Friar Vacco provided workshops, preaching, advice, support and encouragement for members of the music ministry during his all too brief stay in the parish.

During this period, the parish clergy and current pastoral councils combined the Pastoral Council meetings of the Paddington Parish and Edgecliffe Parishes. This was following the advice of regional bishop Anthony Fisher O.P. and chiefly for the convenience and practicality of the single parish priest shared between the two parishes.

In early 2010, the choir and parish was joined in the bass line by Peter Leunig, the chief fund raiser for St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. As a professional fund raiser, Peter mooted the idea of fund-raising for a suitable pipe organ for the church at Paddington.

A new SATB choral mass was commissioned from Dr Richard Connolly for the parish, and major repertoire purchases in 2010 included full-set editions of three new masses by Vittoria including the Missa Pro Victoria and the Missa Vidi Speciosum. These were purchased in advance of 2011, the 400th anniversary year of the death of the Spanish genius of sacred composition, Tomás Luis de Victoria.

Liturgical Music Scholars Daniel Canaris and Liz Williams concluded their scholarships in November 2010, Edward Theodore continued as parish organist, Nicole Smeulders continued as chief assistant cantor, Sharon Johnson as Choir Secretary and Noel Debien as Director of Music.

Past Parish Priests, Directors of Music, past Organists, past Choir Members and Guest musicians – Click here for more information

History of the Parish Click for further information