The parish, located in the middle of North Philadelphia, was established in 1850 by Irish immigrants. Today, the church is also home to St. Malachy’s School, an independent Catholic school that educates over 200 minority children.
For Cappella Caeciliana, the Belfast choir founded in 1995, the church was a must stop on its first American tour. The choir’s music director, Donal McCrisken, is the Head of Music for St. Malachy’s College, Belfast, Northern Ireland’s first specialist music school.
Cappella Caeciliana performed selections from their vast choral repertoire for a blissfully enraptured audience. Filling the church was a crowd that braved the dreary weather and was richly rewarded for its effort. As a tribute to Michaela Harte McAreavy, the daughter of Tyrone’s senior football manager Mickey Harte, who was murdered on her honeymoon this past January, the choir sang “She Moved Through the Fair.” It was a favorite song of the young woman who had many friends in Philadelphia’s Irish Community where her loss is still mourned.
McCrisken spoke afterwards. “Music is probably the most powerful medium there is. It has a way of going from heart to heart. Music transcends boundaries, transcends difficulties; somehow music cuts through and none of those divisions mean anything.
“But at the same time…when you walk into this parish, when you walk into this church, you know they’re very special people here. There’s something intangible, something special in the air here.”
And he would know something about that; Cappella Caeciliana is a Northern Ireland choir made up of both Catholic and Protestant singers.
For the choir who spent the day at St. Malachy’s school, talking to and performing with the children there, the warmth and genuineness that floods the church and the school made an impression.
“We hope our music in a small way is a return for that,” McCrisken said. “And we’re delighted the music has spoken to your audience so powerfully.”
See our photo essay from the concert.