At a time when the priesthood and the Catholic Church is under fire for abuse, Father Bill Quinlivan recorded a CD honoring his fellow priests.
"This is either the worst time to do this or the best time," he said describing "I Call You Brothers." The 14 songs and 10 prayers that make up his ninth CD serve as a sort of travelogue for a priest's life. The disc begins with a Prayer for Newly-Ordained Priests, continues through the celebration of fraternity in "I Call You Brothers," on to the Prayer for a 25th Jubilee, a celebration of a "Life in Service," then closing with a Prayer for Priests who Have Died and the light ballad "I'll Lead You Through."
"I think in my own personal time of prayer, in the pain and turmoil of the accusations and allegations and the lawsuits, I kept reaching for something to connect to the true meaning of priesthood, which is disfigured when the priest is accused of serious sin and scandalous behavior. It's not the true image of the priesthood. I think every priest in his own conscience, his own heart has to be aware to stay close to the Lord," he said.
This collection is a sequel of sorts to "Priest of Mine" which came out in 2009. "From time to time an idea comes about a song about priesthood and I would put it aside," he explained, adding that other songs were conceived for specific occasions.
One song was first written as a prayer for Father Sean Paul Fleming, who spent a summer assignment with Father Quinlivan. It became a song only recently. "When he came to ordination day I wrote the (lyric). The lyric, 'Ordination Day' didn't have a melody until a good seven years later."
"The Life of a Priest" was written for Father Leon Biernat's 25th anniversary three years ago. Father Quinlivan expects to use it when he celebrates his own 25th anniversary this coming April.
Some of the songs were written in prayerful response to particular situations that have rocked the Church. One song is about a historical situation about rocks in Ireland.
"Mass Rocks," which may sound like an upbeat tune, is actually a slow-moving song about Irish priests celebrating Mass at clandestine locations during a time when the Catholic Church was outlawed in Ireland. "Our Church was suppressed by an enemy/But our mighty God had a higher law," he sings, relating the mid-17th century tale to a more modern crisis.
"It's a part of Irish history that a lot of Irish people don't even know, but I think Irish-Catholic people need to know for sure," he said.
A friend in Ireland, Father Brendan Quinlivan will play that song and others in his ClareFM radio station, taking Father Bill's music international. "Which is thrilling to me," he said, adding Father Brenden has an historical Mass rock within his parish.
Father Quinlivan often writes songs on retreat with other priests. "Life in Service" is written for retired priests looking back over their lives. "I guess as the effects of aging hit me as I'm about to turn 60, it's led me to be more aware of the priests who have given a lot more years to the ministry that I have," he said.
After 14 years of recording, Father Quinlivan is starting to build confidence in his musical abilities. He plays one instrument on each song, rather than relying on studio musicians as he has in the past. "That was a raising of the bar for me because my confidence in my own accompaniment is not something that I am not very strong on. When I play live, I say my playing is just good enough that my singing can cover my mistakes," he said. He also uses no backup singers and doesn't even sing harmonies with himself. "I wanted the songs on this album to just be heard with the melody and the lyric. That was a conscience decision to keep it simpler than I have done it before."
He did, however keep his sense of humor. In "Same Scent," based on Pope Francis saying that shepherds should smell like their sheep, he offers the tongue-twisting lyric in "shepherd, sheep, same scent."
Reflecting on his own priesthood, Father Quinlivan called the past 25 years, "an astoundingly surprising ride."
"When I look back over my 25 years, I think of a lot the priests who have set a good example for me, those who have inspired me, and those who have been my brothers. I've so much been blessed by the encouragement of the priests who were my pastors when I was an assistant, of those who had been my spiritual directors. At this point I now look at those who are coming through seminary or those who are newly ordained, I think I have a responsibility to pay it forward, or pray it forward, to pray for and encourage the younger priests."
"I call your Brothers" can be purchased from the Catholic Union Store, Catholic Shop at Southgate Plaza, Tara Gift Shop, OLV Gift Shop, Our Lady of Fatima Gift Shop and the parish offices of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Martin of Tours in South Buffalo. All of Father Quinlivan's CDs are available from iTunes. He is in the process of making his songs available on streaming services.