Corpus Christi parishioner composes Mass for Easter season
by Jane Graves
LAWRENCE — She’s planning to keep her day job — as wife and mother to four kids, age 4- 10.
But even Julie Dunlap’s 10- year-old daughter Eleanor had to admit it’s pretty cool to sing the Mass her mom composed.
“It’s really interesting and fun at the same time,” said the Corpus Christi student. “It’s sort of like if your dad was Beethoven or something.”
Julie is fairly confident, however, that it’s still safe to run errands without a disguise.
“My privacy is probably going to be respected by the general public,” she said wryly.
Still, Dunlap’s “Mass of Unending Joy” has received a warm reception at Corpus Christi Parish in Lawrence, where for the second year — now with newly written parts for violins — it is being sung at Masses throughout the Easter season.
The Mass grew out of a conversation with Corpus Christi pastor Father Mick Mulvany, who said he appreciated Julie’s “sense of the sacred” and talent as a musician. So during Lent of 2006, he said, “I asked her if she had ever considered writing a Mass for the liturgy — one that was actually very user-friendly for both the people and the priest.”
“I was able to finish the melody and the accompaniment for everything by Christmas of 2006,” said Julie, “and gave it to [Father Mick] as his Christmas present.”
“He was very moved,” she recalls. “ It was very sweet.”
“But don’t cry until you hear it,” she cautioned.
Julie then spent several more months working on harmony and instrumentals before the Mass’ debut on Holy Thursday of last year.
For many years, Julie has had the desire to compose a Mass, but “never had any real reason to do it and didn’t even know if I could do it,” she said. “There was a time where it wasn’t going to happen.”
Such as when Julie and her husband David’s four children — Eleanor, 10; Amelia, 9; Luke, 6; and Caroline, 4 — were very young. When Julie, a stay-at- home mom, began composing the Mass, Caroline was 2 and Luke was still in preschool, so time alone was in short supply.
“Sometimes they’d both nap and I’d get an hour to do it. Sometimes it would be 10 or 15 minutes to sit down and work out a part,” she said.
Once Caroline began preschool, “I would have about an hour twice a week to myself,” Julie said. “I just worked it around whenever they didn’t need me.”
Still, it wasn’t easy.
“I explained to the choir the night before Holy Thursday that [my family] hadn’t worn clean clothes in a really long time,” Julie said. “That’s probably an exaggeration, but the point is, some things have to suffer. You can’t do everything and do it all well.”
Although Julie studied human biology in college, she has provided piano accompaniment at Mass since childhood, a way of contributing that she learned at the feet of her parents, Ron and Mary Thies, of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park. They both sang in their parish choir, said Julie, who remembers spending “hours and hours” playing piano while her dad rehearsed.
Julie also credits her children’s choir director at Holy Cross, Peggy Schrick, with her longtime interest in liturgical music. Schrick encouraged Julie by arranging for her to play her first Mass in the fourth grade.
“I wrote [the Mass] for Father Mick because he asked me to, but I gave it special dedication to my parents and to Peggy Schrick, because they’re the ones who really allowed this to happen,” said Julie.
Julie and her husband are now passing that tradition of service on to their own children. Eleanor and Amelia both serve as cantors at Mass and also played a role in “Mass of Unending Joy.”
It was their job, said Julie, to make sure she was keeping her promise to Father Mulvany and keeping it easy to sing.
Maureen Brogren, director of music at Corpus Christi, said the Mass definitely achieved its original intent.
“As a singer, it’s a very nice Mass,” Brogren said. “Singing is praying twice, so I think she’s outdone herself.”
Father Mulvany agreed that Julie’s efforts were successful, and said he has heard comments from visiting priests about the Mass’ beauty.
“Julie seems to have a spirit that is open to God, and therefore what she composes comes from the Divine,” he said. “The community has been moved by her addition to our worship.”
Julie said she felt the Holy Spirit with her while she was composing. She equated the prayer and growth of the music with the feeling of anticipation mothers experience during pregnancy.
Likewise, hearing the Mass performed — with all the voices and accompaniment — for the first time while rehearsing it with the choir was “like giving birth,” Julie said. “There was so much love that was put into it. And so much vulnerability . . . especially the eucharistic prayer.
“I was glad I was playing it, because then I could kind of detach myself enough to not blubber like an idiot. Because that’s the closest I’ll ever get to consecration — to facilitate it with music.”
And like bringing a new life into the world, said Julie, there is a sense of just being the instrument of a larger plan.
“You look at your baby and think, ‘I couldn’t have created this beautiful baby without the help of God and the Holy Spirit,’” Julie said. “To hear the choir sing it — I thought they sounded beautiful — and the organ, and this year we added violins to it… to hear all of that is just really humbling because it can’t come from a person.
“It had to come from the Holy Spirit.”