Sacred Heart Cathedral Choir Members with Bishop Shane Mackinlay, Palm Sunday 2021
Photo: Frances Mills & Sarah Gould
The Sacred Heart Cathedral Choir is more than 100 years old. The Choir began as the pro-Cathedral Choir of St Kilian’s Church, Bendigo. The first priest on the Bendigo goldfields, Rev. Dr Henry Backhaus (1811-1882), was a talented musician and began a choir at St Kilian’s Church in 1857, when the church was dedicated by Bishop James Alypius Goold, OSA, the first bishop of Melbourne (1848-1886).
It seems that this choir became the choir which continued to become the pro-Cathedral choir when Bishop Martin Crane, OSA (1818-1901) was installed as the first Bishop of Sandhurst (1875-1901), and then became the Sacred Heart Cathedral Choir when the choir moved from St Kilian’s to sing the liturgy at the newly opened cathedral in September 1901.
Just a few years later (1906), the Cathedral organ built by Bishop & Son of Ipswich in the UK [Bishop & Son Organ Builders (bishopandsonipswich.co.uk)] in 1904 was installed in the rear gallery beside the great “west” stained glass window. For further details of the history of the organ and its specification, see Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral, cnr Mackenzie & Wattle Streets, Bendigo (ohta.org.au)
Fr Henry Backhaus conducted the choir at St Kilian’s, giving performances of Cherubini’s Requiem Mass and Haydn’s Masses, and was responsible for importing the fine German pipe organ built by Randebrock of Paderborn in Germany around 1871-2. For more details about the instrument at St Kilian’s and its specification, see St Kilian's Bendigo (ohta.org.au).
THE CURRENT CHOIR
TTo breathe new life into the Cathedral Choir, Mr John Hogan (Cathedral Organist and Director of Music from 1980-2020), together with Bishop Noel Daly (1929-2004), instituted a system of Choral Scholarships in 1981. Since then, there have been choir scholarships so that talented young students attending a Catholic school in Bendigo may be encouraged to become part of the Choir. Originally the Cathedral Choir sang once a month. Now the choir sings most Sundays (except during school holidays) in addition to solemnities, and for special Cathedral/diocesan celebrations (e.g. Chrism Mass during Holy Week, and Ordinations).
The choral repertoire ranges from Gregorian chant to modern liturgical music, some of it especially written for the Choir. The aim is to keep the best of the past tradition alive and to sing the best of today’s liturgical music in ways that foster the full, conscious and active participation of the people, the central aim of the Catholic Church’s Conciliar liturgical reforms (1962-1965).
The choir’s musical ministry is more than a musical performance. The choir facilitates the prayerful participation of the people of God, leading the assembly in its prayers of praise, thanks and petition and accompanies God’s challenging and comforting words, particularly during the Liturgy of the Word. The Choir’s role is to clothe the scriptural, liturgical and religious texts, and to serve the liturgical rite, with the hope of offering due glory to God and the edification and sanctification of God’s people at prayer.
Source: Adapted from 150 Years of Harmony: The Choir and Organists of Sacred Heart Cathedral Bendigo (1857-2012) by John F. Hogan (Bendigo: Sacred Heart Cathedral, 2012).