Richard Proulx, master composer and faithful servant of the reformed liturgy, passed away on February 18th. He had been received into the Episcopal Church by the bishop of Chicago just a few months ago. A Service to Celebrate the Life of Richard Proulx will be held on Saturday, 10 April 2010 at 10:30a at the Church of Saint Paul and the Redeemer (Episcopal), Chicago, IL. Private interment will be held at Saint Thomas Church (Episcopal) in Medina, WA. May the angels now welcome him into paradise, and may heavenly choirs greet him.
I wish to share some memories of Richard here. You may wish to add your own memories and testimonials.
At commencement in 1998 Saint John’s Abbey and University awarded its highest honor, the Pax Christi award, to Richard Proulx. The award is given in recognition of those who exemplify Benedictine ideals of service. A university choir under the able direction of Dr. Axel Theimer sang his Preghiera di San Francesco which Richard had written in memory of Joseph Cardinal Bernadin. Richard was visibly touched by the award and the choral offering. He addressed the assembly in well-chosen words which, many of my brother monks noted, were among the most inspiring they have heard at a graduation ceremony.
Saint John’s was blessed to have some good collaborations with Richard over the years (and you’ll never guess which monk worked to secure the award for him…). In the 1940s Richard studied Gregorian chant at Saint John’s in summer sessions taught by Dom Desroquettes of Solesmes. More recently he taught hymnody and composition in our summer school. He composed “Where Your Glory Abides” for assembly and choir at our commission. I was humbled that he dedicated his charming organ variations on the German Easter carol “Wir wollen alle fröhlich sein” to me. (He heard the medieval carol at one of our hymn festivals.) Richard was instrumental in putting us in contact with folks at Holy Childhood parish in Saint Paul where Bruce Larsen was longtime master of music. The result was that the very extensive Larsen Collection of choral and other liturgical music is now housed at our Alcuin Library.
Richard was always on the lookout for younger musicians to encourage, nurture, and mentor. When I was a junior monk he invited me to present an organ mini-concert before Sunday Advent Vespers at Holy Name Cathedral as part of a series. I think he sensed how nervous I was, and I will never forget his reassuring words. To signal that everything need not be perfect, he recounted the experience of another religious who once played in the same series. The friar was so anxious to get it over that he started 20 minutes early and was almost done by the time the people arrived!
Richard was not always patient with mediocrity, and his words could be rather sharp. Nor was he happy that the retranslation of the Catholic liturgy would render obsolete some of his work from many decades. He once said that he wished to say to those responsible for all this, “Sursum tuum.” But yet he took up the task of setting the new texts to music. You will like very much his Gloria Simplex for the new Gloria text . I can’t wait till it appears.
Here is a lovely brief tribute to him: