RIP Richard Proulx

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:


  1. I was introduced to the music of Richard Proulx as a young pastoral musician. His contributions to the Church’s sung prayer have formed many members of our assemblies for decades. His death is a great loss to the choir of God’s people on this side of heaven. I can only imagine what his entrance into eternal life will mean for the heavenly choir.

    Eternal rest grant unto Richard, O Lord.
    And let perpetual light shine upon him.

    May he rest in peace. Amen.

    May he and all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

    May his music help us continue to sing God’s praises and be transformed to live our baptism as fully as possible and as creatively as he did.

    With hope,

  2. For the past six months or so, I’d been working with Richard on revisions for our two “Heritage” Masses by Jan Vermulst–Peoples Mass and Mass for Christian Unity. He was, of course, happy to share his – opinions – of the new translation (and reminisce about earlier translations), but did his usual exemplary work on the settings as well. Even while dealing with his health problems, he produced a beautiful Gloria Simplex as a “by product” [his words]!

    May God grant us all the ongoing in-Spirit-ation of this master musician. As choirs sing his farewell here, may choirs of angels welcome him to Paradise!

  3. One of the Great Ones has passed from our midst. I still have the NPM T-shirt that I and many of his fellow composers donated their signatures to, sales from which helped to pay for Richard’s medical expenses when he ran out of Medicare.

    On a point of accuracy, Anthony said:
    In the 1940s Richard studied Gregorian chant at Saint John’s in summer sessions taught by Dom Desroquettes of Solesmes.

    Dom Desroquettes was in fact a monk of Quarr Abbey, of the Solesmes Congregation. I too was taught by him ─ plainchant accompaniment ─ near the end of his life.

  4. The volume and quality of Richard Proulx’s contribution to 20th century liturgical music are astounding, a rich testimony to what can be achieved when an artist cooperates with God-given talents. Ecumenical in scope, many of his compositions enrich The Hymnal 1982, and I suspect that few Episcopal parishes in the United States go more than two or three weeks without singing one or another of his tunes or ordinary settings.

    He will be sorely missed by us all.

    Requiescat in pace et resurgat in gloriam. Amen.

  5. On April 4, 1998, when the Little French Church of Saint Louis, King of France, blessed and dedicated the new Casavant Organ, Opus 3762, it was Richard Proulx who provided the dedicatory organ piece “Les Paroles Finales de Saint Louis” (later published by Oxford). And on August 25, 2002, our parish’s patronal solemnity and titular feast, Richard’s Messe de Saint Louis (using French, English, Latin and Greek texts) received its premiere here. But long before those two events, and as a young student, Richard began a long and loving association with the Little French Church. As much as we shall miss him, we pray that the Christ-Orpheus will welcome him to the Paradise of Music.

  6. One of my first personal encounters with Richard was in the early 1990’s when I invited him to conduct the Vierne “Messe Solennelle” at his home Cathedral of St. Paul. Within a week I received by post a large envelope containing additional pieces for choir and two organs, new hymn settings and a magnificent program for a concert commemorating the Feast of SS. Peter & Paul – all a pleasant surprise to me! He was as generous as he was prolific, and I thank God that he was a friend and mentor to me among so many others. Requiescat in pace.

  7. I did not know Richard Proulx personally, but I shall be forever grateful for what he has given to the church through his music. May he rest in peace.

  8. I grew up with Richard Proulx as a young seminarian in the 1970s, and he brought the liturgy back to life…during the transition of the Latin Liturgy to the Contemporary Liturgy…and his music was also brought to Anglican Circles. His music for Cathedral worship was glorious….and there are so many liturgies where we were privilege to sing, and celebrate our worship though him…I give thanks to God for his music, ministry, and witness to our age. He will be in my prayers…with a grateful heart! Vincent from Mexico City (Anglican Diocese of Mexico)

  9. Australians are very much saddened by news of Richard Proulx’s death as he was much loved by them as a very friendly happy church composer and lecturer who commanded respect for his beautifully crafted compositions and poetic sensitivity. We also enjoyed immensely his sense of humour, his ecumenical openness.
    His mass settings, especially his chant-based arrangements, his anthems and hymn settings were incorporated into the major Australian hymnals and worship books.
    My own connection with Richard goes back to our ICEL music subcommittee meetings and my visits to Chicago as well as sharing his various Australian workshops and the seminal RSCM Ecumenical Summer School in Bendige, Victoria.
    He now sings a more profound Alleluia!

  10. As an Australian on my first visit to Chicago, I first met Richard Proulx in 1988 after knocking, without announcment, on the door of the Music Office at Holy Name Cathedral. I was met with amazing hospitality and kindness, and we remained the best of friends thereafter.

    We invited Richard to Australia in January 1992 for a ground-breaking RSCM Summer School in Bendigo, Victoria, and he visited us again at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne in 1999 as “composer in residence”.

    As he now rejoices in the heavenly liturgy where the ‘texts do not change’, I will rejoice in the memory of a great mentor and friend.

    Geoffrey Cox
    St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne.

  11. Richard was a mentor, friend, and lover of beauty who took me under his wing as soon as we met in 1986. Whether on a road trip along the St. Croix River or at the Getty Museum, his wonderment always inspired. He loved architecture and good food, and was a humble man.

    Richard’s eloquence is as legendary as his oeuvre, and his mischievous wit well-honed. I admire his ability to make everyone with whom he spoke feel that they were the most important person in the world.

    He opened his heart and his home to many, and though he spoke clearly about those things with which he was impassioned, he never preached to others. His service to the Church and humanity was a lifelong homily, proclaimed daily by his actions.

  12. One of the last public statements by Richard: he’ll be deeply missed :-

    “I have spent my life composing liturgical music for what has proven to be strong, poetic texts. In 45 years a wealth of good settings has entered the congregational repertoire. Many composers have accomplished what the Church has asked of them and it is tragic that so many Bishops here and in Rome are anxious to take that repertoire away from our people for unknown settings to come of a clumsy, ungraceful new translation. The proposal to “just wait” while engaging in a trial period with select parishes throughout the English-speaking world might just save the Bishops from the embarrassment sure to come.”

    Richard Proulx, Dec. 2009.
    “What If We Just Said Wait” petition, no. 1411

  13. The world of church music has been wonderfully enriched by the musical art and craft of Richard Proulx and hosts of church musicians will mourn his passing alongside his family and many friends.

    Richard’s visits to Melbourne in 1992 and 1999 remain firmly etched in my memory for the warmth of his humanity, the high quality of his choral direction and musicianship and his delightful sense of humour.

    I was inspired by his wisdom, attention to detail and friendly rapport with singers and musicians. Richard was much loved here in Australia as he was in the US and many other places.

    May he enjoy the music of the heavenly choirs and rest in God’s care

    Paul Taylor
    Archbishop’s Office for Evangelisation

  14. Among the most soul-satisfying professional relationships I encountered during tenure as Organist and Choirmaster at Fourth Presbyterian Church was the warm friendship of Richard Proulx. His unfailing good humor, superb musicianship, and insights into human nature were present in each encounter. whether making music together, consulting on organ building or chatting over the lunch table. After our respective retirements our friendship continued and blossomed. His death is a real personal loss, and I shall miss him greatly. May he rest in peace in the assurance of a life well and fully lived.

  15. I count it as one of the great blessings of my life to have known Richard Proulx. The generous sharing of his love of beauty, knowledge, wisdom, wit, hospitality and friends; not to mention his music, is something I shall never forget.

    The final words of one of Richard’s most memorable settings sums up his life’s work and remains a challenge for us all: ‘In our worship and our living keep us striving for the best’.

    Thanks, dear friend, for inspiring us to strive for the best. It won’t be the same without you but we give thanks that you now rejoice in the best company of all.

    Tony Way
    St Francis’ Church

  16. Richard Proulx was a composer who gave glory to God and edified the Church with his compositional and arranging skills. He was also a friend, whose encouragement and kind words I will always remember. May his memory be eternal!

    Richard was received into the communion of the Episcopal Church by Bishop Jeff Lee of the Diocese of Chicago at St. Paul and the Redeemer Episcopal Church last fall. Thank…

  17. I got to know Richard most intensely when he agreed to conduct The Cathedral Singers in recording some of my liturgical compositions for a collection entitled “As the Deer.” I was so grateful that he would bring his great musicianship to bear on my simple pieces. He taught me subtle points of musical crafting without shaming me, mostly by asking pointed questions. (I loved his comment: “Oh, so you’ve been listening to Barber’s Knoxville Summer of 1915 recently, haven’t you?” after hearing one of my settings of Psalm 23.) He was unfailingly kind to me, generous with encouragement without abandoning his principles, and deeply concerned with the Church’s worship. May the angels lead him into paradise!

  18. The thing that impressed me most about Richard every time we met was his honesty and integrity. He had a love of great church music done well, and a thirst for finding and setting wonderful texts. Whenever I asked for his insights, he always shared them generously. He was one of those people who is a born teacher, and teaches by his every word and action. There is no other composer that has lived in my lifetime that has contributed such works of beauty to the music of the church. He endured his physical trials with great grace and acceptance, and I am thankful that he no longer has to suffer from them. I know that the music in Heaven is now more glorious with the addition of this talented, kind man. I will always miss him.

  19. I came to know Richard Proulx in his last few years through the Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedal Musicians. I was always in awe of that powerful presence, and assumed I was a small guy from a small place, not on his radar. Having posted a question on our CRCCM list-serve, it was Richard who came to my rescue with repertoire ideas, and then VOILA an envelope arrived with scores of his own music. One had never been sung, and we were able to have a RP premiere here at my cathedral. We kept up a constant email friendship when finally he invited me to visit personally one summer. Then another, and then another. Every visit consisted of talking music, my posing questions and him telling me where to find a book on his shelf, or sometimes, after I had gone out for a bit, a stack of scores would be available for me to peruse. He was very kind to me in helping me learn those things I didn’t know and I will be forever grateful that he shared his wealth of knowledge and hospitality.

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