In his 1999 letter to artists, St. John Paul II stated, “The arts draw our children closer to God.” He expressed that, “In order to communicate the message of Christ, the Church needs art.”
During a time when many schools are placing their emphasis elsewhere, Sacred Heart School in East Providence, Rhode Island, has developed a successful music program. The school and community have been supportive of the arts, not only promoting them in school, but also integrating the band and chorus in liturgical celebrations, concerts and music festivals.
At the helm of the music program at Sacred Heart School is Philip Desrosiers, who is also the president of the National Catholic Band Association. He teaches music, band and choir, and says he “has the unique situation of being the only music teacher who does it all.” Desrosiers has developed a school music program that generates excitement around the arts. About 60 percent of eligible students at the school are in band.
Part of the school’s mission statement reads, “We recognize Christ in each person and foster the utilization of his/her gifts and abilities so as to prepare each member of our community to contribute positively in his or her Church and society.” Desrosiers takes this to heart and shows great passion for teaching music.
Describing how faith plays a role in his overall teaching philosophy, he said, “I’ve promoted the understanding that music is a glorious gift of God and that we hold an obligation to regularly better ourselves as musicians so as to service the Church and our community with our talent.”
The students involved in the music program share their teacher’s excitement for the arts. Sean Jacob, an eighth grader at Sacred Heart, has had a positive experience playing clarinet in the band.
“Band and choir have taught me more than learning to read and play music,” he said. “I believe it has taught me to do many things I wouldn’t have had the courage to do before.”
Another student, Sara Vargas, who plays percussion in the band, believes that being involved in the arts has enhanced her faith.
“Getting to hear everyone sing together, including my fellow students who are not in choir, brings joy to me knowing that we are praising God with not just normal prayer, but with song,” she said.
The testament of these students affirms St. John Paul II’s emphasis on the importance of the arts and how they draw children closer to God.