Christmas is coming early this year, thanks to a specially created CD. “Hope in our Darkness” Christmas classics is the third created by The Rev. Father David McDonnell of Our Lady of the Lake in Sparta, and its timing is poignant, given the way 2020 has panned out.
Father McDonnell wanted to record another Christmas album to share the spirit of the season with friends and parishioners. The CD originally had a different name, but given the sadness that has befallen the world, he changed it. “My wish was that it would offer a sense of hope during this time of pandemic as we adjust to a different way of living,” he said.
Proceeds from the sale will go to charity, including the Sparta Food Pantry, the church’s twin parish in Haiti, Birth Haven in Newton, and those in need in the community.
Linda O’Connell has worshiped at Our Lady of the Lake for almost 11 years. She had briefly been a parishioner at Father McDonnell’s prior parish before he was transferred to Sparta.
“When I accepted a position with a company based in Sparta several years later, I just naturally gravitated to his new parish,” she said.
She’s now involved in several ministries, and serves as a lector, cantor, and member of the RCIA team (instructing those interested in becoming Catholics).
“I also have the privilege of playing music for special liturgies, such as retreat masses,” she said.
O’Connell said she found herself chairing the church’s annual St. Patrick’s Night, which has grown to a 200-person, sit-down dinner with first-rate traditional Irish entertainment.
“Everyone enjoyed hearing Father David sing a song or two at that event, and I was able to accompany him,” she said.
Father McDonnell was born in the west of Ireland, and O’Connell had spent a great deal of time there with family, so they knew the same tunes.
“I thought him a very gifted singer,” O’Connell said. “He had once encouraged me, after hearing me play the Celtic harp, to ‘share your gifts.’ I asked him to do the same, to share the gift of his voice to bring joy to others by making a CD.”
Father McDonnell agreed, with the proviso that the proceeds would go to charity at Christmas time. People enjoyed the first CD, and those in need benefited from the funds it raised.
Traditional Irish style
“For the second CD, Father McDonnell wanted to sing some songs from home,” O’Connell said. “His whole family is very musical, and he, like myself, had picked up many beautiful Irish songs over the years.”
She had recently met a wonderful Celtic guitarist who had a recording studio, and also knew some other Irish musicians who agreed to contribute their talents to the endeavor.
“Father David shared his vision of what the music ‘should be,’ and we each did our best to make it happen,” O’Connell said.
The now-completed “Hope In Our Darkness” CD incorporates the best of the first two: classic Christmas music with some distinctive arrangements influenced by the traditional Irish style. Father McDonnell is the lead vocalist and sings a duet with Sara McCabe, a champion traditional Irish singer herself. She also sings several solo verses throughout the CD.
The CD is available for pre-order and will be released the first week in November. Father McDonnell and O’Connell agree that the CD’s Nov. 1 release is exceptionally appropriate, given the circumstances of 2020.
“I think it is fair to say that everyone longs for things to go back to the way they were before this year’s pandemic,” O’Connell said. “The carols on this CD are a part of the life we knew before anyone ever heard of COVID-19.They are as beautiful as they ever were, unchanged by the events of the past few months. They are a reminder that the present alteration in our daily way of life is a passing thing.”
The songs also have a religious significance.
“For many of us, they are a reminder that an infant born in a manger brought love to earth,” O’Connell said. “The pandemic will go, but the love of God and the joy of Christmas which we have celebrated or over 2,000 years will remain, and we are free to sing about it -- even now.”
Father McDonnell said is CD is a reminder of what makes us strong.
“Despite our mask-wearing and social distancing, we can still lean on our faith, especially during difficult times,” he said.
“Everyone longs for things to go back to the way they were before this year’s pandemic. The carols on this CD are a part of the life we knew before anyone ever heard of COVID-19.They are as beautiful as they ever were, unchanged by the events of the past few months. They are a reminder that the present alteration in our daily way of life is a passing thing.” --Linda O’Connell