August 26, 2005

John Michael Talbot plans two concerts in archdiocese

(Editor’s note: This is the first article in a series of occasional feature stories about Catholic musicians with connections to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.)

By Mary Ann Wyand

Back home again in Indiana in September, internationally known Catholic musician and Indianapolis native John Michael Talbot will perform two concerts in the archdiocese featuring some of his most-loved songs as well as new selections from his recently released “City of God” and “Monk Rock” CDs.

Three years ago, Talbot began a national tour promoting his then-new “Wisdom” CD with a sold-out solo concert at St. Lawrence Church in his old neighborhood in Indianapolis after releasing that recording of contemplative religious songs.

Talbot will present another concert at St. Lawrence Church, located at 4650 N. Shadeland Ave., at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12 with his brother, Terry Talbot, as well as Tom Booth, the reorganized Mason Proffit band and a 50-member choir.

He also will perform for the first time at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, located at 1752 Scheller Lane in New Albany, at 6 p.m. ( EST) on Sept. 11 with his brother, Booth, the band and a 60-member choir.

Concert organizers said his high-energy “Monk Rock” songs from his 48th album are expected to “rock the house” at both parishes and get audience members on their feet to celebrate their love for God.

“I hope people enjoy ‘Monk Rock,’ ” Talbot said in a press release promoting the concerts, “but, more importantly, I hope they listen to the message in the music. It was fun to take an electrifying message and put it to electrifying music that has something for all ages.”

Talbot grew up on the northeast side of Indianapolis and gained fame with his brother as members of the former Mason Proffit country rock band in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

Responding to God’s call, John Michael Talbot left that band and spent several months in 1978 living a hermitic lifestyle in a small cabin near a creek at the St. Louis Franciscans’ former Alverna Retreat Center on the north side of Indianapolis, where he experienced a religious conversion that changed his life.

Talbot began singing and writing contemporary Christian music as a “Troubadour for the Lord”—a title inspired by St. Francis, he said, “who called himself the herald or troubadour of the great king”—then founded a Catholic lay community in 1982 called the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage near Eureka Springs, Ark., where he lives with his second wife, Viola, and about 40 community members.

He serves as general minister of this religious community he describes as “celibate brotherhood, celibate sisterhood, a single expression for those who are open to marriage and a family expression all within one integrated monastic community.”

His website describes it as “the only monastic community of its type in the U.S. to be granted canonical status in the Catholic Church.”

Members profess vows of poverty, charity and obedience. The community operates The Little Portion Retreat and Training Center at their hermitage, an agricultural mission in Nicaragua, a free medical clinic and itinerant ministry in Arkansas, and provides assistance to the Mercy Corps.

From his early years as a popular country rock musician in America, Talbot has gained countless Christian music fans throughout the world that appreciate his unique combination of praise, worship, prayer, chant, contemplative meditations, classical and mainstream lyrics on his best-selling CDs.

Talbot’s music and the community’s ministry of helping the poor have earned a Dove Award for the album “Light Eternal,” the President’s Merit Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for “Song of the Poor,” and the Humanitarian of the Year Award from Mercy Corps International.

He is the founder and president of the Catholic Association of Musicians, a ministerial and support organization for Catholic musicians, and has written several books in addition to serving as a retreat master.

Before his first concert at St. Lawrence Church, Talbot spoke with a Criterion reporter by telephone about his early years in Indianapolis and God’s call to Christian music that led him to dramatically change his life.

Talbot started the interview by saying that he is humbled and thankful that the Lord has blessed this ministry.

He said Franciscan Father Martin Wolter, who helped start the Tobit Weekend for engaged couples in the archdiocese and ministered at the former Alverna Retreat Center, is his spiritual director and lives at the hermitage in Arkansas most of the year.

“He catechized me and brought me into the Catholic Church,” Talbot said. “I was 24 years old. We started our house of prayer there, called First Charity then the Little Portion, at Alverna in 1978 and 1979 as a secular Franciscan order for lay people and diocesan clergy. That’s where I got my call to the Franciscan and monastic-oriented life.

“I built a one-room hermitage and entered into an extended period of prayer there, coming up [to Alverna] for liturgies and to our house of prayer at the carriage house only a couple of times a week,” he said. “I think I lived there for three or four months, following the examples of St. Francis, who began his vocation as a hermit, and St. Benedict, who did the same, and also of the desert fathers and mothers.

“I was trying to go back to a primitive understanding of Franciscanism, which was an extension of primitive monasticism,” Talbot said. “I really felt a call to solitude from the example of Jesus, when he spent time in the desert to prepare for his ministry and throughout his ministry when he spent time in solitude.”

In 1971, Talbot said, Mason Proffit band members were “asking all the right questions about the problems we saw in society and were coming up with all the wrong solutions. That led me into spirituality in search of a solution. I started out studying world religions then through a prayer experience with the person of Jesus I began calling myself a Christian again. I came to Alverna six years later after a failed fundamentalist Christian experience.”

Divorced from his first wife and alienated from most of his friends, Talbot said he started rebuilding his life with God’s help after “having my heart broken and, from that broken heart, finding the healing of Christ and God’s peace.”

After joining the Catholic Church, Talbot said he found “great comfort” in Scripture, especially the Old Testament books of Wisdom, Sirach, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as well as the Beatitudes and other Gospel verses in the New Testament.

“I really want to bring that wisdom in a musical way to Catholic listeners and non-Catholic listeners,” he said. “I want to help people further their own wisdom and understanding of the Lord.”

Father John Beitans, pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis, said John Michael Talbot fans that are familiar with his exceptional vocal talent and acoustic guitar music will enjoy his latest concert medley featuring traditional hymns combined with new Christian rock songs.

“We’re excited because for him it’s a homecoming,” Father Beitans said. “He grew up about three or four blocks from the church then his life journey led him to his conversion experience. He always remembers fondly the neighborhood of his upbringing.”

Talbot expertly blends spiritual and contemplative songs with more celebrative music, he said, for a wonderful concert experience.

“He seems to explore both poles,” Father Beitans said. “His music can be so quiet and reflective … to listen to in the utter silence that it takes to be in the presence of God. But with ‘Monk Rock,’ apparently he’s going to bring it to a level that we haven’t even heard yet. This time, he’s bringing a band. The last time, he did not.”

With the release of “Monk Rock,” he said, Talbot seems to be reaching out to a mainstream audience.

“He’s such an accomplished musician,” Father Beitans said. “He covers the whole field of religious music from classical to songs that are most popular right now. His last concert here was one of the most uplifting events that we’ve had in the parish, and we look for this one to be even better. Tickets are on sale now, and we don’t expect to have any leftover at the door.”

Father Paul Etienne, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany, said Talbot “has done a lot of wonderful music through the years and we’re thrilled to be able to offer this concert” in September.

“I know that John Michael Talbot, through his music, views that as a real ministry,” Father Etienne said, “and I think it’s certainly one of many ways that people can grow in their relationship with Christ and … at the same time experience a very uplifting moment in their prayer life and faith life.”

(For tickets or more information about John Michael Talbot’s concert on Sept. 11 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in New Albany, call 812-945-2374 or log on to the parish website at Tickets for that concert are $20. For tickets or more information about his Sept. 12 concert at St. Lawrence Church in Indianapolis, call 317-546-2559. Tickets for that concert are $15.)

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