Father Dan O’Reilly is the director of Columbia Catholic Ministry and one of the more musical priests around. Catholicism curator Max Rettig sat down with Fr. O’Reilly to talk slogans, Pope Benedict, and Catholic rock bands.
Bwog: How would you define your role inside of the Columbia community as head of the Catholic Ministry, and outside Columbia as part of the Archdiocese of New York?
Father Dan: I began in the Columbia area with now-Cardinal Timothy Dolan in 2011. He wanted me to be at the service of the Columbia community, and so I lead prayers, hear confessions, counsel students… They try to organize events, and so I try to help with that and do things the students would enjoy. Being a ministry at an Ivy League school is a bit different, since students are so busy, but we try to just be here and help them relax. In the Archdiocese capacity, I’m the administrator of Corpus Christi Church, on 121st St. I basically take care of everything related to the church. I have a wide variety of responsibilities.
B: How did you get here?
Fr. Dan: I was ordained in 2003, and immediately assigned by Cardinal Dolan to Resurrection Church in Rye, NY. It was an active parish, with about 600 students, 44 CYO athletic teams. I had the privilege of learning from and working with over 200 years of experience. Eventually, I was appointed Campus Ministry Director for all New York public and private institutions, so City College, the SUNY system, Columbia, etc. Cardinal Dolan (at that time, Archbishop) came to me and said, can you work at Columbia? So here I am.
B: How did your group, Messengers of Christ, get started?
Fr. Dan: So the group started at a talent show, with one of my friends writing and performing his own Catholic hip-hop. He loved hip-hop, like Run DMC, but didn’t like the direction in which the genre was going, so he made it into his own thing. So we have a guitarist and a drummer, and interestingly, we played at a papal rally when Pope Benedict XVI came to our congregation in 2008. And we–if you’d like to call it opening for someone a few hours before they came on–we opened for Kelly Clarkson.
B: You have this slogan: Mostrar, Orar y Cantar. What does it mean?
Fr. Dan: Mostrar, Orar y Cantar means to pray then sing, essentially, so we take that as a group as meaning to pray, show our love and devotion to God, and then sing and celebrate.
B: Can you elaborate on the experience with Pope Benedict?
Fr. Dan: So Pope Benedict XVI came to our parish as a sort of follow-up to Pope John Paul II’s visit in ’95. He came to inspire young people, especially, and with a focus on special education. There were about 25-30,000 young people there. The Pope’s main message that day was one that he doesn’t share all that often, which was his experience growing up in Nazi Germany and to go against the popular idea and do what is right.
B: Let’s turn to your band now. Grand Omega Minus: What’s in the name?
Fr. Dan: Our guitarist was dating, actually, a Columbia film student who was in love with a ’90s high school movie, so we kind of ripped off the movie. We had our own kind of style, which we defined as more artsy, modern, jazzy, but we were influenced by record labels and other groups such as Dinosaur Junior. We became more of something we called math rock, which really explored the workings behind the music. We practice a lot, improvise a lot, and much of what we do is play around and try to distinguish guitar sounds with different types of guitar and amp combinations. I played a Fender Stratocaster and another guitarist played a Gibson SG, which could take on a heavier amp distortion and still sound clean.
B: Does the band still play? What’s your favorite song?
Fr. Dan: So Grand Omega Minus is done, but Messengers of Christ still plays, and we do jazz rock, math rock, improv. I enjoy playing a song called Abulafia, which features a lot of improv and a solo for everyone. A lot of our songs were, and are, inspired by former major artists, like Thelonious Monk.
B: Do you have any words for Columbia students as we go into finals?
Fr. Dan: Don’t be afraid, and don’t be anxious.
Preach it via Corpus Christi Church