From the Back Pew: Nuns, priests take center stage

What do Amy Winehouse, Lady Gaga, U2 and the nuns of the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation from France have in common?

Well, musically, nothing. But the nuns recently signed a contract with Decca Records, the classical music label of Universal Music that counts Winehouse, Lady Gaga and U2 among its acts.

This order of nuns, founded in the sixth century, is very reclusive but "deemed to have the finest Gregorian chant singers," BBC News reported. The signing comes after a global search by Decca of more than 70 convents across Europe, the U.S. and Africa for the world's best Gregorian chant singers.

Vows they have taken mandate that they never leave their homes. This meant that Dickon Stainer, Decca's managing director, had to pass the record contract through the grill of the convent's front door so the nuns could sign it. Their reclusiveness means they won't be performing at Staples Center any time soon. And for the nuns to record their first album, a special studio will have to be built inside their convent.

Another group I've been introduced to is called the Priests. These three men from Northern Ireland — Father Eugene O'Hagan; his brother, Father Martin O'Hagan; and Father David Delargy — have two albums under their belts. Their first self-titled full-length dropped in 2008. Their second, "Harmony," dropped in 2009. Their first album peaked at No. 1 in Ireland and No. 66 on the Billboard 200. Their second album peaked at No. 7 in Ireland and did not chart in the U.S. Their albums have sold 1.5 million copies.

Their first album contains many classic hits, such as "Ave Maria" and "O Holy Night." Their second features songs like "How Great Thou Art," "Silent Night" and "Amazing Grace."

In every performance, they appear bedecked in their blacks, polished shoes and clerical collars. In a way, they remind me of the Three Tenors, who have performed some of the songs the Priests are performing now. I first saw their second album in the music and DVD department at Barnes & Noble in Glendale, and I had to do a double-take. I had never seen three priests on an album cover before.

But regardless of how popular the nuns of the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation or the Priests are (or will become), they're not your typical musical stars. Any money the nuns — who have taken a vow of poverty — make from the album will go back to support the convent. The Priests have launched the Priests Foundation. The majority of proceeds they make from concerts, tours and appearances are earmarked for their foundation and other charities.

So why do they do it?

If anything, the three men do it as a way of "sharing our faith," Father Eugene O'Hagan said. The men, who are working priests each with their own parishes in Northern Ireland, have a clause in their contracts stating that their parish work comes first.

The nuns, the Rev. Mother Abbess said in the BBC story, "never sought this, it came looking for us. …And we thought this album would be a good thing if it touches people's lives and helps them find peace."

The Priests are set to release their third album soon. The nuns of the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation's album, "Voice: Chant From Avignon," will be released in November.

MICHAEL J. ARVIZU is a reporter for the La Cañada Valley Sun. Reach him at (818) 637-3263 or e-mail

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