CANTON – When The Priests released their self-titled album in 2008, they could not have known what was about to happen to them.
Plenty did – huge record sales, record-breaking triumphs and global fame.
The Priests have the fastest selling debut classical album of all time, according to the Guinness Book of Records. Their record still holds, with their having sold almost 3 million albums. In 2009, their debut album was the fastest selling debut classical release in the United States.
The trio will bring their show – beloved by queens, presidents and princes – here to benefit Holy Cross Academy, the umbrella organization for 10 Catholic schools in Stark County.
The event will take place at 7 p.m. March 23 at the Canton Palace Theater. Tickets are $30, $50, and $80. Raymond Arroyo, EWTN news director, will be the master of ceremonies and there will be a special performance by world-renowned organist Mark Pacoe.
The Priests – Father Eugene O’Hagan, Father Martin O’Hagan and Father David Delargy, all from Northern Ireland – have been singing together for the last 40 years. They started when they were taking part in their college's annual Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. That year, it was “The Pirates of Penzance.”
More musical collaborations followed between the young men, in college and in choirs, musical societies and opera companies, as well as in the social and liturgical life of their diocese.
Today, their musical repertoire includes folk songs from Ireland and elsewhere, operetta, opera, oratorio, German lieder, art songs from various countries, Italian and Neapolitan arias, and musical theater songs, in addition to sacred songs and hymns.
All three admit that they could never have imagined bursting onto the international music scene as they did.
“The international dimension of our music making which has come to us somewhat later in life is not something that would have occurred to us as something to aspire to,” Father Eugene O’Hagen said.
“The invitation from Sony to record some albums came totally unexpectedly, 'out of the blue' as it were, and has taken us completely by surprise – a very pleasant surprise, it must be said, and one that we are enjoying enormously,” Father Eugene O’Hagen said.
Even though their new-found music careers have been exhilarating, the experience has also been just slightly stressful and exhausting. All three lead active parishes with schools in Northern Ireland.
During Northern Ireland’s “Troubles” in the 1980s and early ‘90s, all three ministered to victims of the violence. Father Delargy once had a gun held to his head and his church was firebombed three times in 1998. Father Eugene O’Hagen’s parochial house also sustained an arson attack in 2004.
Between 1992 and 2000, Father Martin O’Hagen served St. Matthew Parish in the Short Strand area of East Belfast. Forty-three people were murdered from that parish alone.
“Balancing the demands of busy parish life with the demands of touring and concerts does present us with some challenges,” said Father Delargy. “Our primary commitment has always been and continues to be to our diocese and the parish and other pastoral ministries entrusted to us by our bishops.
“Our absences from the parish for the purposes of giving concerts has become an integral part of our priestly ministry and has provided us with a platform to reach out to souls through the medium of beautiful sacred music,” Father Delargy continued.
“It is all God's work and we are merely the messengers. We are fortunate to have the blessing and encouragement of our bishops and the support of our parishes and fellow clergy, which allows us to engage in this work,” he said.
The three have performed in such venues as Royal Albert Hall in London, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and Croke Park, Ireland’s largest sports stadium, and in Hyde Park in London, during Pope Benedict’s visit to the United Kingdom.
“We love the Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto and Belfast's Waterfront Hall of course, because it's home,” noted Father Martin O’Hagen.
“During our most recent concert tour in the U.S. in 2013 we discovered some truly wonderful, awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping gems of theaters and opera houses that would be the envy of many of the great European cities,” he said.
“The U.S. is really blessed in that respect. This year we look forward to revisiting some of those wonderful theaters and opera houses and discovering some new ones too,” Father Martin O’Hagen said.
With their concert and traveling schedules, their parishes and pastoral ministries, The Priests admit that free time to just unwind is a “scarce commodity.”
Still they all enjoy reading and listening to music. Father Eugene O’Hagen pursues swimming, Father Martin O’Hagen has a great appreciation of the old stately homes and gardens of Ulster, and Father Delargy, takes long walks by the riverside, in the mountains and by the sea.
“We all appreciate the opportunity to travel and discover new parts of the world with their distinctive cultures, customs and cuisine,” added Father Delargy.
And of course, they are looking forward to coming to the [football] Hall of Fame city.
“Much of the work The Priests do tends to be for the benefit of some noble and worthy cause,” Father Eugene O’Hagen said.
“This fits very well with our priestly and Christian vocation and identity. We are deeply grateful for having received a faith-based education ourselves and fully appreciate the values and outlook on life that this gave us. For that reason we are delighted to be coming to Canton to support the life and mission of Holy Cross Academy,” he continued.
Father Delargy, Father Eugene O’Hagen explained, also has a more personal reason for looking forward in a particular way to The Priests' visit to Canton. In the 1990s he spent two summers as a counselor with the Ulster Project in Alliance.
So, “many of his friends from Alliance will be attending the concert. He is looking forward enormously to seeing them all again. It will be just like old times.”
The Walsh University Chamber Singers will do a pre-concert performance and Dana Scanlon make a special performance. Tickets can be purchased at the Canton Palace web site, www.cantonpalacetheater.org or by calling 330-454-8172.