Founded by the Rev. Fr. Peter Osuntope Emm 1T5 in 2018, the St. Gregory Diploma School of Pastoral Music recently received approval from the Archdiocese of Lagos and accreditation from Augustine University, Ilara-Epe. The program also enjoys partnerships with Emmanuel College in Victoria University and the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. Currently, it is the only Catholic school of its kind in Nigeria to offer a diploma program in sacred music.
As of January 2019, the program had 40 students who are now in their third and final year of the program. Additional students were admitted in 2020 with a group of 90 students now enrolled. Osuntope sees the St. Gregory Diploma School of Pastoral Music as a significant step in growing interest and understanding of sacred music in Nigeria, and says the School helps address a lack of theological, historical and liturgical knowledge about the role of music by church musicians. “These concerns have a lot to do with the improper role of music in liturgical worship, particularly in the areas of choral and congregational song selection and performance, the use of musical instruments, and liturgical appropriation,” he says.
Some choirmasters lack the musical skills to direct the affairs of church music, while others have little or no training in the field of sacred music. Although there are various schools of music in Nigeria, Osuntope says, “there is no academy of sacred music to provide the integration of these skills or the theological depth to equip persons for competent church music leadership for worship that would solve the [aforementioned] challenges.”
In view of this omission, the diploma program has been designed “to improve liturgical music in worship, and the use of sacred music outside the church liturgy.” For Osuntope, “liturgical worship is given a more noble form when it is celebrated in song, with the ministers of each degree fulfilling their ministry and the people participating in it . . . it also accentuates worship beyond ordinary words.”
It is his hope that the program will be a leading pastoral and sacred music academy in Africa “where the musical abilities of participants are developed in knowledge while integrating these skills with liturgical appropriation within church and cultural diversities.” To that end, Osuntope continues to collaborate on the program’s curriculum with other experts, including Swee Hong Lim, Emmanuel’s Deer Park Associate Professor of Sacred Music and the current director of the master of sacred music program at Emmanuel College. Part of the reason for these partnerships with other schools and faculty is so that St. Gregory’s and its graduates benefit from local as well as international recognition.
Importantly, graduates of St. Gregory’s are equipped to qualify for job positions as music directors of churches, convents, seminaries, schools, and more—something that was very important to Osuntope: “Many talented musicians are unaware that their musical skills could provide them with career opportunities as music directors in many worship centres and other settings. In the Nigerian context of a challenging economy, the school can convert musical talent into career opportunities and assist many talented youth to qualify for positions in various fields,” he says.
As an Emmanuel graduate, it was important to Osuntope that he find a way to give back to his community, and particularly in ways that he had enjoyed as a graduate student at Emmanuel.
“My experience at Emmanuel College changed my philosophy of life. Emmanuel is a college of cultural diversities and a welcoming home for multireligious beliefs. It has great respect for the dignity of human persons, irrespective of colour, religious and/or cultural values, and is truly a home for all. This experience has shaped my relationship with others and has strengthened my faith in God. It was at Emmanuel that I was further convinced of my understanding of God as God of many names. Although I was the only Roman Catholic priest and Nigerian in my class—in fact, in the entire college—I always felt welcomed. Staff members, faculty and fellow students interacted with me as being one of their own. I studied sacred music and interacted with everyone as a member of one family.”
For Osuntope’s former professor, Swee-Hong Lim, Osuntope “carries the imprint of Emmanuel” in his work. “In my view, what Osuntope has done with St. Gregory’s resonates with the mission of Emmanuel College, which calls for our institution ‘to equip leaders and scholars for rigorous theological inquiry and for inclusive practices of justice and care, contextual analysis, creative activity, and interfaith engagement.’ I believe that this call to equip leaders and scholars is not just for persons situated in Canada or North America, but worldwide—and particularly in the global south where Christianity is rapidly growing but is facing a significant lack of well-trained leaders and scholars in the field of worship, liturgy and sacred music. In this instance, Osuntope is a good example of how the sacred music program is fulfilling the College’s mission by enabling him to fulfill his vocational purpose as a pastoral music leader in his context. Emmanuel College is well-placed to make a difference for churches outside of North America and we need advocates and benefactors who are willing to come alongside with us to nurture more international students.”