By Rosemarie Morrisette, Special to The Catholic Virginian

On a quiet, rainy evening in Richmond a few weeks ago, a group of young people ranging in age from 4 to 15 donned formal attire and climbed the steep steps to the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart choir loft where they solemnly lifted up their well-trained, disciplined and angelic voices in “sung prayer.”

The young musicians – members of the Ward Centre of Richmond Youth Choirs – were featured at the Votive Mass of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Sung Mass in the Extraordinary Form (Missa Cantata), celebrated on May 22 at the Cathedral by Father Brian W. Capuano, pastor of Saint Joseph Catholic Church, Petersburg.

The Extraordinary Form is also known as the Traditional Latin Mass.

Those who sang at the Youth Mass are students of Colleen Crafton, Ward Centre Director and a certified Ward Method/Gregorian chant teacher. They are grouped by ability in the St. Gregory Choir (beginners) and the Schola (advanced members).

A schola is a group of singers who learn and perform traditional liturgical music.

Current St. Gregory Choir members are: Charles Bauduin, Thomas Bauduin, Veronica Bauduin, Bennett Crafton and Lee Nash.

Current Schola members are: Ally Bauduin, Bradley Bauduin, Connie Bauduin, Lily Burchanowski, Peter Burchanowski, Tia Burchanowski, Abigail Crafton, Donald Crafton, Elizabeth Crafton, Joseph Hartley, Josef Wolpert, Marianna Wolpert and Olivia Wolpert.

The Ward Centre of Richmond is housed at the Greater Richmond School of Music, and is affiliated with the International Centre for Ward Method Studies at Catholic University of America.

The Centre derives its name from Justine Bayard Ward who developed the Ward Method in the early 20th century to teach American children the extensive music literature of the Roman Catholic Church, especially Gregorian chant, as well as works of great composers in Western history, folk and international selections, and newly composed pieces.

The method is a comprehensive choral music education program designed for both musical and spiritual formation. It provides instruction in proper vocal technique, intonation, rhythm, sight singing, music theory, music history, composition, improvisation, and conducting, and is structured for success through progressive learning. It focuses first on music education, and then on learning for performances.

Crafton is a firm believer in the method’s instruction of children when they are very young. “If children start when they’re older – 9 or 10 – they are faced with breaking bad habits,” she says.

Children in the St. Gregory Choir are 4 (though usually 5) through 8, and are at Level I. Those in the Schola are 8 to 15, and are at Level II.

Since the nature of the program is Catholic – based in Gregorian chant, and children learn and perform music within the context of Church tradition, they are provided a framework from which to view their faith and the world.

Crafton points out that what is most evident in the children she teaches is the “genuine joy they have for learning – and learning music – and the love they have for the Faith and each other.” She believes the Ward Method works well with them.

She is grateful for the “tremendous support” she receives from Father Capuano in affirming the children and her work with them. In turn, he feels “It is a joy to be able to assist our young people in discovering the riches Holy Mother Church has to offer her people.”

Many Schola members regularly sing with the Schola Sancti Joseph – directed by Crafton’s sister, Anne-Marie Donlon – at High Masses in the Extraordinary Form celebrated by Father Capuano. Crafton notes that because children become “fully-functioning musicians” with the Ward Method, they can hold their own with the St. Joseph adults.

They can also hold their own elsewhere.

In October, they will make a pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, for the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions. While there, they will sing at two Masses at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima.

To help offset the cost of the trip, the Ward Centre is embarking on a “Fund Fatima 2017” campaign. Information about the campaign and donation instructions are found at http://www.grsm.net/programs/wardcentre/ under “Donate Now.”

As part of this fundraising effort, the Schola will be available to parishes for special performances this summer. Inquiries and arrangements may be made by emailing pipesnposaune@gmail.com.

The Schola’s joyful engagement in its activities is indicative of a trend: A growing conservatism among young Catholics. According to the Pew Research Center, the median age of U.S. Catholic adults is 49, yet much younger Millennials are surpassing older Catholics in their proclivity for liturgical tradition – despite a drop in their church attendance.

Catholics younger still are following suit, with groups like the Ward Centre Schola taking the lead in paying the Church’s heritage forward, stepping out into the future with enormous contributions in faith and love.