Musician-chaplain strikes a chord at Aquinas College

When Father Kevin McGoldrick entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the talented guitar player thought he would have to leave his worldly music career behind.

He couldn’t have been further from the truth.

The 40-something-year-old priest is now wrapping up an ambitious recording project in Nashville. It was paid for by crowdfunding — the practice of funding a project or venture by raising small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet.

In Father McGoldrick’s case, in less than six weeks, close to 200 people contributed to his upcoming CD, “Square Peg Round Hole.” His goal was to raise $12,000; he received $13,200 in support of his project.

“Crowdfunding gave me the opportunity to use the tools of the day,” Father McGoldrick told Our Sunday Visitor. “It gave family and friends a chance to help me out. It was a real blessing.”

The path to seminary

Father McGoldrick’s musical career began as a student at Archbishop John Carroll High School in the Philadelphia area. He played in bands throughout high school and college. He became a regular in the Philadelphia music scene.

The idea of priesthood had been with Father McGoldrick since he was a kid.

However, it took a back seat in high school and when he was in college at Temple University. Music and theater were more interesting.

“(Growing up) I never stopped going to Mass, but I certainly wasn’t really living the Faith,” he said.

That was until he attended a retreat during his junior year of college.

“That’s when my real conversion came, and in the fall of 1995, I entered the seminary.”

Eight years later, he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

For close to two years now, he has served as the chaplain for Aquinas College in Nashville.

“I got connected with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation, [popularly known as the Nashville Dominicans],” he explained. “I received permission from the archdiocese to come down here.”

A home at Aquinas

Music and Nashville have been a perfect match for Father McGoldrick; add his chaplaincy for Aquinas College and he couldn’t be happier.

“The first night I got down here, there were young people getting together and singing songs,” he recalled. “They asked me to join right in and play some of my music.”

The four-year college, located less than 20 miles from downtown, has a student population of just under 500. According to its 2014 college report, U.S. News and World Report ranked Aquinas in their top 15 best colleges in the southern region.

“I love it here,” Father McGoldrick said. “Besides celebrating Mass, (hearing) confessions and helping out on college retreats, it is important for me to be with the students. So, I spend a lot of time in the student lounge and playing pool. Our students are looking for God and want to grow in their faith.”

The music scene on campus isn’t too bad either.

“We have nights of worship with music, and about once a semester, we do a ‘coffee house’ which is basically an open-mic night.”

Music City, USA

Off campus, the priest can’t get enough of the city’s cultural scene.

“Nashville is a cosmopolitan city with a southern, hometown feel,” he said. “As a guitar player, I thought I was pretty good, but I was quickly put in my place. I like to compare it to being the star quarterback at your high school, and then when you get to college you’re a dime a dozen.”

Upon arrival, the priest was told by the locals to make sure he tipped his waitress well because she’s probably a better songwriter than him.

He added, “As well, they told me to make sure you’re friendly with your barista because he is probably a better guitar player than you. There is that sense of respect in the music scene here for all types of players who want to use their God-given talents to make music.”

In a town where Catholics are less than 8 percent of the population, Father McGoldrick has had his fair share of good “priest rocker” stories.

He described his band of studio musicians, with whom he’s been working since last summer, as a “great bunch of Christian men.”

“They have been very supportive to me as a priest,” he said.

“Square Peg Round Hole,” he added, is a fitting title for him.

“I’ve always felt that I’ve been somewhat of a square peg in a round hole, and my music on this album is all over the place. There’s blues, worship music, and I even rap about coffee,” Father McGoldrick said.

Engaging the culture

Father McGoldrick said that if you would have told him 10 years ago that he would be recording a CD in Nashville with some of Nashville’s top studio musicians, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“I never even envisioned visiting this place,” he related. “I didn’t come down here to record a CD; one door after another just seemed to open, and people kept telling me to look into it.”

He noted that in the last few years, he has come to appreciate secular music more and more. From John Mayer to Vivaldi, he said that music plays a vital role in our culture.

“Few know that Vivaldi was a priest. His most famous work was an instrumental work called ‘The Four Seasons.’ It is not directly singing the praises of God like chant would, but he sought to express beauty, and beauty reflects God.”

He added that music touches the soul in very deep and emotional ways.

“It can go where sermons cannot,” Father McGoldrick said. “It speaks to our culture in such deep ways. So I’m hoping to speak in a way that people can understand. Whether the song is about coffee or Jesus.” 

Equally inspiring is the message of Pope Francis when it comes to being in the world and not of it.

“The pope is all about engaging the culture; don’t be afraid,” said Father McGoldrick. “I see myself out there throwing seeds and seeing what happens.”

Eddie O’Neill writes from Missouri.

2015 Spring Colleges & Universities Section Articles