Perhaps he is best known for being the composer of the first English setting of the Mass after Vatican II (Mass in the Vernacular), commissioned by the National Liturgical Conference in 1964, which was used widely throughout the US, selling almost two million copies. However, he continued composing sacred music (most recently being published by World Library Publications) until this past year.
He handed on to all who studied and worked with him, a love and knowledge of the great tradition of Catholic sacred music, especially Gregorian Chant and Renaissance polyphony.
J. Gerald Phillips, 85, composer, organist, choir director and teacher, passed away peacefully on Monday evening, August 19, surrounded by his loving family and friends at Leominster Hospital.
He is preceded in death by his beloved wife of 24 years, Ellen (Rock) Phillips, who died in 1982; and their son, Joseph G. Phillips, Jr., who died in 2006. He is survived by three children; William J. Phillips of Jaffrey, NH; Rachel Sherman Phillips of Atherton, CA; and Anna Rock Phillips and her husband Anthony Wilcox of Fitchburg; his sister, Elizabeth Brown and her husband Ben of Bend, OR; 5 grandchildren, Christopher J. Phillips, Geoffrey W. Phillips, Nicholas W. Phillips, Sarah K. Phillips, Myles R. Phillips-Wilcox; several nieces & nephews, numerous colleagues and many dear friends. He is pre-deceased by his brother, William Phillips.
Mr. Phillips had a long, intense and fruitful career in which he touched countless lives through his music, as well as through his goodness, faith, kindness and untiring sense of humor. Born in Waterbury, CT in 1927, he was a 1945 graduate of Crosby High School. After serving in the US Navy (1945-1947) he pursued studies at the University of Connecticut, the University of Montreal (Bachelor in Church Music, 1953) and the University of Chicago (M.A. in Composition and Music History, 1954.) He then did post-graduate work at l’Institut Gregorien de Paris and the Sorbonne (1955-1956.) During these years of studies he also worked during the summers with the renowned Trapp Family Singers at their music camp in Stowe, Vermont.
He has been the composer of a wealth of sacred music, including three settings of the Latin Mass in the 1950’s and the very first English setting of the Mass in 1965. This Mass in the Vernacular, first sung at St. Mary’s Church in Shrewbury, MA and then at the National Liturgical Conference in St. Louis, MO (for which it was commissioned,) was subsequently sung widely – with almost two million copies sold -throughout the U.S. This work was followed by three other English Mass settings, as well as a steady output of hymns, anthems and acclamations, and secular works for piano and voice, continuing up to this past year.
During the 1960’s, he worked with Theodore Marier as assistant editor of McLaughlin and Reilly Co. in Boston, publishing many great works of Chant and Sacred Polyphony from the Catholic tradition.
Over the past fifty-nine years, Mr. Phillips has been organist and music director at a number of Catholic parishes throughout New England, beginning with Sacred Heart Church in Roslindale, MA, and most recently at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Winchendon, MA. He was also organist from 1968-1975 at the First Unitarian Church of Worcester. In collaboration with St. Paul’s Cathedral, he founded and directed St. Peter’s Choir School in Worcester, MA (1966-1971.) He was co-founder (1979,) music teacher and choir director at Trivium School in Lancaster, MA until 2008, and then continued as tutor emeritus until this past year.
Mr. Phillips was Music Lecturer at Clark University from 1966-1976, Music Instructor in the Worcester Public Schools from 1971-1977, and Professor of Music and Choral Director at Thomas More College in Merrimack, NH from 1981-1990. He has been a Private Instructor of Piano, Organ and Music Theory, the author of numerous articles on Liturgical Music, and a piano and organ tuner. He was an avid amateur gardener, arborist and meteorologist. Wake will be held at Philbin-Comeau Funeral Home, 176 Water Street, Clinton, MA on this Friday, August 23, 5-8pm. Funeral Mass will be celebrated at St. John the Evangelist Church, 80 Union Street, Clinton, on Saturday, August 24 at 10am. Present and former members of Mr. Phillips’ choirs, and the Trivium Chorus, are encouraged to arrive in the choir loft at 9am for a short rehearsal before the beginning of the funeral.
In lieu of flowers, a memorial gift may be made to Trivium School, 471 Langen Road, Lancaster, MA 01523, St. Benedict’s Abbey, 264 Still River Road, Still River, MA 01467 or the Woodlawn Foundation, 56 Harrison St., Ste. 401, New Rochelle, NY 10801-6560.