“… by our love, by our love …”

I took a look at the name on the badge, and I had to ask:

“Was your dad a priest?”

Yes, said Pete Scholtes.

Scholtes’ dad is used-to-be-Father Peter Scholtes, who had been a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The ex-priest might be best known by Catholics as the composer of “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love,” which was a staple in Catholic hymnals in the 1960s and ’70s, and a song which many Catholics could still sing today by rote even if they hadn’t sung it in 20 years.

“They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love” was not only in hymnals published by FEL (short for Friends of the English Liturgy), it was also part and parcel of most homemade hymnals made by parishes, a practice utterly in vogue at the time. FEL, headquartered in Chicago, didn’t cotton to that, saying that its recording artists were being denied their rightful royalties because of the unpermitted copying.

FEL sued the Archdiocese of Chicago for unpaid royalties from its parishes’ unauthorized copying. Cardinal John Cody of Chicago then forbade parishes from using FEL music in any way, shape or form, leading to another FEL lawsuit, this time claiming restraint of trade.

That led to a bizarre and unhappy situation that Scholtes the younger confirmed for me: Because of Cardinal Cody’s ban, “They’ll Know We Are Christians” could not be played at his grandfather’s funeral Mass.” “I was young at the time, but that’s what Dad told me,” he said.

All of this conversing was taking place at the National Conference for Media Reform, held this past weekend in Minneapolis. Scholtes, demonstrating that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, had been a longtime writer for the City Pages, a Minneapolis alternative weekly, until new owners and budget cuts resulted in his departure. But he’s writing a book on Minnesota’s hip-hop music scene. He’s also written an as-yet-unpublished essay about his father’s music.

FEL is letting another company deal with copyright requests for its songs. Scholtes had inquired about the master tapes to his dad’s music. “They’re gone,” he said. But, if he could find a copy of the 40-year-old vinyl album without too many imperfections, he’d like to release it on compact disc within the next couple of years — with his essay serving as the CD’s liner notes. And, this time, permission has been granted to reproduce the songs.

One Response

  1. [...] the CNS blog, check out this informative piece on Peter Scholtes and his song “They’ll Know We Are Christians.” The story of FEL [...]

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