Tom Booth performs a concert in honor of Mother Teresa at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Tempe in this Sept. 4, 2016 file photo. Booth will perform a pre-Mass concert at the Diocese of Phoenix 50th Anniversary Mass Dec. 2. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

The birth of the Diocese of Phoenix in 1969 took place a scant four years after the Second Vatican Council called for “A Brand New Day,” so to speak. Those who grew up in the early days of what was referred to as the “guitar Mass” may know all the words to “It’s a Brand New Day,” written in 1969 by Paul Quinlan and released in Phoenix that same year. The song became widely popular at parishes across the nation and emblematic of the era.

Tim Smith, who alongside his wife Julie, served in music ministry in the Diocese of Phoenix for more than 30 years, pondered how it is that a relatively small city in the Southwest became a hub for well-known post-Vatican II liturgical music. He pointed to the early 1970s when Quinlan and Gary Daigle served at the Franciscan Renewal Center, better known as “The Casa.” Daigle was named the 2019 National Pastoral Musician of the Year and currently serves the Church in Illinois.

“That was an early first generation. The second generation was at Arizona State University’s All Saints Newman Center in Tempe, and it was really Fr. Tom DeMann,” Tim said, crediting the Dominican priest for calling forth musicians like Tom Booth, Jaime Cortez, Paul Hillebrand and many others, including himself and his wife.

Today Booth, Cortez and Hillebrand travel the nation and the world giving concerts, retreats and workshops. Booth will be performing a concert before the Diocese of Phoenix 50th Anniversary Mass at 5:30 p.m., Dec. 2 at Comerica Theatre.

“I wish I could tell you [Phoenix] was a magical place but I think it was just the Holy Spirit and good leadership,” Tim said. The Smiths were longtime music ministers at St. Timothy Parish in Mesa and St. Mary Parish in Chandler before relocating to Julie’s home state of Minnesota two years ago.

“I think we were very blessed and fortunate to have been a part of various communities where good liturgy and music was valued,” Julie said. Together the couple has recorded 14 CDs and written six musicals. In 1987, they played at Sun Devil Stadium when St. John Paul II visited Phoenix. They also played for St. Teresa of Calcutta when she traveled to Phoenix in 1989. Booth and Cortez played at those events as well. Hillebrand sang at St. Teresa’s visit and was in charge of the sound system at the papal Mass in Tempe.

Tim Smith, Eddie Cook, Dave Burba, Julie Smith, the late Steve Croskey and Jaime Cortez circa 1987. (Photo courtesy Dave Burba)

All five Smith kids — along with all the Hillebrand and Cortez kids — are involved in music ministry.

“It’s been an inexplicable grace as I know so many young adults who don’t feel a connection to the Church. The Newman Center is where it all began for us in our college years,” Julie said. Seeing their children lead and compose their own music is “something I’m in awe of,” she added.

Hillebrand, who directed music at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Scottsdale for 15 years and has served at St. Patrick Parish, also in Scottsdale, for 18 years, has seven albums to his name. His son Michael, 31, has been playing with him for more than 20 years. Another son, Peter, has served at St. Helen Parish in Glendale for the last four years. Two daughters, Madeline and Mary Claire, sang with him during their high school years. Another daughter, Julia, who passed away in 2010 at 13, was involved in music ministry at St. Timothy Catholic School.

At the time of Julia’s illness, the local music community came together in a big way to support the Hillebrand family, holding a fundraiser concert at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Tempe. Among those who performed that night was Matt Maher.

The one-time music minister at St. Timothy Parish has been nominated for more than 20 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards. Maher’s tune “Lord, I Need You” was certified Platinum last year. In 2013, Maher sang for a crowd of nearly 4 million at World Youth Day in Brazil. At the concert for Julia Hillebrand, the more than two dozen musicians gathered sang Maher’s “Love Will Hold Us Together,” the 2010 Song of the Year in the GMA Canada Covenant Awards. In 2015, Maher became the first practicing Catholic to be named the Protestant-dominated GMA’s songwriter of the year.

Tim Smith remembers Maher before the blockbuster Christian music star became famous. With a chuckle, he recalled liturgy planning meetings at St. Timothy in which Maher brought along his guitar to demonstrate a work in progress.

“Matt said, ‘I’ve been working on this song and it kind of goes like this: Your grace is enough.’ And we’d go, ‘Yeah, that’s good, Matt, but that doesn’t really fit this week. But go ahead and put a little more work into that and then bring it back.’” The 2009 hit song ‘Your Grace Is Enough’ has more than 3 million views on YouTube.

Tom Booth, who also served with the Smiths and Maher at St. Timothy, is now music director at St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He has performed in several countries in Western Europe plus every U.S. state except one. “I’m waiting for an invitation from Maine,” he joked.

Booth also played for Pope Francis four years ago and for St. John Paul II in 1999 when he addressed a youth gathering in St. Louis. Booth’s song “Cry the Gospel” was the theme for the papal visit. He said Phoenix is well-known across the country as a wellspring of gifted liturgical musicians.

“People around the country always say that about Phoenix. ‘What’s going on over there?’” Booth said. “I think we were encouraged to give our gifts in the service of the Church and the people of God.”

The award-wining Julie Carrick has used her gifts to write more than 100 songs and has 13 CDs. Once the director of contemporary music at St. Joan of Arc Parish in Phoenix, Carrick now travels the country year-round giving presentations, retreats and parish missions.

Jaime Cortez, his wife Kari, and the couple’s three sons have used their musical gifts to serve the Church at four parishes in the Diocese of Phoenix over the years. “We all still play at 4 p.m. Mass on Sunday at Holy Cross” Parish in Mesa, Jaime said. The couple’s son Nicholas is working on a master’s in liturgy at St. John’s University in Minnesota. In 2016, Jaime was named the National Pastoral Musician of the Year. He travels frequently, teaching other musicians around the country.

Booth says the fountain of musical talent in the Phoenix Diocese continues to surge. “The Paul Hillebrands of the world say to the young people around them, ‘You belong here. Bring your trumpet, bring your tambourine and bring your voice. You belong here, and we’re not the same without you,’” Booth said. “So it’s a spiraling gift that just keeps happening.”

Chris Muglia would agree. He is the music director at St. Thomas More Parish in Glendale and has been leading parish missions for 20 years, traveling widely. He has released eight CDs and plays acoustic guitar, electric guitar and piano. All five of his children are musical and the two eldest are both musicians and songwriters. Thomas directs music at the All Saints Newman Center and MaryAnne directs music at All Saints Parish in Mesa.

And now for that third generation of musicians serving the Church and brought forth right here in the Diocese of Phoenix. Last month, the Smiths’ son Dominic was joined in matrimony to MaryAnne Muglia, daughter of Muglia and his wife Sheila.

The Smith and Muglia families — once united only through music but who now share a sacred bond — say they are pleased with the nuptials.

“They understand how music can open hearts and lead people to prayer,” Muglia said. “We’re excited to see how they will offer their collective gifts in service to others.”