Fiona Dyball loves to hear the 1400 boys at Marcellin College belt out the school’s song, Sub Tuum, the oldest known song to Mary, with enthusiasm and camaraderie. The image of a school full of adolescent boys lifting the roof singing a song about Mary is a little counter-cultural. But Fiona says the students ‘get it’ and that’s what matters. Without faith and prayer life, none of the trimmings matter.
The Marist commitment to live Catholic values is what attracted Fiona Dyball to become the Director of Music at Marcellin . She had previously studied a Masters of Theological Studies at Boston College, majoring in liturgy, for two years. That dynamic, formative experience and has further fuelled her desire to support young people in their faith journey.
‘A lot of schools do great mission outreach work, but at Marcellin it is about faith, and the mission and action flow from that grounding in prayer’, says Fiona, who this year went on secondment to the Marist National Formation Team.
‘Mass here on Thursday is the heart of the week.’
Fiona believes young people are ‘thirsty’ for a spiritual life, one connected to God. They may not express it in the way their parents or grandparents did, but their yearning is just as real. The challenge is how to create nourishing spaces and opportunities for young people to work out what they believe. Fiona believes schools can offer deeper meaning to students through prayer: a gift that will hold them throughout their lives. That’s how it all started for Fiona, in a family where music, prayer and living justly were ‘seamless’.
‘My parents were remarkable when I think about how they lived and raised us. They were faithful, prayerful, joyful, and practical. We were always cooking for someone who was sick and praying for them at night. And in the midst of this we were surrounded by beautiful music and vibrant community’, she says of her childhood in Albury.
As a musician, she understands the tension between a quality performance and a community gathering to praise God through song. She selects music with young people that resonates with them and that also invites communal singing, such as the chants from the Taizé community in France.
Another music and faith focus for Fiona is her work with the Youth Engagement Project, involving young people from several schools and parishes in Melbourne’s east. It involves monthly youth-led Masses and outreach work. It ticks the boxes for Fiona because it allows the young people to plan the liturgy after reflecting on the scriptures of the day.
‘This creates a great space for young people to be mentored into planning liturgy that is meaningful to them, while also remaining faithful to the liturgy’, Fiona says. ‘It brings liturgy to life.’
One of the many highlights of Fiona’s time in the US was a Summer School subject at St John’s University, Minnesota with renowned theologian, Dr Don Saliers. Don is also the father of Emily Saliers, member of the 1980s band, The Indigo Girls, and this certainly enhanced the experience. But even more important was Don’s attitude to music in the liturgy. Don told his students that a person’s favourite hymn shows their picture of God. He also said that ‘music weaves a garland around the voice of the assembly’.
It’s an image that inspires Fiona, as does the knowledge that music is a deep, lasting memory within us, drawing forth the sacred in people of all ages, both young and old.
*Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Fiona finished up at Marcellin College last year. She is in fact on secondment for two years to the Marist Formation Team, and is due to return to the school in 2019.