Singing friar is God's instrument

Franciscan Friar Alessandro Brustenghi brought his operatic talents to Alberta.


Franciscan Friar Alessandro Brustenghi brought his operatic talents to Alberta.

December 7, 2015

Friar Alessandro Brustenghi is an unlikely musical star.

Normally shy, the Franciscan opera singer who enthralls audiences around the world is living a life which is a far cry from the hermit life of prayer and solitude he once sought in his vocation.

The internationally acclaimed tenor, known as the singing friar, performed a concert at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park on Nov. 19.

Instead of spending his days simply enjoying carpentry in his wood workshop, Brustenghi has found himself away for weeks at a time from his home in Assisi on international tours; being followed by video cameras for a British television documentary; and spending hours each day answering messages from thousands of followers on his social media network.

While Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and large crowds may not be his comfort zone, or typical fare for his order, it is the life he has been called to by God, and he would have it no other way.

"I know just that God has asked me to go around the world singing with Brother Eunan (McMullan)," said Brustenghi.

Two by two, Brustenghi and McMullan, his fellow Franciscan brother and agent, obediently take the singing ministry around the world.

Music, for Alessandro, is his first channel of evangelizing.

In explaining how singing opera could be a form of evangelization, Alessandro uses an illustration from the Gospels, when Jesus met two disciples who wanted to know where he lived.


His answer, as it is written, was not an address, said Brustenghi, but an experience. "Come, and you will see," Jesus replied.

"It's the same when you sing," he said. "Maybe you don't understand the words but you understand the feeling by the voice, by the sound, by the music."


At the beginning, when he first received his vocation, Brustenghi was prepared to sacrifice his musical aspirations, thinking music was like an enemy of God, he said. After some years, thanks to the friars, he came to understand that music is the sound of the voice of God.

As he performs around the world, sometimes he meets people who tell him, "You made my day," he recalled. Other times, someone will say, "Now I understand the meaning of the faith." One time, an atheist told him, "Now I believe, after your concert."

How God uses his singing to minister to others is a mystery to him.

"I am amazed. It's not for my singing," he said of the reactions from concert audiences. "I think it's something that God does. I'm just a friar."

The extraordinary tenor, who became the first friar to land a deal with a major record label - Universal Music Group - has never had to sacrifice his faith for his success. He tells the story of St. Francis in his concerts around the world, singing sacred songs from his albums - always, whether on or off stage - wearing his Franciscan habit.

"I'm very proud of it because I love my life," he said.

Franciscan Father Pierre Ducharme of Edmonton said the archdiocesan committee for the Year of Consecrated Life leapt at the opportunity to have Friar Alessandro here to celebrate the occasion.


"He gives a great witness to the joy of what consecrated life is and how one could use their God-given talents and gifts to proclaim the beauty of consecrated life and the glory of the Gospel," said Ducharme.

As a religious brother at a time when the vocation of the brother around the world is in decline, Brustenghi gives hope for the vocation, Ducharme added.

Brustenghi's advice to anyone discerning religious life is simple: Trust in Jesus.

"Say your yes, your amen, forever, and don't think anymore," he said. "This is the way of happiness. It's beautiful to give ourselves totally to God."

In addition to the concert in Sherwood Park, Alessandro's Canadian tour included stops in Calgary and Toronto.