As the new rector at St. Mary's Cathedral, Rev. Geoffrey Angeles plans to play to his strengths -- open his score, pick up the baton and get people singing.
"If it wasn't for music, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing," says the 36-year-old Winnipegger, who was first hired by the downtown Roman Catholic cathedral in 1999 as the organist.
Fast-forward 14 years, and the priest with the angelic tenor voice and prodigious composition talents thinks of his new post as leading a different sort of choir, conducting his pastoral duties to help his diverse parishioners sing together in unison and harmony, in rhythm and in tandem.
"I see all the different backgrounds, the needs and past hurts and hopes and aspirations," Angeles says of his 900-family parish, populated by large groups of first- and second-generation Canadians.
Only five years after his ordination as the first Canadian-born priest of Filipino descent in the diocese, Angeles, 36, again makes history as the first Filipino-Canadian rector at St. Mary's Cathedral, the seat of the Archdiocese of Winnipeg since 1918. His parents, both immigrants from the Philippines, are justifiably proud of his accomplishments.
"Who would have known that 95 years after St. Mary's became a cathedral that a son of Filipino immigrants would become only the 10th rector of the cathedral?" says his father, Rudy.
"As parents, that speaks volumes."
For Angeles, who views himself as Canadian first, his challenge is to minister effectively to his large parish while overseeing the large cathedral facility, which occupies half a city block north of St. Mary Avenue between Carlton and Hargrave streets.
"I think my biggest hurdle having moved downtown, especially from Virden, is there are so many priorities (here), like keeping this building from crumbling," he says, referring to the 850-seat stone cathedral with its distinctive row of rose windows, constructed in 1881 and dedicated six years later.
"How can we prevent our foundation from being compromised?" he adds, aware his question carries theological and practical overtones, since the cathedral sits in the shadow of tall hotels and office buildings and adjacent to several large construction projects still in the planning stage.
Angeles' immediate task is to continue -- and strengthen -- the Roman Catholic presence in downtown Winnipeg, says Archbishop James Weisgerber, who ordained the priest at the cathedral in 2008.
"There's a huge crowd at the Eucharist each day and there's lots of people living downtown too," says Weisgerber, referring to the 300 or so people who attend the weekday midday masses.
"The church plays a very important role in creating community for the people who come there."
After a three-year stint in the small western Manitoba community of Virden, where he spent much of his time meeting with people, Angeles is comfortable with the idea of creating community. He's hoping to start close to home -- with young professionals close to his age.
"I've been really trying to get the young adults my age to see their work as a mission -- how can their profession become a more deepened expression of their vocation or God's mission?" he asks.
"My immediate goal is searching out the gifts that are out there and haven't been tapped into yet."
And the priest, known for his setting of the new English mass unveiled in 2011, plans to keep on singing. He'll be conducting the archdiocese choir, accompanying the Westman Youth Choir for its fall season and continuing on as a member of the National Council of Liturgical Music.