From the CNS blog, check out this informative piece on Peter Scholtes and his song “They’ll Know We Are Christians.” The story of FEL versus the Chicago archdiocese is well known, but here’s a personal twist from Scholtes’ son:
“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’ (son Pete) 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.
A friend in grad school said (in 1984) he thought this song was one of the hallmarks of early vernacular hymnody and it was still useful and important for Catholic worship. I haven’t used it much at all, I admit. The simplicity of the text and harmony isn’t really a turn-off. It’s one of those songs lots of people like but I’ve never felt I’ve been able to give it a good tempo.
I heard a metal thrash version of it in Iowa once. It was … interesting.