JULIE McCoy is the kind of Christian Pope Francis would be cheering for.
In his document, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), he said Christians must be people of joy and not “look like someone who has just come back from a funeral” if they’re ever going to draw others to the Gospel.
Julie is definitely one of the people the Pope is looking for – she leads the singing at 7.30am Mass at St Joseph’s, Bracken Ridge, most Sundays, and she always does it full of joy.
Singing is one of the joys of her life, and it’s at the heart of her expression of faith and prayer.
And it’s the way she leads others into the depths of faith.
It happens week after week in the parish and at Julie’s day job as campus minister at St John Fisher College, an all-girls’ high school in Bracken Ridge.
“Each week … to have people come and chat to me after Mass and, even things like they might’ve been having a bad week but they heard me sing a hymn that is really special to them – that brings me joy and makes my heart happy – that I can give something back to others,” she said.
“And I love being able to share (her gift for singing), especially with the parish, and then with the girls here at school as well and the staff.
“It’s just a joy for me.”
Music and singing have been important to Julie all her life “– even just listening to music”.
“I love my songs, I love the radio, I love my iPod. It’s one thing that can connect you … you can hear a song and then have a feeling or a memory come back to you as well,” she said.
“Sometimes it can be emotional but it’s mostly happy.
“I think it’s just really important to have that music in your life, and I can’t imagine my life without it.
“It’s like the song in your heart, or your heart song.”
There are two hymns Julie calls her “heart songs”.
“I’ve got two favourites – they’re a bit more of the traditional kind,” she said.
“Brian Boniwell’s version of The Lord is My Shepherd is a really special one for me and my Mum and my Grandma (who died in 2005), and every time I sing that, it’s just lovely.
“You always seem to give it a little something extra. I just love singing that one.
“And, because of my Grandma’s devotion to Our Lady, I just love singing Hail Mary, Gentle Woman because I would sing that for her – because she was always praying to Our Lady and had her Rosary beads.
“So they’re two of my favourites – they’re the real heart ones for me.
“There’s so many that I love singing, but those two are extra special.”
Julie’s mother Suzanne McCoy and grandmother Mary Palmer have been the strongest influences in her faith and in singing at Mass.
“It was just Mum and I and my Grandpa – the three of us – I grew up with them,” she said.
“Her faith and going to Mass was always really important to my Grandma, and to Mum as well, so I remember going to Mass with them and always, always joining in the music …
“And I love singing a lot of other genres as well but being able to be involved in the parishes through the music ministry is just … It’s just such a joy – that I can do what I love doing and join that in with my faith that’s also a passion for me as well.”
Church musician and composer Michael Mangan, who was Julie’s music teacher in primary school, had a hand in her musical path.
He recognised the quality of her voice and invited her to sing on two of his recordings – Children of the Light, and Renew and Rejoice.
She was about 11 or 12 then, but she was encouraged from there to become involved in music ministry when her family moved to Stafford parish and then with friends once a month at youth Masses in St Stephen’s Cathedral.
Julie pursued passion by studying opera and music theatre at the Queensland Conservatorium after leaving high school.
She loves to perform in Christmas shows with the Moreton Bay Symphony Orchestra each year.
“I really love singing with the orchestra because I love the live music,” she said.
“And I also do amateur theatre with some of the local theatre groups over at Redcliffe and around Brisbane, so I try to do one or two shows a year, depending on how busy I get – just to keep the performance up and being comfortable with an audience.”
Although she loves her job at St John Fisher College, Julie still has ambitions of singing professionally.
“I still think about it; it’s still something that they say, ‘You’re never too old to not give up on those dreams’, and I would love one day to still achieve that,” she said.
“It’s still something that is a goal.
“I’d love to sing in professional productions like musicals or opera or even like a concert that’s not just a community concert, but I think you’ve got to do the local community (performances) first.”
As for her favourite music, outside of Church music, Julie’s “a big fan of pop”.
“Lady Gaga’s one of my favourite artists,” she said.
“I know she’s wild and out there, but she has settled down a bit lately.
“I just love her music …
“And I love any theatre, as in musical theatre. That’s my favourite genre other than pop.
“As far as an artist whose music I would love singing the most it would be Celine Dion.
“I know they’re totally at opposite ends of the spectrum but for the music that I love to sing as far as one of the pop singers go, it would be Celine …”
At heart, though, music is Julie’s “real connection to prayer, because I think it’s just so important”.
“I think it just adds an extra element, and I find it really powerful and special in prayer as well,” she said.
“I find it’s a lovely way (to make connection with students) … because sometimes the girls aren’t always interested in the faith aspect of things, but if you hit them up with a song that’s a way of connecting with them and they think, ‘Oh, okay, this isn’t so bad; it’s something I might like to learn more about’.
“I think it’s an important way for me to connect with the girls here at school.”
Singing at Mass is her prayer.
“And that’s why it’s so lovely hearing back from the congregation that it really spoke to them as well, and touched them,” Julie said.