University of Mary Announces New Certificate in Sacred Music for Church Musicians Across the US

Mcguire Conducting in a church
McGuire instructing during rehearsal
Patrick McGuire

BISMARCK, ND — Thousands of parishioners at Fargo’s Saints Anne and Joachim Catholic Church depend on Patrick McGuire to be an integral part of their liturgy during daily and weekly Mass. No, he’s not providing a homily as a priest or deacon, but the director of music at that church. As conductor, McGuire is responsible for making sure all music-related forms of worship are sacred and performed through the lens of the Catholic Church.   

That’s a daunting task even for the 27-year-old McGuire, whose entire life has revolved around music as a high school and college student, vocalist, organist, and teacher. Now he leads the parish’s four different ensembles, accompanists, cantors, and manages all the musical selections.

“I like to joke that I know enough to be dangerous,” quipped McGuire, regarding his knowledge about sacred music.

But there are thousands of parish directors in the same or similar situation as McGuire. That’s where the University of Mary comes in. The private, authentically Catholic university in Bismarck, ND, has launched a new online, 9-credit, graduate-level Certificate in Sacred Music designed for working church musicians who wish to develop their knowledge and skills in music and worship.

Playing the organ

“We are the only program of its kind in North Dakota, and one of only a couple in the Midwest and beyond,” explained Dr. Tom Porter, chair of the University of Mary Department of Music and professor of music. “The Certificate in Sacred Music is at the heart of our mission here at Mary, which is to serve the religious, academic, and cultural needs of this region and beyond. The foundation of the program is a course in sacred music that covers the rich traditions of the Catholic Church. On this foundation, we provide practical training in voice, piano, organ, and conducting, as well as practicum that helps the students focus on their own professional setting. The program can be completed in one calendar year; it starts with a summer course that includes a two-week residency on our Bismarck campus. This is followed by fall and spring semesters with a one-credit practicum and a two-credit applied-music course in voice, piano, organ, or conducting. Although it is a graduate-level program, it doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree in music for admission to the program at the University of Mary. It may be completed as an independent program and is designed for those who are working in parish settings who would like to build upon their knowledge and walk through practical aspects of music ministry with esteemed faculty.”  

The Certificate in Sacred Music begins this summer with its first course June 5 through August 18, which includes an on-campus residency July 10 through 21.

McGuire will be there as one of the first enrolled in University of Mary’s new Certificate in Sacred Music program. He is going one step further and adding the certificate to the Master of Art (MA) in Music degree he is finishing from the University of Mary which also includes seven of nine certificate credits. When he is done, his credentials will read MA in Music with a Certificate in Sacred Music. More importantly to McGuire, his degree and certificate will be benefiting all the parishioners at Saints Anne and Joachim Catholic Church.

Mcguire playing the organ

“If a parish director of music has never had the opportunity to pursue any kind of formal training in what they’re doing in the liturgy, or any form of sacred worship, this program is more than worth their time,” added McGuire. “There are so many directors of music in parishes who have not been given the tools they need to succeed in their role. Perhaps a great musician, the average director of music does not have a formal understanding of sacred music in the Catholic Church as pertains to liturgical worship, and that leads to all kinds of issues with music selection for Mass and beyond. This program can give you the foundations you need to not only become a more well-rounded musician, but perhaps more importantly, help you to see sacred music through the eyes of the Catholic Church. To fully understand the role and purpose of music in prayer, and develop the music we offer in Mass. We know how important music is to the average parishioner, but how much do we understand the Church’s perspective?”

McGuire admits, the certificate will give him more confidence and competence when leading rehearsals with his ensembles, when he’s writing or arranging music for worship, or even in the planning of certain liturgies where background knowledge in sacred music is key to understanding the role of music in worship.

Anyone who wishes to learn more about the Certificate in Sacred Music can do so at, or by contacting an admissions representative at, or by calling (701) 355-8030. The University of Mary is one of only 15 Recommended Cardinal Newman Society Residential Colleges and Universities in the US.

About the University of Mary: True to its motto “lumen vitae”—The Light of Life—the University of Mary offers education for the whole of life through cutting-edge professional programs and graduate programs animated by moral courage and leadership in chosen professions and service to the community. A private, co-educational Catholic institution, the University of Mary welcomes students of all faiths and backgrounds.

A Christian, Catholic, Benedictine institution founded in 1959 by the Benedictine Sisters of Annunciation Monastery, Mary offers nearly 60 bachelor’s, 15 master’s, and five doctoral programs—in Business Administration, Education, Nursing Practice, Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy. The 19-sport Athletic Department adheres to its Greatness Through Virtue mission under the governance of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) conferences. With more than 3,800 students, Mary has locations in North Dakota, Montana, Arizona, Rome, Italy, as well as vibrant online offerings. For more information, visit

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