Whitney D’Cunha on guitar and Shaun Fernandes demand a response from Catholic high school students from across the GTA at the Serra Club’s March 5 Ordinandi Youth Event. Photo by Michael Swan

Group evolves from prayer group to music ministry named iv24

  • August 21, 2019

The music produced by the band iv24 for young Catholics at high school retreats, young adult events and evenings of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament is more a by-product than anything else. The seven-member praise and worship band from Mississauga, Ont., didn’t start off trying to achieve close harmonies, infectious beats or uplifting melodies.

“Our first and foremost priority (is) a commitment to prayer and personal relationship with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament,” said keyboard player Desiree D’Cunha.

The band didn’t even start off as a band. When D’Cunha was growing up, her family had a tradition of monthly prayer nights at church before a monstrance holding the consecrated body of Christ.

“We called it ‘Jesus Time,’ ” recalled D’Cunha, who with sister Whitney has led the youth choir at Cristo Rei Parish for 13 years.

Over the years, Jesus Time expanded well past the D’Cunha family. “It started off with 20 to 30 people. Then we would have 50 to 60 people come out more often,” she said.

The younger members of the Jesus Time fraternity could sing the sort of “praise and worship” music rarely heard in Catholic parishes but prominent in the Christian corners of YouTube, Sirius satellite radio and Spotify.

“We didn’t intend it to be a ministry. We just decided to come together and pray,” said D’Cunha.

The band’s name refers to the Gospel of John, Chapter 4, verse 24 — Jesus’ teaching to the Samaritan woman by the well that “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Over the last two years, the prayer group has evolved into a music ministry, one that is being relied upon more and more by the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Catholic Youth.

“All of them seem to me to be young, professional, passionate about their faith and music,” said Office for Catholic Youth director Fr. Frank Portelli. “They seek to serve God in various ways, including through their music.”

Portelli hopes to see iv24 evolve into a viable alternative to imported, mostly American, musicians and worship leaders brought in to boost Catholic youth events in Toronto. A big test is coming up at the Nov. 9 Renew Toronto event at the Isabel Bader Theatre on the campus of the University of Toronto.

The members of the band, with the exception of bassist and sound engineer Rudy D'Souza, all work ordinary day jobs far removed from the music industry. Desiree D’Cunha works for the Office of Catholic Youth, but her sister Whitney D’Cunha has an office job with the medical testing giant LifeLabs.

“We were informally singing together just out of passion,” Desiree D’Cunha said. “But when things started getting real, even with us singing for these young adult events with Spiritus Vitae, I simply asked the band to bring to prayer whether they feel called.”

D’Cunha’s question wasn’t whether they feel called to be musicians, or called to be part of a band. “But if God is calling them to commit to a life of prayer,” she said.

Band rehearsals begin with a “spiritual health check” — a chance for band members to share with each other the state of their relationship with Jesus. Before rehearsals and concerts, the band joins hands and prays. 

“Before every event, we try to make it a point to go to confession, as much as that is available,” said D’Cunha.

Until now the band has drawn its repertoire from the big names in praise and worship music — Newfoundland-born Matt Maher, Americans Audrey Assad and Michael Smith, the Australian-American mega-church Hillsong and the Northern Irish group Rend Collective. The band members grew up listening to these established artists, who fill out the playlists on their phones and the CDs in their cars. But this summer, the group has been working on original material.

“We have a few songs already written, but haven’t been able to bring it to production yet since we are so busy preparing for retreats, Masses, events — and have so much going on,” said Whitney D’Cunha. “This summer it is. We will certainly set aside time for this since we already have the talents within our music ministry.”

Desiree D’Cunha won’t be pinned down on her hopes and dreams for the band.

“My goal in life is to be St. Desiree from Mississauga,” she said. “We do say this: We’re grounded in the Blessed Sacrament, in our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Having the Blessed Sacrament there, having all these young people around, us leading worship — that’s what I would like to see.”

This story was modified on Aug. 22 to correct the name of bassist and sound engineer Rudy D’Souza.

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