"When the Gospel became clear to me, I needed to express my faith with songs,” says Denis Grady, OFS.
A Secular Franciscan for the past 10 years, Denis has always felt the pull of both music and Catholic faith in his life, but his response to God’s call to pursue music ministry didn’t happen automatically.
Originally from Peterborough, Ontario, Denis grew up in a musical home. “My older brother, Paul, is a great singer songwriter. His songs have been recorded by Anne Murray and Emmylou Harris. My dad, Vern, was passionate about music. He was a big Duke Ellington fan,” recounts Denis.
Though his music now has a higher purpose, as a teenager, Denis’ reasons for getting into music were a little shortsighted. “I started playing in bands while in high school to meet girls; much later, I met God,” he says.
As a young man, Denis was deeply intrigued by St. Francis of Assisi, after watching the biographical film Brother Sun, Sister Moon and reading Felix Timmerman’s classic book The Perfect Joy of Saint Francis. “The universal appeal of [St.] Francis is no mystery,” Denis says. “The Canticle of the Sun is evidence of his poetic creative genius.”
Despite the magnetism of music and the spiritual life, there was a time when Denis struggled with the powerful demons of addiction and despair. In the 1980s, after completing a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program and going through an emotionally taxing divorce, Denis was simultaneously brokenhearted and receptive to God’s healing love.
From this place of openness and self-awareness, Denis combined his faith-driven passion for music with a mission to serve others. Connecting with “Troubadour for the Lord” John Michael Talbot in the early ’90s helped Denis zero in on music ministry as his life’s true calling.
Following the release of two award-winning albums of country gospel music (in 1998 and 2002, respectively), Denis helped organize a series of fund-raising concerts for World Youth Day in 2002, which took place in Toronto.
The contacts in humanitarian organizations he made through his experience with World Youth Day, along with many connections closer to home, paved the way to Denis founding the Franciscan and Friends Music Mission.
Since 2005, Denis’ organization has been busy bringing music and the Gospel message to the poor and the marginalized.
From playing inspirational songs for residents battling addictions at the Calgary Dream Centre to bringing guitars to impoverished villages in Guatemala, the Franciscan and Friends Music Mission is an ecumenical group that seeks to ease suffering and bring joy to those in need.
Assisted by his wife, Barbie, whom he married in 2012 on the feast of St. Francis (October 4), Denis is constantly fueled by Franciscan spirituality to do the good work of Franciscan and Friends.
“We say the Prayer of St. Francis daily—it’s really challenging when difficulties come up on our path. ‘Where there is hatred, let me sow love.’ I believe this is impossible for one to do alone, but with God it is possible,” says Denis.