MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A hymn written by a Twin Cities priest more than 40 years ago is surging in popularity.

President-elect Joe Biden quoted “On Eagle’s Wings” to close out his victory speech Saturday night. He says the hymn, written by Father Michael Joncas, is close to his family’s heart, especially after the death of his son, Beau.

Joncas wrote the song back in 1976, and it has since been played at many a funeral. People have also clung onto the hymn in quarantine.

Joncas was taken by surprise while watching Biden’s speech.

“I barely had the echoes of that sound died away when my phone exploded,” Joncas said. “I probably have had more phone calls and texts that evening than I ever have my entire life.”

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The University of St. Thomas music professor didn’t know it was coming, but he did know his song was known around the world.

His hymn has been played at the funeral of opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. And it was also used as an anthem for healing after the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995.

Joncas said he wrote it as a 26-year-old composer to honor a friend who had lost his father suddenly.

He doesn’t believe it’s his best work, but it has resonated the most.

“I know that it has touched many people, and I am incredibly grateful for that,” Joncas said. “I actually believe God is using it to touch peoples’ hearts in different situations.”

And as the composer and academic absorbs his new fame, he’s hoping that his words will help bring a divided country together.

“Just as an eagle cannot fly with only one wing, it needs both of its wings to fly. I hope that that can be kind of a symbol or an image that together, together we move into the future, and into a positive one,” he said.

Father Joncas says his prayer for the coming term is to fight COVID-19, and work towards racial justice.

In honor of Biden’s reference to “On Eagle’s Wings,” pop singer Lana Del Rey just released a new cover of the hymn.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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