Song reminds us of message of love that needs to be shared each day

Do you remember the song "They’ll Know We Are Christians (by our Love)," the tune made especially popular in the late 60s and early 70s with the birth of guitar Masses?


I have the clearest recollection of being seated with what seemed like my entire third-grade class, in the first few rows of pews at St. Joan of Arc for an all-school Mass.

All of us, with our newly acquired guitars balanced on our uniformed knees, were waiting for the nod from sister to start our strumming: Down-down-up-up-down-up-down. That is the only pattern I recall from those guitar lessons, but I also remember "They’ll Know." And recently, this humble hymn has found its way into my brain’s soundtrack and into my heart.

It was written in 1966 by Father Peter Scholtes, a 30-year old parish priest at St. Brendan Church on Chicago’s south side. He was searching for a song his youth group could perform at an upcoming ecumenical, interracial event. Finding none, he wrote "They’ll Know" in one day.

The lyrics speak to unity and dignity, to walking hand-in-hand and working side-by-side, the result of which is that "all will know that God is in our land." This had to have been a powerful message proclaimed by the St. Brendan Youth Group during turbulent times. It is certainly the same message that needs to be proclaimed today.

Father Scholtes’ hymn was inspired by the passage from John’s Gospel: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

This message is nestled in the 13th chapter, right in between Jesus’ predictions of both Judas’ and Peter’s betrayals of him. Amidst and despite those heartbreaking final hours of his life, Jesus manages to call his disciples, and us, to rise above indignity and division and to instead, "Love one another as I have loved you." (13:34)

I can find myself bogged down in what can become the complexity of our church. It is easy to think that I don’t know enough about church doctrine and history. I am not a theologian; I am not as well read as I could be.

So, do I have what it takes to speak to others about faith? I think this is the reason that "They’ll Know" continues to stream in my head and my heart. Being a better student of our Catholic faith enriches and deepens our understanding, but our witness to Jesus’ love is the strongest force to bringing people to him and affecting lives.

These are still turbulent times and what our community, our country and our world needs most is love to break through the division and the indignity. During this Easter season, may we hear Jesus’ call to love and allow that message to be the soundtrack of our hearts and the inspiration for our lives.

Let’s find the ways to walk and work together so all will know that God’s love is in our land.


Shannan Brommer is director of the archdiocesan Office of Stewardship and Development. Contact her at

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