Tonya Dorsey writes songs all the time. But this one was different.

"It's a little bit simpler. It's easier. It's more of, I think, what God gave me to help others," said Dorsey, choir director at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church on Lehigh Avenue in North Philadelphia.

During Mass Sunday, Dorsey's choir sang and dedicated "God's Angel" to the victims and survivors of the Dec. 14 school massacre in Newtown, Conn.

The congregation, known for its joyful, lively services, fell silent as Angelique Tucker, 16, played violin and Anjolina Torian, 10, read the names of the victims. Hearts were heavy and many wiped away tears during the three minutes it took to read all 26 names of the school victims.

Dorsey lightly grazed the piano keys, and 15-year-old soloist Danille Clark began in a slow, lilting alto:

For only a moment in time

Just for a second, now you're gone

I'm grateful for the times you were here

You've got your wings and now you fly

The chorus joined in:

Angel fly, way up high, heaven open

You've got your wings and now you fly

Under the vaulted brick-and-tile ceilings and bright stained-glass windows, Clark brought the melody achingly to life.

"It just felt so appropriate," said Ken Kania, using the word many agreed best summed up the dedication.

Several parishioners said the Newtown community would remain in the back of their minds as they prepare for holidays with loved ones.

Jennifer Ballard and Sheila Lee said the song made them think of their mother, who died this year. "It was a tearjerker," Lee said, her year-old nephew bundled up in her arms.

Theresa Haggerty - who lives in East Lansdowne but who occasionally worships at St. Martin de Porres, where her husband is pastoral director - said the song brought visions of their three sons, now grown. "I was picturing their faces, what they looked like at that age," she said.

Choir member Brenda Sisco said all she could think about was her grandson, who was celebrating his third birthday. "I can't imagine at this time of year . . . anyone taking these precious babies."

Dorsey, 53, wrote "God's Angel" in 2011, after her mother died of pancreatic cancer. Her mother had been in a coma for a week, but just before she died, "she turned, looked at me, and sort of smiled," Dorsey said. "It was such a peaceful transition. Whatever's on the other side, it made her smile."

That gave rise to the line: Heaven opened up, you smiled, and I saw God's light in your smile.

Dorsey, who in addition to composing and directing the choir works as a grants director for the state of New Jersey, founded a choir, New Vision, in 2007. It now operates as a nonprofit, raising money to hand out scholarships for young artists like Clark and Tucker to take private lessons.

When Dorsey heard about the Newtown shootings, she said, "God's Angel" immediately started playing in her head. She felt a deep connection to the victims because her mother had been a teacher for 39 years.

A few days later, she said, some parishioners approached her to say how much "God's Angel" had helped them cope during times of loss. It was then that she decided to share the song Sunday as consolation to all those who lost someone they loved in the Newtown shooting.

"If people could hear it - the mothers, the fathers, the sisters and brothers, and aunts and uncles - they could . . . think, 'They're not with us, but they're OK.' "

"I'm so ready to turn this over to Connecticut," Dorsey said. "I think they need it more than I do."

Hear the choir sing "God's Angel" at www.philly.com/choirsong EndText

Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117, jparks@philly.com, or follow @JS-Parks on Twitter.