This is the second in an occasional series on music ministries throughout the Province. This installment features St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island, N.J.
BRANT BEACH, N.J. — Ask anyone who has vacationed on Long Beach Island, N.J., what they remember best about attending Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Parish and the answer is usually the same: the singing.
The community, which comprises four churches, enjoys robust singing, and that’s largely attributed to music director and head cantor Michele Beck.
“The music department follows the philosophy of our parish,” she said.
“‘With open arms for all.’ Regardless of how young or old, a singer or a guitarist or a drummer, we encourage everyone to use the gifts they are given by God to enhance the worship life of our parish.”
Beck’s encouragement of “full, active and conscious participation in the sung prayer of our liturgy” shows.
The parish benefits in many ways from the music, according to Stephen Kluge, OFM, pastor. “It provides so much joy and life to our liturgical celebrations and helps everyone to pray in a way that words alone cannot provide.”
Professionalism and Gratitude
It’s no wonder the community sings so well because it takes its cue from Beck, who has performed professionally as a singer. With a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., Beck began at St. Francis of Assisi Parish as a cantor when she was in college. She also was a cantor at other parishes in New Jersey before joining St. Francis, and has performed with professional orchestras as a guest soloist and worked in musical theater. She now works with Lorraine Fielding, assistant music director, choir accompanist and head organist/pianist.
“I knew right away that St. Francis Parish was special,” she said. “I am very grateful to JoAnne Reeder, our director of worship and former music director, and Andrew Reitz, OFM, former pastor, for hiring and believing in me.”
The music ministry at St. Francis has eight adult and four teenage cantors, five organists/pianists, and a flutist who minister to all four churches. It also has a 60-member adult choir, 15-member teen choir and 25-member children’s choir that rehearse every week from September through the first week of May. The choirs lead songs at four Masses every other week, as well as at special liturgies and parish events.
An instrumental ensemble of eight to 10 members plays for Christmas, Holy Week, and at special liturgies throughout the year. The teen band plays for Confirmation and Mass with youth ministers once a month.
Special Music for Special Masses
At Holy Thursday liturgy, for example, the adult, teen and children’s choirs join the instrumental ensemble to lead the music.
“To witness adult choir members as old as 89 singing alongside teenagers and children as young as 6 years old, and a congregation singing, as if they too have attended choir rehearsals in preparation for this special day, truly brings hope,” said Beck.
The choirs of S.t Francis Parish have released two CDs and will begin recording a third next year. What Can I Give Him?
is a collection of Christmas selections, and God’s Great Love
contains Holy Week selections. CDs can be purchased at the St. Francis Gift Shop, by calling 609-494-7269 or by e-mailing Beck
The community not only performs its own music, but occasionally hosts outside performers. Recently, the choirs performed with Tom Kendzia, Oregon Catholic Press composer, liturgical musician and presenter on repertoire and liturgical catechesis. The music director of Christ the King Catholic Church in Kingston, R.I., performed “Prayer, Music and Reflection.” The following day, he presented “Lead Us To The Water,” a morning reflection for ministers and those considering joining the ministry, according to an informational flyer
Upcoming issues of HNP Today will profile music ministries at other parishes and schools around the Province. Friars and staff members are welcome to submit photos and information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pictured above are Beck, James Scullion, OFM, and Kendzia.
— Wendy Healy, a freelance writer based in Connecticut, is a frequent contributor to this newsletter.