Music Welcomes All to Rhode Island Parish

HNP Communications In the Headlines

This is the fourth in an occasional series on music ministries throughout the Province.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Sunday liturgy just isn’t Sunday worship without music. Frank Sevola, OFM, pastor of the Church of St. Mary on Broadway, isn’t alone in his opinion.

Music is the third pillar of any good parish, he said. “You need a welcoming community, good preaching and singable music. In my opinion, no Sunday liturgy is complete without good music.”

Music director Kathryn Chester makes that happen. With several choirs — including contemporary, mixed and men’s, four cantors, string and brass quartets and jazz ensembles — the congregation robustly sings along.

Chester, who took over as director 18 months ago from then HNP friar Kevin McGoff, said the music program is very special at St. Mary, and one that draws parishioners from all over Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts.

“I’ve been in choirs my whole life,” she said, “but this is unique. All the members are great musicians. Not all can read music, but they have good ears, and they have the best intonation I’ve heard.”

A Church That Welcomes All
Chester takes pride in knowing that music is one of the many appealing aspects of St. Mary. “We are a church that says all are welcome,” she said, adding that the parish is very diverse and inclusive of all.

Chester took over for Kevin, after working with him for almost five years as the church pianist. She said it was an easy transition, since she had worked with Kevin and “understood how organized and particular he was.”

“Kevin was such a fantastic musician and choral director,” she said. “He was my colleague, since I played every Mass for the last six years. It was a comfortable move for me, and I’m very grateful that Kevin was so meticulous in preparing the choirs. It was a gift to step into the position.”

James Brown might have been the hardest working man in rock ’n’ roll, but Chester comes in a close second in the parish music department, said Frank. “The music ministry is very dedicated and works very hard. Some have said that the choir is the hardest work group in the parish and there is some truth to that.” 

Chester, a lifelong professional musician and high school music teacher, has a good sense of music ministry, Frank added. “She runs a very broad program.”

A Range of Choirs
The Saturday 5 p.m. contemporary Mass is assisted by a small ensemble of electrified string bass, piano, drums and cantor and “lots of great singing by all,” said Chester. 

The Sunday 10 a.m. Mass is the most popular. It is assisted by the choir and a cantor and is accompanied by either piano. “Again, lots of great singing by all,” she added. 

Parishes benefit from good music programs, said Chester, through camaraderie, deeper personal and group connections, greater participation in the liturgy, emotional involvement, and opportunities for choir members to contribute in their own way.

The parish holds musical fundraisers, collecting money for Haiti after last spring’s earthquake, and other causes. Sunday recitals is a new program Chester started this year, with concerts once a month, and special programs are held to commemorate confirmation, Advent, Lent, the Transitus and other holy days and festivals. 

While the parish hasn’t produced a CD yet, anything is possible.

The music should make a nice backdrop in January, when this year the Province celebrates its annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration at the Church of St. Mary on Broadway.

— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today. The previous newletter’s music ministry profile featured St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle, Va.