Peter Chepaitis Celebrates Mass for Singer — a Francis Medal Recipient

HNP Communications Friar News

NEW YORK — Peter Chepaitis, OFM, participated in a presentation and a Mass at Union Theological Seminary here last week as a guest of singer Kim Harris, who was finalizing her doctorate. Kim and her husband, Reggie, are known for singing music of Franciscan themes.

He and Sr. Anna Tantsits, IHM, directors of Bethany Ministries, based outside Albany, N.Y., were invited by Harris to be a part of her “public lecture field exam,” on March 10, one of the components of the comprehensives for her Ph. D. in theology and the Arts from the seminary on New York’s Upper West Side. Her project was to compose the music for a Mass, which she called “Welcome Table: A Mass of Spirituals.” Peter and Anna sang with the choir and gave a scripture reflection.

Music and Mass
“The evening began with Kim demonstrating how she took melodies from the spirituals and used them as settings for texts from the Catholic liturgy,” Peter said. “She sang the original spiritual and then gave her reasons for choosing it as a basis for the musical setting of a particular part of the Mass.”

Peter presided at the March 10 celebration of the Eucharist, using the music Harris had composed, with her as cantor. A “spectacular” Gospel choir, under the direction of M. Roger Holland, led the congregation, Peter said. 

Years of Friendship
Peter met Kim Harris and her husband Reggie, musicians known for singing about justice and peace, while serving as a member of the campus ministry team at St. Bonaventure University from 1987 to 1992.

“They came to sing music of the Underground Railroad, as well as their own compositions, and to lead workshops in diversity for the campus community,” Peter said, adding: “They joined me for pizza following a student Mass after a Sunday afternoon performance which began our friendship.”

Peter later engaged Kim and Reggie Harris to preach at another Sunday Mass the day before the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. While he was at Bona’s, Peter said he “sometimes visited them in Middleburgh to join them for dinner on Easter Sunday afternoon, driving there after morning Mass on campus.” This contact with them and the area where they were living was one of the reasons Peter moved to Middleburgh in 1995 to establish the Franciscan Ministry of the Word at Bethany Ministries, he said.

Kim and Reggie Harris was awarded a Francis Medal by the friars of Mt. Irenaeus in October 2009 at the mountain’s 25th anniversary commemoration. He and his wife have known Daniel Riley, OFM, director of Mt. Irenaeus, since the mid 1970s.

The photo above showing Kim and Peter was taken at a mission last year.