When Marisa Gatti-Taylor was invited to coordinate the music for the annual Mass at Festa Italiana in 2008, she agreed on one condition.

“I’ve got a life experience for music that, for all practical purposes, has disappeared,” she said, adding her vision was Recent first Communicants were invited to wear their Communion attire and be part of a procession at the Festa Italiana Mass at the Marcus Amphitheater on the Summerfest grounds on July 20. The Festa Mass also featured the Italian hymn, “T’Adoriam, Ostia Divina,” and its English translation by Olivia G.T. Kopitzke, “O Divine Host, We Adore You.”to “bring back the Italian hymns that the tradition of Our Lady of Pompeii had held onto.”

Liturgical music has always been a large part of Gatti-Taylor’s identity.

“I am the daughter of a church soloist, who was the daughter of a church soloist,” she said.
At age 7, she began singing in her local parish in her birthplace of San Marino, a small, ethnically Italian state surrounded by the Italian Republic.

“(Music) was always a very large part of my self-image. I could see the power in it because … first of all, I got paid!” she said. “And the other thing is, I moved people to tears. I knew I touched hearts and that felt very special.”

Gatti-Taylor, 68, continued with her musical pursuits even after her family emigrated to Detroit in 1954; the family joined San Francesco Parish, founded in 1898 to serve Italian immigrant families. Gatti-Taylor and her three sisters became eager members of the choir.

In the parish of San Francesco, Gatti-Taylor came to understand that liturgical music is not just background noise, but

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a means of worship, and that it can also bind a congregation to its faith and heritage.

“It had originally been a northern Italian community, but the area had become the inner city,” she said. “To get to it meant that you had to drive through very rough parts of Detroit. But (the music) was such a magnet that people rose above the negatives just to be there. So I knew the power of music, just from observing and living it.”

Music continued to be a constant in Gatti-Taylor’s life; she began to sing professionally as a teenager with bands and orchestras, and even recorded a Motown record in 1966.

Fr. Timothy Kitzke, chaplain of the Italian Community Center, accepts a gift marking his 25th jubilee as a priest, from a young girl at the end of the Festa Mass. (Catholic Herald photos by Peter Fenelon)Gatti-Taylor met her husband, Steven Millen Taylor, while both were studying at Wayne State University. It was not just a romantic partnership, but a liturgical one. Millen Taylor is a classically trained organist, and accompanied Gatti-Taylor when she sang at Mass. They married in San Marino, and — naturally — took great pains in selecting the music for the ceremony, which included the hymns “Ave Maria” and “Dell’Aurora Tu Sorgi Piu Bella.”

Found in translation

The couple now live in the Milwaukee area and have three grown daughters – Olivia, Victoria and Sophia – and attend Old St. Mary Parish. Gatti-Taylor has worked for years in the Milwaukee area as a language professor and translator.

In 2011, Gatti-Taylor, Millen Taylor and Michael Kamenski of St. Sebastian Parish teamed up to produce a collection of sacred Italian hymns performed by the Festa Mass Choir.

“After Vatican II, (those old songs) sort of fell by the wayside,” she said. “All those old songs were eliminated or just saved (for later) … but they would be sung spontaneously by the Mass participants, by people in the pews, after the choir had done its song. When we would go to Italy, we would see that very frequently.”

The CD, titled “Inni e Canti,” contains 15 sacred Italian hymns – including “Dell’Aurora Tu Sorgi Piu Bella.” Another of the hymns, “T’Adoriam, Ostia Divina,” was especially significant to Gatti-Taylor.

“I love this hymn because it encapsulates the moment of elevation,” she said. “It’s a beautiful mini-meditation on what the Divine Host is for the believer. It just captures it.”

Since she heard the hymn performed in her childhood in San Marino, she assumed it was Italian in origin. For the CD’s release, Gatti-Taylor’s daughter, Olivia Kopitzke, an award-winning poet, translated the hymn into English:
“O Divine Host, we adore You, We adore You, Host of love, You, the longing of the angels, You the honor of mankind…You the gentleness of strong hearts, You the vigor of the weak, You the health of all the living, You the hope of those who die…. May the world know You and love You, Life and joy of every heart. God, we greet Thee, great and hidden, of all ages You are Lord, O Divine Host we adore you, we adore You, Host of love.”

Koptizke’s translation would eventually find an overseas audience: in January 2013, Dr. Joe Zammit Ciantar, a senior lecturer at the University of Malta, found the website for “Inni e Canti” and was impressed by the faithfulness of the English translation. At the time, he was working on a book about “T’Adoriam, Ostia Divina,” and requested permission to include Kopitzke’s English translation, as well as details about the “Inni e Canti” recording process.

He also gave Gatti-Taylor a surprising backstory concerning her beloved Italian hymn – starting with the fact that it was not, apparently, Italian at all, but the composition of a Maltese priest named Msgr. Carmelo Psaila, known as Dun Karm. “T’Adoriam, Ostia Divine” was written for the XXIV International Eucharistic Congress, held in Malta in April 1913.

The hymn was composed in Italian instead of Maltese to make it more accessible to the participants of the Congress.
“Copies of the hymn printed for the Congress omitted the names of the lyricist and the composer, making it anonymous,” said Gatti-Taylor.

Zammit Ciantar was highly complimentary of Kopitzke’s English translation, writing in the book that it makes “interesting linguistic observations. One of these is … how she gathered the gist of the original five stanzas into three sextains, each of which, again, ends with the word ‘love.’”

Zammit Ciantar wrote also that he had previously only encountered one English translation of the hymn, completed in 1956 by a Jesuit priest.

Gatti-Taylor said this international recognition has lead to the CD being purchased in Italy “out of curiosity … here are non-Italian speakers in Milwaukee (singing this hymn). The only things that identify Milwaukee to many Italians – of course, are ‘Happy Days,’ Harley Davidson, beer, and then, unfortunately, Jeffrey Dahmer.”

She is not surprised with the way the hymn resonates with audiences around the world.

“I believe that that power comes from the fact that we Catholics witness the greatest of miracles every time we go to Mass: the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord. ‘T’Adoriam, Ostia Divina’ expresses this deep faith in words so simple yet powerful that even children can understand this great truth.”