He was traveling and playing music at two Masses in his parish in Littleton, Colo., when the 1999 Columbine High School massacre stole the lives of 13 students.
Four of those students were from his church; He would play for three of their funerals.
But Steve Angrisano, who’s been a musician, music director and youth minister for 13 years, said he saw blessings pouring through the pain of those moments.
“I wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world,” he told your Catholic Herald in an interview in March when he was in Elm Grove as the presenter for a three-day Lenten program at St. Mary Visitation Parish.
“I mean, it was the most strengthening experience for me.”
During that time, Angrisano said he formed bonds with the people and faith grew.
Years later, he still looks back on those “tough” moments, but he’s also busy sharing his experiences through his music and stories in churches, at National Catholic Youth Conferences, World Youth Days – wherever he’s traveling during the nearly 150 days he’s on the road during the year.
Angrisano said he grew up a “church kid” – his mother was the director of confirmation at the family’s parish. He took guitar lessons in school, and then his mother recruited him to play music on confirmation retreats and for programs. He started playing at Mass, with the help of a “great guitar player,” at All Saints in Richardson, Texas, in the Dallas Diocese.
But it was a youth rally he attended as a ninth-grader, and seeing a crowd of 600 kids with music and speakers that moved him.
“I mean my faith was so changed that day and, although I didn’t walk out of there thinking, ‘I want to do that,’ it was true that that became a very important part of my faith, and I always wanted to go to them and help out with them and as I got older … I began to figure out I could be the guy up there – but partly because it had made such a difference to me when I was a kid,” Angrisano said.
His first job, just a week out of college, was as a youth minister at a parish – what he calls the training ground for what he’s doing now. The adults he keeps in touch with who were in his youth group 15 years ago tell him that what he does today isn’t much different from what he did back then.
“That’s really the truth,” Angrisano said. “I mean, I’m a little more polished and I’ve written more music, but at the time, you sing a funny song, you sing a prayer song, you tell a story – it was all very similar then, too.”
He loves what he does, even though it means he’s away from his wife, Virginia, and children Julia, 20, Joshua, 17, and Joseph, 10, in Coppell, Texas, for almost half the year.
Technology is a “blessing,” according to his wife.
“Back in the early ‘90s, he would have to stand in line at a pay phone to call me from an event,” she told your Catholic Herald in an email. “Now, I am with him and can reach him all day, right up to the moments before he walks on a stage. He is gone a lot, but Steve and I work very hard for there not to be an absence of his presence in our daily lives.”
While she misses him at Mass at their parish, St. Ann in Coppell, Texas, she knows that he’s sharing their passion for Catholicism when he’s away.
“Steve is doing what he is meant to do,” Virginia wrote, “encourage people to fall in love with Christ.… Our family is ministered to by that and feel blessed by it. We get to see the enthusiasm of the church! It is real and alive! That’s why it is easy to let Steve go and do what he does. I feel so blessed to center my life around that!”
Angrisano said the gift or charism of the ministry is that it is something all ages can enjoy together.
“I think music speaks a language that words alone do not and that is why a love song moves you, because you have this love for someone and, somehow, the music brings life to that that words alone do not,” he said, “and I think that’s what makes music so important in our prayer.”
Angrisano likes the variety of his ministry – one night he might play for 800 teenagers and the next day for 400 elderly people in a parish – and how the songs reach out to people where they’re at in life.
“The really neat thing about doing this is so many people share with you how your music has reached them … when you do music in the Catholic church, and people sing it in Mass, it reaches so many different people,” Angrisano said.
One of the most touching stories he learned was in a letter he received from a family of a young woman who died of cancer.
“(They) said that her favorite song was that one I mentioned to you, ‘My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord, thirsting for you, my God,’ (Psalm 63) is the refrain and they put it on her headstone and sang it at her funeral,” he said, adding he hopes he makes it to heaven someday to be able to tell her how much that inspires him.
“I think the message, both in the music and in the stories is really that our faith is meant to be lived,” Angrisano said, “and it’s not a faith of stained glass windows and old books, but I think God desires for us to come here and be fed by him so that we can go out and be a reflection of his love in a world that really needs to see it.”