Now and then, if Dean Rosko can be swayed by Fr. John Jamnicky, pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church, parishioners might hear a toned down version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” after the Sunday Mass.
While members of the two-year-old Antioch, Ill. parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago, are amused, visitors are often surprised to learn that the parish organist is also the organist for the Milwaukee Brewers.
In 2002, when he was 18, Rosko, a Kenosha resident, picked up a spot on the organ bench for the Brewers – a seat that had been vacant since 1986 when Frank Charles retired. It was a dream come true for the St. Catherine High School, Racine, graduate, who grew up attending Brewers games.
“I used to go all the time; my aunt is a season ticket holder,” he said. “I remember going to the inaugural for the opening of Miller Park and two years later, I was working there.”
Touted as the youngest organist in professional baseball, Rosko provides music at 70 to 80 home games each season.
Originally from Sturtevant, Rosko, now 25, transformed his talent on the piano to the intricacies of the organ, perfecting his skills on the Hammond X-66 he helped rebuild at Racine’s Skate Town.
“I was taking lessons there with my younger brother, Aaron, and competed in Roller Figure Skating competitions,” he said. “When I wasn’t taking lessons, or competing, I was playing the organ for skate dances and weekend events.”
After Charles retired, the Brewers used the longtime organist’s recordings at County Stadium and later at Miller Park. Former Brewers’ president Ulice Payne listened to community feedback, and in 2002, put out a call to organists interested in playing for the home games.
Just out of high school, Rosko sent Payne a résumé and CD. After several interviews and auditions, officials chose Rosko over 30 other applicants.
“I was the first organist in 17 years,” he said. “I really enjoy what I do, but it is quite different than what I do at St. Raphael.”
Indeed. The influence of Fr. Jamnicky prevailed as he took notice of Rosko tuning the organ at Mundelein Seminary.
“I made the mistake of giving him my card,” joked Rosko. “Fr. Jamnicky called me to look at the Baldwin organ donated to the new St. Raphael Parish. He wanted my opinion whether it was worth putting money into it or not. He called me several times about becoming the church organist –he is a little persuasive and strong arming.”
Since November 2007, Rosko has served as the parish organist and helped to reconstruct the massive 1917 Nine Rank Kilgen Pipe organ donated to the parish at the request of Cardinal Francis George after the chapel closed at Barat College.
“It was a big project,” Rosko admitted. “There are 700 pipes, and we had to put an addition on the parish, and re-open the original overhead garage door to move the organ inside the church.”
The parish resides in its temporary location in a remodeled machine tool shed on Highways 173 and 45. Because the organ will move to the new parish home in the next couple of years, Rosko helped to rewire and reassemble the instrument so the next move will be much easier.
“He was incredibly helpful,” said Richard Gambla, music director and business manager for St. Raphael the Archangel. “We rewired the instrument in a month. When we have our permanent home, everything will just plug in when we move it. The job was huge, the wires ran continuous and every note and every rank were wired separately and independently of the 700 pipes. We won’t have to cut any of the wires again – the job was tedious, but fun.”
Rosko agrees. While there is nothing like the sound of 40,000 baseball fans humming to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” his preference is playing hymns such as “How Great Thou Art,” on the pipe organ.
“I love this parish, and I love the music I get to play,” he said. “This is a traditional atmosphere with candles, bells and incense; and for me, much more conducive to the whole spiritual experience. Some people ask why we don’t play piano or more popular Christian music and I am glad we don’t. In my view, and in Father’s view, rich church music should be otherworldly, not like you can hear on the radio. It should take you to another place. Catholic Mass documents support that and Pope Benedict stated that church music needs to swing back to the rich traditions and the instrument of choice is the pipe organ.”
A lifelong Catholic, Rosko put off confirmation as a teen because he wasn’t sure where God was leading him at the time. After becoming immersed with the traditional Catholicism at St. Raphael, he was confirmed in 2008.
“I just went through a stage of just wanting to know more before taking the plunge,” he admitted. “Working here gave me the opportunity to do that. I was glad to do it here rather than anywhere else. This sort of atmosphere changed my whole life and my whole outlook.”
When Rosko isn’t playing at Miller Park or St. Raphael, he plays at Organ Piper Pizza, Greenfield, a couple of nights each week. On Sunday evenings, he volunteers his time to play the mighty Kimball at the Oriental Theatre, Milwaukee.
“I have done this for about three or four years,” he said. “I play before the movies and just do it because I love playing on that organ.”
Rosko is excited to play a role in the building of St. Raphael the Archangel’s permanent home and hopes to remain connected to his new family for many years.
“This is an opportunity to be part of something really great,” he said. “It is a ministry for me and in the music world, it is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often.”
While he considers himself a novice in planning worship, Rosko is taking private lessons and learning about liturgical music at the same time. Throughout it all, he admits that God is forming him.
“My faith is getting so much stronger from this ministry,” he said. “I begin playing well before Mass as my form of prayer and this helps me get into the right frame of mind. I can’t just sit down and change gears from my regular life to playing liturgical music – this is how I transition and it really is very much a part of the Mass.”