The limestone edifice and 160-foot spire of St. Mary Church in Port Washington could easily be described as the city’s defining landmark. Holding court for the last 120 years on a steep hill at the northernmost end of the downtown district, the church seems to evangelize primarily through sound – through the church bells that peal to mark the hours, and especially through the sacred music that can be heard through its doors on Sunday morning.
When the congregation celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2003, it did so with the installation of a 12-ton, 40-rank Berghaus organ – the third to be installed in the church and the largest instrument of its kind in the Ozaukee area, with the exception of the organ at Concordia University in Mequon.
The $300,000 endeavor signified a monumental effort on the part of the parish to ensure the quality of music in their liturgies – and in the liturgies of St. Mary parishioners who will worship hundreds of years in the future.
Nevertheless, the organ is, in the words of parish liturgist Drew Rutz, incomplete. St. Mary was only able to raise enough funds in 2003 to install 17 of the 30 stops.
“In essence, we bought a car with a frame, an engine, a steering wheel and brakes – but not windows, doors, trunk, or a passenger seat,” said Rutz.
Now, 10 years later, the parish hopes to take a step forward in completion of the organ. The Illinois-based Berghaus company is holding a 16-foot metal posaune (German for trombone) stop for the congregation at a discounted price of $18,000, and parish members are hoping a fundraising concert on Sunday, July 6 will bring them closer to that goal.
‘Makes the floors rattle’
The concert is the brainchild of a parishioner who was only in the third grade when the Berghaus organ was first installed.
Sarah Kruske is studying performing arts management at DePaul University in Chicago; during an event planning class last year, one of the assignments was to organize a mock event. It was a little unfulfilling for the ambitious student, who was inspired to return to her home parish and plan a real event that yielded real returns: a concert to raise money for the completion of St. Mary’s organ.
Although a trumpet stop was added last year, the instrument is still far from completion. Each stop represents a particular sound, and the posaune stop – which parishioners hope will be added after the concert – will add a deep, powerful trombone tone to the existing pedal stops.
“(The organ) does basic things. But it certainly doesn’t allow me to do all that I’m capable of doing as a performer, even in service playing,” said Rutz. “(The posaune stop) will allow for the organ to lead and inspire as well as just accompany. It’ll add real guts to the foot pedals.”
Or, in the words of his wife Katie: “It will be what makes the floors rattle.”
If you want
The concert will be held on July 6 at 7 p.m. at St. Mary Church. A $5 donation is suggested. The evening will feature a line-up of musicians that parish members will be sure to recognize – like Fr. Tom Lijewski, a team member of the in solidum team that serves the tri-parish cluster to which St. Mary belongs.
Fr. Lijewski has a degree in musical performance from Alverno College; he has his own electric organ installed at the front of the church and often practices on it before weekday Masses. At the concert, Fr. Lijewski will perform a solo piece and a duet with Rutz.
The concert will also include children of the parish taught by Rutz who have gone on to have careers in performing – such as Stephen Nosko, a student of trombone performance at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. St. Mary’s cantor and Port Washington High School senior Emily Freier will also perform, along with Trio Disquiet, a group that features parish member and soprano Michelle Kruske (Sarah’s older sister), Joshua Scheid and Jonathon Hannau.
Singing is praying twice
Sarah Kruske credits her home parish with acting as an incubator for her deeply spiritual connection to music.
“I basically started singing in the church. I cantored for the first time at Mass in first grade,” she said, adding that she has always believed in the saying, often attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo: “He who sings, prays twice.”
Music was what first instructed Kruske in the ways of the faith, and it is keeping her tethered tightly to it at an age when many young people are drifting away from the Catholic Church.
“Ever since I’ve been little, I’ve learned everything through songs,” she said. “My mom taught me how to spell my name through songs. It’s the same way in church. I started singing, and it just helped me to learn about what my faith is all about, and how it connects in the Mass and what the Mass means.”
“For some people, the important part of Mass is the sermon, and for some people it’s the readings. For me, it’s the music,” said Kruske’s mother, Sue, who, along with her daughters, has been involved in the parish choirs for years. “I think my children feel the same way. They joined the training choir in first grade and they were singing in Latin already. That’s the kind of thing that they’ve grown up with.”
Fr. Lijewski is looking forward to showcasing the talent in his parish. Music, he said, is an integral part of the Mass, and at St. Mary, the music is especially important.
“If you remove all music from the sacraments, it becomes dull,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of talent in this parish. We’ve got a darn good choir here. And of course, we have Drew – who I really appreciate.”
“To have a Mass without music is like having a day without speaking to anyone,” said Rutz. “We need that human contact. Music provides that among other things, because we hear other voices. You get to hear other people since and that encourages you to sing.”