Mary Robertson, the Director of Music and Liturgy at Three Holy Women Parish and Our Lady of Divine Providence, will return in June after 42 years. (Submitted photo)
Mary Robertson, Three Holy Women Parish and Our Lady of Divine Providence’s longtime Director of Music and Liturgy, is singing her swan song after 42 years.
Throughout her lengthy tenure, Robertson has served at St. Charles Borromeo (Milwaukee), St. Anthony Parish (Menomonee Falls), Three Holy Women on Milwaukee’s East Side, and Our Lady of Divine Providence in Riverwest.
Her final Masses at Three Holy Women and Our Lady of Divine Providence will be June 11.
“I’ll have a chance to say goodbye to those I’ve prayed with here at Three Holy Women and Our Lady of Divine Providence parishes,” said Robertson. “I will also be celebrating all the people who helped me have such a long, enjoyable career as a church musician. Great pastors, great parishioners, great choir members, and most of all, a great husband who willingly took all three children to church by himself every week, stayed home with them while I had choir rehearsals and weddings to play, and in general, supported me in what I was doing.”
Robertson learned to sing and play the piano and organ as a child. She comes from a large family, which includes two priest uncles who enjoyed singing and playing duets on the piano.
“We always had sing-a-longs when they came over or at big family gatherings, and I would love to play. Coming from an Irish heritage, we always had to sing a couple of Irish songs along the way, as well,” she said. “I started piano lessons in second grade, and in sixth grade, Sr. Elinor, my piano teacher, asked me if I wanted to try the organ. My mom would sit with me while I practiced because they didn’t want me alone in church.”
In sixth grade, Robertson began playing the organ for weekday Masses and continued playing two daily Masses each day in the summer months through her high school years.
“I even remember playing a couple of weddings with the payment of a box of chocolates,” she said. “I also played a little at college in the campus ministry program.”
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a bachelor’s degree in music education, Robertson taught for a few years in Milwaukee before assimilating into music and liturgy. She took classes in liturgy at Alverno College, Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, and St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, throughout her career.
“I took a ‘Just Faith Course’ at Good Shepherd Parish in Menomonee Falls and it opened my ‘rather sheltered’ eyes to the inequities and injustices in our city and world and my role as a Catholic to work for change, both in my own heart and in the lives of others,” she said. “It felt like a time for a change, so I started to look at what was out there that might give me some new experiences. Someone told me about Three Holy Women Parish on the East Side, and so I took a chance and interviewed. I liked what I saw and heard, and was offered a position.”
Juggling work, life and the many funerals and weddings could be challenging throughout the years. Weekends were always busy, so making time for family needed to be a priority, said Robertson.
“Also, being in tune with parishioners and finding texts that speak to them no matter their age or culture and tunes that are singable and interesting is something that can be time consuming and challenging but well worth the effort,” she said. “The pandemic was a challenge for obvious reasons.”
Most rewarding for Robertson was helping a community sing well at Mass. She especially appreciated hearing her congregations sing loudly and enthusiastically.
“That was one of the hardest things about the pandemic — not being able to gather and sing. I have also loved working with amazing choir members who committed to rehearsals and singing weekly or bi-weekly and helping people pray,” she said. “We had a lot of fun becoming a faith community. Being able to play the piano and organ every week was pretty cool, too. In 2010, I was able to fulfill a dream of giving an organ recital on our new Holtkamp pipe organ.”
In her work as a music director, Robertson said it has served as an extension of her prayer life and growth in her relationship with Jesus.
“I pray as I prepare the music for all the services,” she said. “Also, meeting different kinds of people in person helped me dispel some judgments and learn to love as Jesus did. I work with an amazing staff who daily reach out to the homebound, young families as well as people living on the streets, hungry and trying to make ends meet, along with those who want to become Catholic and those who are trying to stay Catholic. I have learned how to pray through the good and the hard times myself and with others because of these experiences.”
Robertson and her husband Jim have three adult children: Heather, Jon Luke and Christian. They are expecting their sixth grandchild in March.
When she retires, Robertson said she looks forward to doing anything she wants for a while and especially having weekends free to travel. She and Jim hope to travel frequently to Atlanta to see their grandchildren as well as go camping.
“I am hoping to get to Ireland in the next 18 months,” she said. “I will be available to do some subbing around the archdiocese and have a few volunteer opportunities I’d like to try that I haven’t been able to commit to before.”