The dome of St. Peter's Basilica is seen from the Vatican gardens October 14, 2010 in Rome, Italy.

Liturgical Choir Alumni Sing at Vatican Mass With Pope Francis

Singing at New Year’s Day Mass is a special moment for any choir member, but it’s a whole different level when you’re doing that singing at the Vatican.

That’s exactly what 57 Liturgical Choir alumni did on Jan. 1, the highlight of a 10-day pilgrimage to Rome that featured several other performances, tours of historic and religious sites, and the chance to reconnect with St. Thomas friends and family.

“It’s been so great to come back with this group of alumni,” said Meg Gehlen Nodzon ’99. “It’s the 20-year anniversary since I was here for the first time. To be able to see all of my friends and all of these folks; it’s kind of like family in that nothing has changed and everything has changed.”

The St. Thomas Liturgical Choir, since its founding in 1977, has traveled to Rome to perform several times. This trip celebrated the choir's 40th anniversary while providing a unique experience to its collection of alumni – some of whom were traveling to Rome having performed there before, others for the first time.

“It’s been really nice to relive the old memories and make new ones, and also meet the other Liturgical Choir alums and their families and friends,” said Mark Thomas ’11, who also performed at the Vatican as a student. “It’s been a wonderful trip.”

The choir sang on Dec. 31 at Te Deum Mass with Cappella Musicale dell'Oratorio, as well as at the New Year’s Day Mass, and at Mass on Jan. 2 at the Cathedral of St. Agapito.

“The New Year’s Day was one thing that I was really looking forward to,” said Arthur Valera ’00, who also performed in 1997 at Midnight Mass in Rome. “That’s been the highlight of the trip, but New Year’s Eve was amazing musically, too.”

Choir alumni – plus many family members and friends – joined founding and retired director of the Liturgical Choir Rob Strusinski, who worked with Nodzon and alum Barry Lau last year to recruit alumni for the trip. Original hopes for 25-30 people quickly turned into a waiting list, and over the final four months of 2017 rehearsals took place both in person and digitally.

“I said that it would be a pick-up group. Little did I know that they would be coming from 13 different states, including Europe and the Middle East, and that much of the [rehearsing] would be done by live-stream and individual preparation,” Strusinski said. “Starting with the Class of ’81 there were people who went through the Class of 2015. We have two people on tour who graduated in 2015, so it’s a very diverse group. … I love the fact that a couple singers brought their kids. This is an intergenerational experience. We have people ages 9-76. It worked out wonderfully.”