University of St. Thomas Liturgical Choir to embark on 30th anniversary tour, Christmas in Italy

Robert Strusinski has directed the Liturgical Choir since its founding in 1977.

University of St. Thomas Liturgical Choir to embark on 30th anniversary tour, Christmas in Italy

On Dec. 21, the University of St. Thomas bids its Liturgical Choir farewell for a 10-day pilgrimage and performance tour marking the choir's 30th anniversary. But we'll also wish the choir's 58 students a "Buon Natale" – "Merry Christmas" in Italian.

The Liturgical Choir sang at the university's Christmas Concert Dec. 2 in Orchestra Hall.

By Christmas Eve, the 58-member choir will be in Rome, preparing to sing at Pope Benedict XVI's Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. Plans are firming up for the choir to serve again, as it did on tours in 1987 and 1997, as " coro guida," the choir assisting with congregational singing at the Mass.  The Sistine Chapel Choir is the principal choir for all papal liturgies. The pope's Christmas Eve Mass will be televised live and broadcast in the United States on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), at 5 p.m. CST on Monday, Dec. 24.

St. Thomas' Liturgical Choir gets the principal choir role for the 10:30 a.m. Mass on the fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 23, at St. Peter's. After that, the choir will receive the Holy Father's blessing in St. Peter's Square, then give a concert at the 16th century church built by St. Philip Neri, Santa Maria in Vallicella – also called "Chiesa Nuova" – in the heart of Rome's historic district.

The choir is still conducted by its founding director, Robert Strusinski, a member of the campus ministry staff and the music faculty at St. Thomas. Accompanist for the tour is a 2004 choir alumnus, Timothy Westerhaus, who is now conductor of the Boston University Choral Society.  Also accompanying the choir as an adviser and chaplain is the Rev. Jan Michael Joncas, an internationally known composer of liturgical music, author and assistant professor of theology and Catholic studies at St. Thomas. Joncas' latest composition, "Rorate Coeli," will premiere on the tour; he received the Jubilate Deo Award from the National Association of Pastoral Musicians this year for a lifetime of distinguished service to liturgical music.

Other highlights of the choir's Italian tour include visits to the

Since the choir's founding in 1977, it has traveled extensively, touring in the United States and abroad.

Vatican Museum, Capitoline Hill and the Roman Forum, Christmas dinner in Tivoli, and post-Christmas visits to Assisi – where the choir will sing in the Basilica of San Francesco – and Florence, Siena, Pisa and Lucca, the birthplace of Puccini. The choir will say "arrivederci bella Italia" on Dec. 30 and will be back in the United States for New Year's Eve.

Since then the choir's founding in 1977, it has traveled extensively, performing throughout the United States and abroad: to Ireland in 1983; to Germany, Austria and Czechslovakia in 1985; to Italy at Christmas 1987, when it was the first American choir invited to sing at Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome; to eastern Europe in summer 1991; to the Holy Land in 1994; and back to Italy for a Christmastime tour in 1997.

To learn more about the university's Liturgical choir, visit its Web site.