St. Francis Choir

by Harry T. Roman


St. Francis was my home parish, across Bloomfield Avenue from the stadium. Saturday afternoons would find me going to confession and hoping I wouldn't get Monsignor Dooling, the iron ruler of St. Francis, a patriarch whose voice on Sunday morning could normally be heard without amplification all the way out to the main doors. With amplification, clear across Bloomfield Avenue. And if he was angry about something.....well that was at least another 200 feet further. For many years he would protect the church through its expansion phase, and the tumultuous 1960s.

I remember many of the old timers, Father Scanlon, Father McAdams (who died so young), Monsignor Dooling of course, Father Livolsi, Father Papera, and Father Marconi who led our church choir. As you can see by the names, our parishioners were mostly Italian and Irish. Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald (remember the movies "Going My Way" and "The Bells of St. Mary") would have been at home in our neighborhood.

My high school years in the choir were memorable, singing the various Sunday masses of the liturgical calendar, trying to accommodate the various singing styles of the priests. Sometimes this turned out to be comical as it led to some off-key chants and unusual responses being sung. Father Marconi tried to hold us valiantly on cue, and often jumped in to fill a singing slot if someone was absent. Sometimes, if we wandered off-key, he just turned around and laughed, whispering-----"God still loves us,..... I hope".

Once you sing the mass, you certainly don't want to be sitting in the pews again. It's a totally different mass from up in the choir loft--much more emotional and heart-felt. Some pieces can bring tears to your eyes quite easily. Many of the finest classical compositions of the 1600s and 1700s were originally composed to be played by church orchestras.

One of the most emotional pieces we ever sang was for Father Scanlon's 25th anniversary celebration. It was a hard piece, but a beautiful one, which translated from Latin meant....."You are a Priest Forever".

Friday night practice usually ended with a pizza and laughter. Our mischievous tenor section often sneaked in a little four-part harmony, just to add a little spice, much to the consternation of our fine leader, Ed Setanni. We would get a little reprimand, but afterwards he would smile and say he thought we hit the four-part notes just fine----but please don't do that on Sunday! A special treat for me was to play the rooftop church chimes one Christmas Eve, and be able to hear them from the choir loft. They were loud enough to be heard in our neighborhood. No one complained, so I guess I did the job right.

Christmas Eve was a favorite mass, with all the pageantry of the season. After this big mass, many old-time Italian families went home to eat a traditional large meal comprised of as many as 12 different kinds of fish. Later they opened presents.

I came to enjoy the Easter Eve mass that is truly beautiful. My favorite part of this mass is when they darken the church completely and attendees hold a small candle that is then lighted from the main candle to signify we all derive our light from the one true light. This mass is unusually joyous and activity filled since it celebrates the end of Lent.

As I drive down Bloomfield Avenue now past the church, it still dominates the area-a fine monument to the priests and parishioners who lovingly built it. Sometimes I can almost hear the echoes of the church chimes, or the fading notes of those stolen four-part harmonies. God still loves me.


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