History

of the Music Ministry of St. Bernard Church

1919 – The first Mass of St. Bernard Church is celebrated by Fr. Thomas H. Bryson at 8:00 AM on August 31th. The Mass is held in the Haller property carriage house, located on the corner of Washington Road and Academy Avenue.

John V. Gray plays the organ for the Christmas Mass.

1926 – The first pipe organ is donated by George I. Ihrig, a Pittsburgh organ builder.

1934 – The Lower Church is blessed on December 16th. An all-male choir sings the Mass, accompanied by Mrs. Elsie McCarthy on organ.

The St. Bernard Boys’ Choir begins weekly rehearsals: here, they learn to sing both the Propers and the Ordinary of the Mass in Gregorian chant.

The St. Bernard Boys' Choir, 1934The St. Bernard  Boys’ Choir

1942 – Work begins on the Upper Church.

1944 – James P. Johnson begins serving as Choir Director; on September 12th, Lee Hohman assumes the position of Organist. Mr. Hohman studied Organ at Duquesne University.

1945 – An organ committee consisting of Dr. Caspar P. Koch, of St. Paul Cathedral; G. Donald Harrison, representing the Aeolian Skinner organ company; James P. Johnson, Music Director; William R. Perry, the church’s architect; and Fr. Joseph Lonergan, Pastor, is established in the hopes of installing a four-manual Aeolian Skinner instrument in the Upper Church.

Correspondence with Aeolian Skinner

Aeolian Skinner Specification

1947 – Mass is celebrated in the (incomplete) Upper Church for the first time on Palm Sunday.

Image of the Construction of the Upper ChurchOngoing construction of the Upper Church

The three tower bells (named Bernard, Regis, and Thomas in descending order of size) are installed and blessed in June.

1953 – Mr. Frank Varga, a native of Zalaegerszeg, Hungary, becomes the new Choir Director and Organist on May 3rd.

1955 – The St. Bernard Boys’ Choir, photographed on June 19:

The St. Bernard Boys' Choir, 1955Taken from a Sunday bulletin

1959 – Monsignor Quigley nominates Joseph E. Michaud as the Director of Music on June 21st. (Michaud later served as the Director of Music at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.)

Click here to read Joseph Michaud’s Obituary

Provisions are gathered for the magnificent Casavant Frères organ to be built in the Upper Church at a cost of $95,000.00. A Baldwin organ is installed in the Lower Church.

Sketch of the Casavant Freres Organ FacadeA sketch of the façade of the proposed Casavant Frères Organ

1960 – St. Bernard Church signs the contract for a six-division Casavant Frères organ. The instrument is designed by Lawrence Phelps and Joseph E. Michaud.

Choir stalls are designed and installed in December.

Casavant Freres Correspondence

Layout of the Casavant Freres OrganA sketch of the layout of the proposed Casavant Frères Organ

1962 – The Casavant Frères organ is completed on January 15, and blessed by Bishop John J. Wright on September 9. Anton Heiller, from the Academy of Music in Vienna, gave its dedication concert. He stated, “The new Casavant Organ in St. Bernard Church in Pittsburgh is one of the best American organs I have ever seen… it is an exciting instrument.”

Program Cover of Anton Heiller Recital

Program: Dedication Recital by Anton Heiller

This same year, the members of the adult and children’s choirs travel to Detroit as the “Clairvaux Chorale”:

Bulletin Article on the "Clairvaux Chorale"Taken from a Sunday bulletin, May 3, 1962

The St. Bernard’s Men’s and Boy’s Choirs perform the premier of Alexander Peloquin’s Mass in a KDKA radio broadcast on Christmas Day.

1964 – Jean Langlais presents an organ recital on November 22nd, the Feast of St. Cecilia, as a John F. Kennedy Memorial Concert.

Program: Recital by Jean Langlais

1965 – Gerre Hancock, internationally acclaimed organist and Director of Music at St. Thomas Church in New York, presents an organ recital on June 23rd as part of the American Guild of Organists’ Regional Convention.

1968 – Composer and organist Dr. Joseph Willcox Jenkins is hired as Choir Director, with Lee Hohman continuing to serve as Organist. Sister Miriam Joseph begins directing the Boys Choir. In September,  Vincent C. Lascheid, Jr. becomes the Organist in the Lower Church. Mr. Lascheid was an attendee of the Pittsburgh Musical Academy, and also the Organist for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers.

Click here to read Joseph Willcox Jenkins’ Obituary

Photo of Lee Hohman at the Upper Church OrganLee F. Hohman at the Upper Church organ

Photo of Vince Lashied at the Lower Church OrganVincent C. Lascheid, Jr. at the Lower Church organ

1969 – The St. Bernard Choir expands from a men’s chorus to a mixed ensemble with over thirty women. A folk choir begins in the Lower Church, under the direction of Vincent C. Lascheid, Jr.

Daily Masses are now offered in the Upper Church.

Photo of Choir Members at RehearsalChoir members discuss their music during rehearsal

Bulletine artice advertising the St. Bernard ChoirA bulletin advertisement for the St. Bernard Choir from the 1970’s

1970 – Louis Munkachy, Ph.D. is named the new Choir Director on July 21st. Czechoslovakian by birth, Munkachy was educated in Hungary and received the Hungarian Cultural Medal in 1955. He earned two diplomas from the famed Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, and held additional degrees from Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh. Munkachy taught Musical Theory at Duquesne University.

Photo of Lee Hohman and Louis MunkachyLee F. Hohman (left) and Louis Munkachy, Ph.D. (right), in 1971

1971 – Earl J. Meister is elected the first President of the St. Bernard Choir.

Newspaper Article about the St. Bernard ChoirA newspaper article advertises some achievements of the St. Bernard Music Ministry

1972 – The first photograph of the St. Bernard Choir, taken in the Upper Church:

Photo of the St. Bernard ChoirTaken from a bulletin, November 19, 1972

1974 – The St. Bernard Choir dons robes for the first time on December 8th.

The gallery organ is removed for restoration.

1976 – Choir members in their original robes on Easter Sunday:

Photo of Choir Members in Robes1 Photo of Choir Members in Robes 2April 18, 1976

1977 – Duquesne University graduate Carol Lee Ponzio is appointed Organ Accompanist to the St. Bernard Choir.

1978 – The first Christmas card is printed for St. Bernard Church in December, featuring a photograph of a Christmas Mass:

Photo of first Christmas Card

 

Photo of the Music Ministry Christmas Party, 1978The annual music ministry Christmas party is hosted at the home of Carol Lee Ponzio, 1978

Christmas Eve Program, 1978A Christmas Eve music program from the late 1970’s

1985 – Duquesne University graduate Richard Choura is hired as temporary Organist.

1986 – Richard Shaw becomes the Director of Music and Organist.

Robert M. Fischer, a Pittsburgh organ builder, investigates an ongoing wind pressure problem with the Upper Church organ. A new case is designed and built for the gallery organ.

Click here to read Robert M. Fischer’s Obituary

1991 – On October 18th, the Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra and the St. Bernard Choir present a Mozart Bicentennial Concert, conducted by William Burkhart.

1992 – The gallery organ case is installed with the addition of a second console. Work on the gallery organ is not completed until the following year.

1995 – Richard Robert Rossi becomes Director of Music and Organist.

1998 – In October, Stephen R. Schall becomes the Director of Music and Organist. Schall is a graduate of Westminster Choir College, where he earned a double Masters degree in Organ and Choral Conducting.

Review of Revised Casavant Freres Specification, 1999

2004 – Stephen Schall, Fred Schell, and consultant Charles Callahan meet to plan the much-needed restoration, as well as possible expansion, of the Casavant organ. By their proposal, the console is replaced by R.A. Colby; the pipework is re-voiced and the chests rebuilt by the Emery Brothers; and digital voices are installed by Walker Technical.

Proposal and Contract for Casavant Freres Renovation

2006The Lee F. Hohman Organ Concert Fund is established to provide for an annual organ recital on the newly renovated organ.

Click here to read Lee F. Hohman’s Obituary

2007 – On April 27th, the Casavant Frères organ is rededicated by internationally acclaimed organist Charles Callahan.

Photo of Charles Callahan, Fred Schell, Stephen Schall, and John MorabitoCharles Callahan, Stephen Schall, and Fred Schell observe as Pittsburgh organ student John Morabito tries out the new organ console

Casavant Freres New Specification

On November 4th, the combined choirs of St. Bernard Church and the Mount Lebanon United Methodist Church present Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem.

Program: A Concert of the Music of Maurice Durufle

2010 – St. Bernard Church presents Alan Morrison in concert on the Casavant organ, supported by the Lee F. Hohman Organ Concert Fund.

2012 – Richard Moser and Michael McGrath are hired as Assistant Organists.

Click here to read Richard Moser’s Obituary

Christopher Houlihan presents an organ recital on April 29th as part of the Organ Artist Series of Pittsburgh.

2014 – Richard Moser becomes the temporary Music Director during the search for a new Director of Music. In July, Chaz Bowers is appointed the new Director of Music and Organist. Aaron Sproul becomes the Associate Director of Music and Assistant Organist in December of this year.

On August 3rd, lightning strikes the Casavant organ during the 9:00 A.M. Mass, requiring emergency repairs to be made.

The Music at St. Bernard Concert Series is launched in the Fall of 2014. Internationally-renowned French organist and improviser Frédéric Blanc gives a recital on October 28th. His program includes works by Dupré, Handel, Langlais, Tournemire, and Duruflé, as well as several improvisations which showcase St. Bernard’s Casavant organ. Monsieur  Blanc praised, “The acoustic (digital) stops sound as good as the pipes themselves.”

2015 – A Viscount Physis Two Manual, 45 Rank Digital Organ is installed by Alan Sterner and Ray Colby in the Lower Church.

Program: Clairvaux Hall Organ Blessing and Dedication

Viscount Sonus 245 Specification

Maurice Durufle’s Requiem is performed by the St. Vincent Camerata, the Academy Chamber Orchestra, and Chaz Bowers at the organ.

Photo of the St. Bernard Choir singing a concert in the spring of 2015The St. Bernard Choir sings with the Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra

2016 – Dr. Gregory Hand presents a recital of Bach, Guilmant, Corrette, Bolcom, and more in the Upper Church sanctuary on November 20th. This recital is sponsored by the Lee F. Hohman Organ Concert Fund.

2017 – A Sacred Music internship program begins between students of Seton Hill University and St. Bernard Church.

On January 29th, Music at St. Bernard hosts a screening of three Charlie Chaplin silent films with live piano accompaniment by Tom Roberts, creator of the Charlie Chaplin Project.

On April 22nd and 23rd, the St. Vincent Camerata and the St. Bernard organists perform Louis Vierne’s Messe Solennelle, with Chaz Bowers at Grand Orgue, and Aaron Sproul at Orgue de Choeur. The Lower Church organ is brought upstairs to the main sanctuary for this concert.

Program Cover of the Messe Solenelle

On November 18th, Chatham Baroque joins the St. Vincent Camerata and Daniel Teadt, baritone, in a concert of cantatas and arias by Johann Sebastian Bach and Dieterich Buxtehude. They are directed by Fr. Stephen Concordia, OSB.

St. Bernard acquires a 2-octave bell set and forms their Adult Handbell Ensemble. Xenia Yelovich is hired as Director of Handbells and Assistant Organist. The bells are blessed and dedicated at their first Mass on November 26th, Christ the King Sunday.

Photo of the Blessing of HandbellsFr. David Bonnar blessing the handbells on November 26, 2017