La Grange church carries on patriotic tradition of 40 years
Harry Lepinske of Western Springs and Robert Schaefer of Indian Head Park talk with fellow veterans in front of St. Cletus Church prior to the start of a previous Fourth of July Mass. | Doings file photo
Updated: August 27, 2012 1:47AM
Parishioners of St. Cletus Catholic Church in La Grange know well the stirring effect of patriotic music, and they’re sharing two annual performances again in July with the community.
For at least 40 years, parishioner and band director Ed Ward has called on former students and fellow professional musicians to lead the congregation for a special Mass at 8 a.m. July 4 in the church at 600 W. 55th St.
“I’m not sure whether it was 1971 or 1972 when Father Gallagher, our pastor, asked me to get the band kids to play some patriotic music at the Mass,” Ward said. “In 1976 for the Bicentennial, the Mass really took off, and we made it an event for all the veterans to sit with their group, like the Army or the Navy,” he recalled. “We play a medley of military songs for each branch.”
All the Navy veterans stand and are recognized when “Anchors Away” is played, Ward explained, and other service members are similarly saluted.
“Most of the veterans wear all or part of their uniforms, and the church is packed,” he said. “Outside of Christmas, this is our biggest Mass of the year.”
And for the first time, Ward won’t be conducting the 40-piece band of former students and musician friends. For 40 years, he has hurried from the Mass in La Grange to conduct another band at the Chicago Historical Museum on the city’s north side.
“This year, they moved the historical society’s program up a half hour, and I just can’t physically get to both things,” he said. “It’s been a panic for me for years. It’s a mortal sin to come in late.”
Ward has turned over the baton to Justin Sisul, who is stepping down as parish music director. Sisul, a life-long parishioner since his baptism at St. Cletus, plans to continue coordinating fine arts concerts for the parish, including the patriotic offerings.
“Our focus is on July 4 and the Mass. That’s our tradition,” Sisul said. “But we also have a patriotic concert that’s free and open to the public on the parish lawn, a Ravinia-style event.”
Area residents are encouraged to gather and bring a picnic supper by 4 p.m. with a two-hour concert starting at 5 p.m., Sisul said. The parish youth ministry will provide games for children, and Italian ice will be sold, he said.
Ward, who recruits a different group of professional musicians for the concert than the Mass, will conduct the band on July 1, a more informal event than the Mass.
“Patriotic music is very emotional in a lot of ways, and people do get caught up in it and the spirit of it,” he said of the salute to the veterans and patriotic hymns played at the Mass. “They remember all the great things our country has done to preserve our liberty and things like that. People really seem to love it.”