Students and alumni gathered in St. Thomas More Church on Saturday, Dec. 3 to listen to music and psalm readings to welcome the season of Advent and be in each other’s company.
Hosted by the Division of Student Affairs and St. John’s University Performing Arts, as well as Alumni Relations and the staff of St. Thomas More Church, the event welcomed 219 of the St. John’s community including alumni, for whom the event is mainly directed towards.
The night began with words of welcome from Dr. Julia Upton R.S.M., Professor of Theology and Provost Emerita, who explained the history of Lessons and Carols beginning at Cambridge’s King’s College in 1918.
Edward Benson, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1883-1896, came up with the idea of the the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in 1880, implemented 38 years later at King’s College on Christmas Eve. Eric Milner-White, the Dean, decided to bring this festival to the College because he believed the Church of England needed a more imaginative way of worship to heal the wounds of the first World War. This has been a tradition there, as well as at other universities, ever since.
Rev. John A. Kettelberger, C.M., University Chaplain, lead prayers throughout the service and discussed the meaning behind the most wonderful time of the year. Joking that his great nieces and nephews finish their advent calendar chocolate quite quickly and that the Santa in the Thanksgiving parade is a St. John’s alum, he reminded the audience that, “Advent is the season of preparing…[to] welcome the Savior into our heart.”
Lessons were read from the books of Isaiah, Matthew, Luke and St. John by University staff including Joseph Sciame ‘71Ed, Vice President of Community Relations; Dennis Gallagher, Director of Liturgy and Faith Formation; Susan Damiani ‘87CBA, Director of the Office of Gift Planning and The McCallen Society; Kathryn Hutchinson, Ph.D., Vice President for Student Affairs and Rev. Patrick Griffin, C.M.
The real treat of the event however was the St. John’s Mixed Chorus with alumni and the St. John’s Prep Glee Club. Together the groups sang “Love Came Down at Christmas,” “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones,” “Come to Us, O God of Hope,” “We Are Waiting for the Light of the World (Siyahamba)” partially sang in traditional Swahili, “The Call,” “Christ is Born, Sing Glory to God,” “Gesu Bambino,” “Turn” and closed with a dramatic version of the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
“The Hallelujah chorus, that’s my favorite thing, that’s always my favorite,” alumna Petrina DiGangi ‘91C said.
The sixth annual Joseph R. Gagliano award was presented by Clark “Kim” Oler, Jr., director of the Mixed Chorus. “This choir has never sung like this and I am very proud,” Oler said.
Oler also touched upon the state of the country and that it is in a “funk” leading to the point that music helps us connect.
“Coming to church, stories of the Bible give clarity of the mind and singing is a way to do it without too much hard work,” he said. Oler also commended St. John’s Prep for their talent and for keeping the arts strong.
After his speech, Oler gave the Gagliano award to George H. Frank, Jr. ‘71Ed accompanied by a loud applause from the audience.
“The music was so diverse, it was from many different eras and it was great to see all of the ensembles performing together,” Olivia DiAgostino ‘15CPS and the Torch Managing Editor Emeritus said. “I came to see one of my good friends who’s in the Sunday choir who’s also an alum of St. John’s, but it was also good to see the St. John’s Prep club, the Mixed Chorus and all of the groups performing as one tonight.”
Christian Hernandez ‘16Ed, an alumni singer in the Mixed Chorus said, “I think tonight went really well. It’s been a wonderful experience to get to sing with friends who graduated and this is the first year we have high school students singing with us it’s been really great experience.”
Following the service, a hot chocolate reception in the D’Angelo Center Living Room was offered where alumni mingled and reflected on the spiritual night.