Choral Group Rings in New Year with Performance for Pontiff

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Members of St. John’s University’s Mixed Chorus knew their trip to sing in Italy would be a glorious experience, but nothing could have prepared them for a surprise visit from Vatican City’s most influential resident. 

On New Year’s Eve, with little more than two hours’ notice, Kim Oler, director of the Mixed Chorus,  was  informed by the group’s tour promoter that Pope Francis would be making a surprise visit to bless the crèche in St. Peter’s Square. “Fortunately, we had a phone chain set up,” said Oler, who has led the Mixed Chorus for nine years. “We were able to assemble the entire chorus—in their performance robes—in time for the Pope to arrive.”

Right on schedule, Pope Francis emerged from a private driveway in a golf cart and headed directly toward the chorus. As the group started to serenade him with “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” the Pope smiled broadly and gave them two thumbs up. “It was a beautiful moment,” said Kathryn Hutchinson, Ph.D., vice president, Division of Student Affairs. “The fact that the Pope acknowledged our group with a smile and thumbs up made the experience that much more special. The choristers reveled in it.”

During their nine-day tour, the 62-member group, which included alumni and various friends of the University, also visited Florence and Assisi. In Rome, the chorus performed on New Year’s Eve at the Church of San Lorenzo and on New Year’s Day at St. Peter’s Basilica, during the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God Mass, celebrated by Pope Francis.  

“Being able to sing for the Pope at one of the Seven Wonders of the World was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Renita Jewth ’11C, a past member of the chorus. “I will forever cherish the memories made on this trip, and I am so thankful to St. John's and the Mixed Chorus for making it possible.”

James Pierce ’16C, vice president of the Mixed Chorus, was similarly affected by being in the presence of Pope Francis. “As a young Catholic, it was a very moving experience to be so close to the Holy Father,” he said. “I’m sure every one of us who went on that trip will remember that moment for the rest of our lives.”