…I have to say that NPM is a huge part of my path into ministry. I won a scholarship at a time in my life I was seriously considering moving on from the Catholic Church, and that got me up to St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN, an experience that changed my life.
Last August, Wendy Silhavy moved from her home of 15 years in St. Paul to Chicago to take up her new post as the Director of Liturgies and Music for the Archdiocese of Chicago.
She started her new role just as major changes began to take place in the Archdiocese. One month after she began, Blase J. Cupich was appointed the new Archbishop of Chicago. Then, on November 18, 2014 Archbishop Cupich was installed.
New city, new job and two high-profile liturgies to be planned, to say Silhavy hit the ground running would be an understatement. With the help of her background, she joined the race readily and in a full-blown sprint.
A little over a year later, we visited Silhavy at the headquarters for pastoral offices for the Archdiocese of Chicago, The Cardinal Meyer Center. She was gracious enough to show us around the structure located in the Bronzeville neighborhood on the south side of Chicago just a few hundred feet from Lake Michigan that once served as a Civil War hospital and subsequently an orphan asylum.
After a tour and coffee, we finally sat down to talk about her year as Director of Liturgies and Music, her path as a pastoral musician, and her thoughts on the Year of Mercy.
With all that was going on in the Archdiocese of Chicago at the time, how did you feel prepared for your new role?
Michael, my husband, was basically in my position in St. Paul for 17 years so just from seeing what he did and our conversations over dinner I had a pretty good sense of how an archdiocese works, how a music director in the archdiocese works, and how to organize big liturgies while also consulting with the parish musicians. That really helped. I was also on the Worship Board for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for a number of years prior so I kind of got to see how the archdiocese runs on the big picture scale. In addition to that, I played for several of the big liturgies at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas so I saw how they unfolded there. Working at the Seminary—doing all those institution rites—I got a little bigger view than what would happen in a parish. These experiences, on top of my education, really made things easier for me.
The nice thing is, it was really a team approach. The four of us really put out heads together to plan these liturgies—Father Bradley A. Zamora, the, Director of Liturgy at Holy Name Cathedral; Ricardo Ramirez, the Director of Music at the Holy Name Cathedral; Todd Williamson, Director of the Office for Divine Worship, and myself.
What has been your path as a pastoral musician/ music director?
Well, we just christened the new National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) Chicago Chapter and, I have to say, NPM has been a huge part of my path into ministry. I won a scholarship at a time in my life I was seriously considering moving on from the Catholic Church. That scholarship got me up to St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN, which was an experience that changed my life. I found that I could make high quality music, experience community, question my faith, and live a fulfilling daily life in the “friendly confines” of the Catholic Church. It required a careful selection of a local community to work with, but I’ve been happy, fulfilled, and appropriately challenged in my music ministry ever since.
What has been most challenging?
Finding the balance between work, life, and ministry is challenging. Family and friends don’t really understand our schedule, which sometimes causes tension when we’re not available, especially on the weekends. Within a 24/7 framework, we have to carve out time to take care of ourselves and others important to us. So many destructive behaviors and thought patterns develop as a result of overwork. Also, underwork can be an issue as well sometimes, given our typically flexible schedules. We constantly have to hold ourselves personally accountable to both work and leisure, and find the balance often on our own.
Is there an accomplishment of which you are particularly proud?
I am thrilled to be in my current position, Director of Liturgies and Music for the Archdiocese of Chicago. It feels like the right time in my life to take my wide-range of experiences in church life and ministry and begin to synthesize them for serving a larger audience. I love the teaching aspect of my job. We offer quite a few programs and events through Office for Divine Worship (ODW) that I teach or facilitate. I also enjoy having highly-formed and educated colleagues in ministry that come from a wide range of backgrounds all together in the same building. It really helps with idea sharing and collaborative efforts.
What kind of advice would you give to a young person or someone with little experience embarking on his or her own career in pastoral musician?
Get educated! ODW co-sponsors a great program, along with St. Joseph College in Renssalaer, IN, called the Chicago Series in Liturgical Music. This is a two-year program aimed at people entering music ministry, especially from another musical discipline such as education. The program is very compatible with a full-time job, affordable, and can lead to a master’s degree from St. Joseph College.
There are also many other schools that offer flexible class schedules, including Chicago Theological Union and (my alma mater) St. John’s in Collegeville.
In Chicago and the greater Chicagoland area, there are also many programs and events offered through ODW and the new NPM Chapter that are aimed at the growth, education, and formation of local music ministers. These programs exist in through many of the local dioceses and NPM chapters nationwide as well. It’s important to remember that knowledge is not just power. Knowledge also forms us musically, liturgically, pastorally, and personally. It also helps us develop a network of colleagues who walk with each other in good times and in bad—something that is crucial for people in our field.
Many music directors seem to have questions on how they can incorporate the Year of Mercy in their roles. What can music directors do to make the most of this theme?
There is an official international hymn, called the “Hymn for the Holy Year of Mercy” by Paul Inwood, available for free download from the Office of Divine Worship for the Archdiocese of Chicago website. We encourage music directors to incorporate this hymn into their parish repertoire as a connection to all the churches around the world celebrating this jubilee.
In addition, music directors can incorporate a more “merciful” focus to their music choices throughout the year through a renewed commitment to merciful thought and behavior in our daily work and ministry.
How have you applied this theme to your role in the archdiocese?
We had a liturgy back in June for the closing of the official archdiocesan holy door for the Jubilee Year of Mercy at Holy Name Cathedral. Everybody walking down State Street can look up and see this specially marked door, as our anticipation of the jubilee year to come. The door will be opened on December 13, and there will be a lot of festivity around the event as well.
In addition, we are now in the process of finalizing liturgy and music suggestions for parish leaders, as a way to incorporate this international theme into the daily, local life of each parish.
What do you think pastoral musicians do already that is considered merciful?
Although funerals, weddings, first Communions, and confirmations can be challenging pastorally, these are the moments when our skills as are absolutely needed most. People come to the church for these liturgies and sacraments for a variety of reasons. Our care and attention in helping them make the best choices in music for these liturgies can be a make-or-break moment for many people. In these moments, we can either invite them further into the life of the church or drive them away by our pastoral attention and demeanor. It’s a huge responsibility but also very fulfilling ministerial work.
What can pastoral musicians be doing more of to make their ministry more merciful?
One suggestion from Archbishop Cupich for the coming year is for every Catholic to pick a spiritual or corporal work of mercy they can actively practice in daily life throughout the year. There is a lot on this list for musicians to choose from! Maybe this is the year to focus on funeral ministry—develop a cantor program for funerals, wakes, and vigils; work on more pastoral resources for families making funeral liturgy decisions; offer workshops on funeral liturgy preplanning; look more closely at funeral repertoire and make sure the music offered to families reflects a broad range of pastoral needs. The possibilities are endless.
Can you give us a list of your top five GIA hymns or songs that reflect mercy that music directors might be able to use in their liturgies? How would you recommend incorporating these pieces?
At the risk of being obvious, “Mercy, O God” (G-5453) by Francis Patrick O’Brien has a great refrain that could be used separately from the Lent-specific verses as an ostinato refrain.
Other choices include:
- “A House of Prayer” (G-8902) by Tony Alonso includes text for putting the value of mercy into practice.
- “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” (G-7378) by Calvin Hampton is one of our favorite hymn tunes.
- “Shepherd Me, O God” (G-2950) by Marty Haugen is a lovely paraphrase of Psalm 23.
- “Hold Us, Jesus (G-7061) by Chris de Silva has a nice incorporation of the Kyrie into a contemporary text.
Most of these are general pieces that could be incorporated into the whole year. Musically, I think we typically tend to focus on mercy during Lent and then move on. However, this year gives us the opportunity to reflect on God’s mercy for us, and our mercy for others, throughout the whole year.