History

of the Music Ministry of St. Bernard Church

1919 – The first Mass was said on August 31st at 8:00 AM by Fr. Thomas H. Bryson, Pastor, on the second floor of the “stable” or carriage house of the Haller property located at the corner of Washington Road and Academy Avenue. In December of 1919, John V. Gray played the organ at the Christmas Mass.
 
1926 – The first organ was donated by George I. Ihrig, an organ builder.
 
1934 – On December 16th, the Lower Church was blessed. An all male choir sang while Mrs. Elsie McCarthy played organ accompaniment. The boys choir was taught to sing both the Propers and the Ordinary of the Mass in Gregorian Chant. Fr. Joseph L. Lonergan served as the Pastor at this time.
 
1942 – Work began on the Upper Church.
 
1944 – In the fall of this year, Fr. Lonergan engaged James P. Johnson as the choir director and organist. On September 12th, Lee Hohman assumed the positions of both choir director and organist. Mr. Hohman attended Duquesne University and majored in organ.
 
1945 – An organ committee was established 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.
 
1947 – The first Mass was celebrated in the incomplete Upper Church for Palm Sunday, although daily Masses would not be held in the Upper Church until 1969. The three bells arrived and were blessed in June.
 
1953 – Mr. Frank Varga, a native of Zalaegerszeg, Hungary, became the new choir director and organist on May 3rd. Monsignor Thomas J. Quigley was the pastor of St. Bernard Church.
 
1959 – Monsignor Quigley nominated Joseph E. Michaud the Director of Music on June 21st. Michaud would later serve as the Director of Music at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Provisions were made for the magnificent Casavant Freres organ to be built in the Upper Church at a cost of $95,000.00. At this time, a Baldwin organ was in the Lower Church.
 
1960 – The contract was signed for the Casavant Freres organ, consisting of six divisions. The organ was designed by Lawrence Phelps and Joseph Michaud in the French tradition. Choir stalls were designed and installed in December.
 
1961 – Monsignor James A. Davin became the Pastor of St. Bernard Church.
 
1962 – The Casavant Freres organ was completed on January 15. Anton Heiller from the Academy of Music in Vienna presented the dedication on September 9 and the organ was blessed at that time by Bishop John J. Wright.
 
1964 – Jean Langlais presented an organ recital on the feast of St. Cecilia (Nov. 23) as a John F. Kennedy Memorial Concert.
 
1965 – Gerre Hancock, the internationally acclaimed organist and Director of Music at St. Thomas Church in New York presented an organ recital on June 23rd as part of the American Guild of Organists’ Regional Convention.
 
1968 – Joseph Willcox Jenkins became the choir director. Lee Hohman was the organist. Sister Miriam Joseph was the director of the boys choir. Also, in September of this year, Vincent C. Lashied, Jr. became the organist in the Lower Church. Mr. Lashied was an attendee of the Pittsburgh Musical Academy. He was also the organist for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers.
 
1969 – For the first time, the existing choir of men expanded into a mixed choir. Thirty women voices joined the St. Bernard Choir with the help of Fr. George A. Wilt. A folk choir began in the Lower Church, under the direction of Vincent C. Lashied, Jr.
 
1970 – On July 21st, Louis Munkachy, Ph.D. was named the new choir director. He was born in Czechoslovakia and educated in Hungary. Munkachy was the recipient of the Hungarian Cultural Medal in 1955 and received two diplomas from the famed Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. He additionally held degrees from Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh. He taught Musical Theory at Duquesne University.
 
1971 – Earl J. Meister became the first President of the St. Bernard Choir.
 
1972 – The first photograph of the St. Bernard Choir was taken in the Upper Church.
 
1974 – Fr. George A. Wilt became Pastor of St. Bernard Church. Choir robes were issued and worn for the first time by all members on December 8th. The gallery organ was removed for restoration.
 
1977 – Carol Lee Ponzio was designated organist for the choir. Carol holds her undergraduate degree from Duquesne University.
 
1985 – Richard Choura was hired as the temporary organist. He holds degrees from Duquesne University.
 
1986 – Richard Shaw became the Director of Music and Organist. Robert M. Fischer, a Pittsburgh organ builder, was commissioned to look into problems with the organs in the Upper Church. A new case was designed and built for the gallery organ.
 
1991 – On October 18th, the Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra and the St. Bernard Choir presented a Mozart Bicentennial Concert conducted by William Burkhart.
 
1992 – The gallery organ case was installed with the addition of a second console. Work on the gallery organ was not completed until the following year.
 
1995 – Richard Robert Rossi became the Director of Music and Organist at St. Bernard Church.
 
1998 – Stephen R. Schall from Kittaning became the Director of Music and Organist at St. Bernard Church in October. Schall holds a double masters degree in organ and choral conducting from Westminster Choir College.
 
2000 – Bids were solicited from Casavant Freres regarding a possible rebuild of the instrument, although no work was completed.
 
2004 – Meetings began between Stephen Schall, Fred Schell, and consultant Charles Callahan to plan the much needed restoration and possible expansion of the Casavant organ. It was decided that the console would be replaced by R.A. Colby, the pipe work would be revoiced and the chests rebuilt by the Emery Brothers, and digital voices would be installed by Walker Technical.
 
2006 – The Lee F. Hohman Fund was established to provide for an annual organ recital on the newly renovated organ.
 
2007 – On April 27th, the Casavant Freres organ was rededicated by internationally acclaimed organist, Charles Callahan. On November 4th, the combined choirs of St. Bernard Church and the Mount Lebanon United Methodist Church presented Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem.
 
2010 – The Lee Hohman fund presented Alan Morrison in concert on the Casavant organ.
 
2012 – Michael McGrath became the Assistant Organist. Christopher Houlihan presented an organ recital on April 29th as part of the Organ Artist Series of Pittsburgh.
 
2014 – Chaz Bowers was named the Director of Music and Organist. On December 1st, Aaron Sproul was selected as the Associate Director of Music and Assistant Organist.
 
2015 – A Viscount Physis Two Manual, 45 Rank Digital Organ was installed by Alan Sterner and Ray Colby in the Lower Church.