Marianne Weaver got the surprise of a lifetime on Nov. 18.
That evening, she and a few other parishioners from St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clyde traveled to Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral for a concert of liturgical music in honor of the feast day of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of church musicians. She’d been planning on attending the concert for several weeks. What she didn’t know, however, was that she was the guest of honor.
At the end of the concert Weaver received the St. Cecilia Award, an annual recognition instituted by the diocese last year.
“It’s given annually to someone — volunteer or professional — who has exhibited a sincere dedication to liturgical music and has contributed in a significant way at the parish or diocesan level,” said Ginny Miller, associate director of the Office of Liturgy.
Father Jim Hewes, pastor of St. John’s and St. Patrick’s Parish in Savannah, nominated Weaver for the award after learning that she’s been involved with the adult choir at St. John’s for more than 60 years. When he found out in late September that she’d been selected to receive the award, he quietly began spreading the word about Weaver’s accomplishment.
Father Hewes wanted the award to be a surprise for Weaver, so he couldn’t mention it from the pulpit or in the parish bulletin. Instead, he relied on word of mouth and made an announcement at the Catholic Daughters of the Americas Annual Past Regents Memorial Mass and Dinner, which was held at St. John’s Oct. 1. That was tricky because Weaver actually led the singing at the Mass, but he was able to tell the Catholic Daughters when she left the dinner early to greet people arriving for the afternoon’s next Mass.
Weaver, who has been grand regent of Court Gleason 924 on four separate occasions, was amazed when she found out her fellow Catholic Daughters had kept the secret from her for nearly two months.
“I’m with those girls all the time,” marveled Weaver, who is currently the court’s vice regent.
In October, Father Hewes asked Weaver if she’d be interested in going to a concert of liturgical music at the cathedral in November. Weaver agreed because she likes pastoral music and hadn’t seen the cathedral since the renovation was completed, he said. He reminded her about the concert several times during the next few weeks, and one time he even told her to dress up because it was a formal occasion, Weaver recalled.
Weaver became sick five days before the concert. A friend called Father Hewes to let him know, and the priest promptly called Weaver. Father Hewes told her that no matter what illness she had, she had to go to the concert anyway, Weaver said with a laugh.
When the evening of the concert finally arrived, Father Hewes sat next to Weaver at the cathedral and held her program all night so she wouldn’t see her own name listed as the St. Cecilia Award recipient. Toward the end of the evening Miller got up and began listing the accomplishments of the recipient.
“The minute Ginny Miller said, ’60 years of service,’ I said, ‘oh my gosh, that’s me!'” Weaver said. “I was totally surprised. I never expected it, even when I saw all my relatives and friends.”
Weaver had just assumed that, like herself, her friends and relatives had come to enjoy good music and admire the cathedral. Weaver soon found out that her surprise wasn’t over quite yet. At a Catholic Daughters meeting a few days later, the members surprised her with a congratulatory cake. People, even those who weren’t Catholic, were still congratulating her on the street and calling her at home four days later, she said. She didn’t mind, however, because she was still shocked herself.
“I can’t get over it. It was a great honor, really and truly. What a day,” she said.
Weaver has always loved singing. Her family always sang when she was a child, and she has clear memories of her mother singing in the kitchen. She was only 5 or 6 years old when she began taking singing lessons, and when she was in grade school she began taking lessons from Flora Madden, who was St. John’s organist at the time.
“Flora said to me, ‘Marianne, will you sing for Christmas with the adult choir?'” Weaver said. “I sang, and I continued singing. That was the way it came about.”
Weaver has been involved with the parish’s adult choir ever since. She’s seen a number of choir directors come and go since then, and she recently stepped in to take over as interim director when the former choir director left suddenly. She enjoys directing the choir and especially likes getting feedback from parishioners.
“It means a lot if people say, ‘Oh, the choir sounds good today.’ I’m tickled about it,” she said.
Weaver has seen church music change a bit since she joined the choir more than six decades ago. One of the biggest changes, she said, was the switch from Latin to English after the Second Vatican Council.
“It’s better now because we know what we’re singing,” Weaver said. “If (parishioners) don’t know what we’re singing, how can they really enjoy it?”
Weaver said she has been a member of the choir for so long because she loves to sing and feels that singing with the choir is a way of giving thanks to God.
“God gave me a voice, and I think I have to give him back something,” she explained.
Weaver is also director of the St. John’s Resurrection Choir, which sings at funerals, and a member of the Finger Lakes Chorale. She is also a lector, extraordinary minister of holy Communion and a member of the St. John/St. Patrick Liturgy Committee.
“She’s such a genuine, hard-working person. She’s a very giving person, and she loves music,” Father Hewes said. “She’s just an amazing lady.”