ROCHESTER — He’s revered by young Catholics across the country, including a sizable amount from the Diocese of Rochester. Yet the infectious music of Steve Angrisano had people of all ages singing and clapping during a recent series of appearances at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
“Some of the things we do are, quote, ‘for youth.’ But we’re all called to be joyful in our faith and celebrate it. For the most part it’s not that different. Music is a universal language,” Angrisano told the Courier.
He used that language frequently while serving as keynoter for the Cathedral Community’s parish retreat, held March 2-4. Angrisano, 40, mixed singing, guitar-playing and storytelling with earnest messages. For example, on his final night, he cited Mother Teresa while imploring participants not to keep their Catholic faith to themselves.
“We are people of faith — called to live in the world,” he said.
He added that this is a responsibility of all Catholics, noting that the word “liturgy” means “the work of the people — not the priests, the bishop, the guy with the guitar.”
Angrisano kept the crowd captivated by telling poignant stories, leading into his song “Daniel’s Heart” by explaining that it reflects the suffering and courage of three Daniels — the biblical Daniel; a youth from his parish who died in the Columbine shootings in 1999; and an infant named after him who had open-heart surgery. He also offered up many humorous lines, such as: “Have you ever volunteered at a church? All you gotta do is complain about something and you’ve got the job,” he said, snapping his fingers.
According to parish officials, Angrisano drew approximately 200 participants for each of his sessions on Thursday evening, Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. That number swelled to 400 for his closing Saturday-evening program, which was followed by a Mass with Bishop Matthew H. Clark serving as celebrant. Attendance that night was bolstered by visitors from many parts of the diocese as well as parishioners of the three Cathedral Community churches — Sacred Heart, Holy Rosary and Most Precious Blood.
One group that logged some major miles, from St. Margaret Mary Church in Apalachin, Tioga County, enjoyed both of Angrisano’s Saturday appearances.
“Steve Angrisano is awesome,” stated Emily West, 15.
Amber Hinrichsen, 16, said Angrisano was just as inspiring as when she saw him perform at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Atlanta this past fall.
“It was actually a little bit better (at the cathedral), because we were closer to him,” Amber said, adding that “his songs are really powerful. It was worth the three-hour trip.”
“He’s absolutely amazing. He is able to put deep conversation into (his performance) and lots of fun. He keeps it all interesting,” said Jillian Grenier, 18.
Whereas this trio of St. Margaret Mary teens had all seen Angrisano in Atlanta, his appearance at the cathedral was a first-time experience for Meg DeWitt.
“I thought he was great. I think he was really able to connect with the teens — he was able to talk to us, not above our heads or anything like that. He was really good at having relevant stories,” said Meg, 16, who attended the Saturday-evening session with a contingent from St. Michael’s Parish in Newark.
Angrisano said he enjoyed his audiences in Rochester as well as the venue in which he played, giving a thumbs-up to the renovated Sacred Heart structure that reopened in early 2005.
“The cathedral is beautiful,” he said. “I was just awestruck.”
Angrisano, a resident of Highlands Ranch, Colo., has been featured at two World Youth Days as well as four National Catholic Youth Conferences. The performer noted that the Rochester Diocese traditionally has one of the highest NCYC turnouts, which has helped him deepen his connection with local youths.
“It’s kind of unique, to have such a great relationship with the diocese. It’s just been kind of an ongoing relationship, which I’ve enjoyed. What a great spirit and great youth ministry you have,” he said.
Angrisano has appeared at Rochester-area parish and diocesan events in the past, including as keynoter for the Diocesan Youth Convention. Chances are, his many local fans will be treated to another appearance in the not-too-distant future.
“Yes, I hope so. A couple of ideas have been floated,” he said.