The singing voices of Conlin Wysocki and Katharina Nieves are their gifts to their parish communities.
For Kaitlyn Orcutt, it’s her vocal ability as well as her expertise on the harp.
Rebecca Shannon, meanwhile, shares her talents on the flute, guitar and violin.
Each of these four teens is active in parish music ministry, and their involvement has recently netted them kudos on the diocesan level.
They are recipients of Music Ministry Recognition Awards, which were presented April 30 at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. A total of 23 high-schoolers were recognized during a Lessons and Carols service hosted by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, Rochester chapter. Recipients were nominated by their respective parishes’ pastoral leader or music director, with Conlin, Katharina, Kaitlyn and Rebecca being the four Southern Tier honorees.
Rebecca, 15, from Blessed Sacrament and St. Mary parishes in Elmira, said she was “very surprised” at receiving the diocesan honor.
“I’m very, very grateful to the people who chose me and nominated me, and it really encourages me to play at church doing what I love,” said Rebecca, a sophomore at Notre Dame High School. She plays various instruments for the folk group at St. Patrick Church and also assists at St. Mary, having begun parish music ministry in fifth grade.
Katharina, from St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Livingston County, expressed similar appreciation for her award.
“I guess I’m really honored, to be recognized for something that I really just love to do for my faith,” said Katharina, 15, who is homeschooled and in 10th grade. She takes a regular turn as cantor at St. Mary Church in Geneseo and also helps out at St. Lucy Church in Retsof. Katharina noted that her greatest honor in liturgical music was singing the responsorial psalm and Gospel acclamation at her very own confirmation at the cathedral in April 2015.
Conlin, who belongs to Schuyler Catholic Community, said he was “very honored” to receive diocesan recognition. He added that the acclaim shows how much the diocese values its young musicians and “can spark other youth to join the music ministry for all parishes.”
“It is a special ministry to be a part of,” added Conlin, 17, a junior at Watkins Glen High School. He’s a part of the choir at St. Mary of the Lake Church and occasionally sings at St. Benedict in Odessa as well. Prior to moving to Watkins Glen, Conlin was a member of the Archdiocesan Boy Choir of Philadelphia in second through eighth grades.
Kaitlyn, as well, values her participation in music ministry, which includes being a youth-choir member and playing the harp for special Masses at All Saints Parish in Corning/Painted Post.
“What I really enjoy about being involved in the music ministry is how it can help people connect to the Mass and to feel closer to God,” said Kaitlyn, 16, an 11th-grader who is homeschooled. “I love being a part of something that can be so inspirational.”
Rebecca and Katharina added that they appreciate the positive feedback they get from Mass-goers.
“It’s nice to know it’s not just something that I take pleasure in, but also the people who hear me,” Rebecca remarked. She also observed that prominent youth involvement in church life “encourages people that are younger to come to Mass.”
Diocesan high-schoolers have been honored since 2008 with Music Ministry Recognition Awards. According to Ginny Miller, director of music at Sacred Heart Cathedral, any parish can nominate one honoree per year. Since 2013, recipients also have received cash awards through the Ginny Miller Scholarship Fund established by James Leo — who is Miller’s brother — and his wife, Kathleen. Each of this year’s honorees received $50.
“It’s just that little bit of encouragement to try to keep them involved in music ministry. We know it’s very hard in high school, with all their other activities, to try and stay involved,” Miller explained. “We want them to consider being part of it their whole lives, playing this type of music and having that feeling of giving back to their churches.”