By Celine Klosterman
FORT MADISON – A pilgrimage to Rome not only gave choir members at Holy Trinity Catholic High School the opportunity to share their vocal gifts during Mass at the Vatican; the trip offered an education in Catholic history.
About 150 people — including adults, 73 high school choral students, and some choir members’ younger siblings — spent March 24-30 in Italy. There they visited and learned about places including the Roman Forum, Arch of Constantine, St. Paul’s Basilica Outside the Walls and Vatican museums. Choir members sang at St. Peter’s Basilica during a March 25 Mass celebrated by a cardinal and concelebrated by Father Dennis Hoffman, pastor of parishes in West Point and Farmington. And the students offered concerts at the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and at the Almafi Coast.
The pilgrimage offered historical, cultural and spiritual insights, said Cindy Wellman, who is a member of Holy Trinity’s Music Boosters and helped organize the trip. “The students learned so much in a week’s time.” Being in such a holy place and exploring the roots of Christianity and Catholicism deepens one’s faith, she added.
“It was a wonderful experience,” said eighth-grader Ben Tinguely, who traveled to Italy with high-school siblings. “Some of the most fascinating sites were the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican, with the Sistine Chapel, and climbing on my knees the Sacred Stairs where Jesus walked to meet Pilate.”
Wellman said it was a privilege and honor to see her daughter Haley, a senior at Holy Trinity, and other students sing at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Tourists’ and Italians’ response to the concerts made the experiences feel almost unreal, said senior Ashlee Conrad. Impressed passersby often stopped to listen, and “no one ever really walked out. When we were done, so many people were taking photos of us, like we were famous.”
“The concert at Sant’Agnese had standing room only and a really receptive audience,” said choir director Allen Chapman. “People from all over the world came up to the students and talked to them afterwards.”
Chapman, who also took choir members to Rome in 2008, said Holy Trinity received the invitation to sing there again after sending a letter to the Vatican. For more than a year-and-a-half, the school held sales, Italian dinners and other events to raise money to help cover the cost of more than $2,000 per traveler, Wellman said.
At the end of February, choir members started rehearsing more than an hour’s worth of music to sing in Italy. They met before school and over the lunch period to practice a repertoire that included mostly sacred hymns such as “Kyrie Eleison” from Mozart’s Requiem Mass and “Ave Maria.” But students wrapped up concerts with a performance of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Holy Trinity’s trip came about a week after high school choir students at Notre Dame Schools in Burlington sang in Italy. Students from the two schools had traveled there together in 2008, but Chapman said separate trips with smaller groups were more practical in “crowded” Rome.
“I owe our parents and the organizers of this trip a lot because they did so much work,” he said.
Wellman said travelers seemed to truly enjoy themselves. “We brought back memories we’ll have forever.”