This is the first in a series of stories highlighting ministries that benefit from Catholic Stewardship Appeal funding. The archdiocesan Office of Worship which assists 210 parishes with their music ministry programs, is among those ministries. For information about the CSA, visit www.catholicappeal.org.
When Debra Honoré was a teen, she filled her weekends playing the organ for Mass at St. John the Baptist Church, Paris, in Kenosha County. Her ministry continued until she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music from UW-Parkside in 1980.
That August following her graduation, she married Jeff, her college sweetheart, who also graduated that year with a bachelor of arts in music. Thirty years, several job changes, and three sons later, the couple continues to make a joyful noise unto the Lord – sometimes even finding time to perform together.
On Memorial Day weekend, they performed a keyboard concert at St. Benedict Parish, Fontana, where Jeff has served as pastoral musician since September 2007.
“As a couple, we may average one or two concerts every year or two, since we are both working full-time at our respective parishes,” said Debb. “We have a CD of Christmas keyboard music that we recorded in 2006.”
Jobs take them in opposite directions
Although the Honorés live in East Troy, their jobs take them in opposite directions. Debb reports to work as the associate director of music at St. Mary, Hales Corners, and Jeff to Fontana. Jeff, a noted liturgical composer, serves as the director of the archdiocesan choir and Debb as the accompanist.
“Our days can be long and we see each other in the morning, but then don’t see each other until the evening,” said Debb. “My responsibilities at St. Mary’s include serving as the main musician for weekend liturgies, weddings, school liturgies; the adult choir director, being responsible for cantors and as an instrumentalist.”
Jeff’s responsibilities are similar to Debb’s and after singing with the archdiocesan choir from 1985 through 1992, the Racine native returned in 1995 to direct it for the funeral of Bishop Leo J. Brust.
“This is a group of dedicated singers who come from service of their parish, to service in the wider church in southeastern Wisconsin,” he said, noting he is honored to lead the group. “I feel blessed to have been a part of the journey with the archdiocese over the past 16 years to two new archbishops, an auxiliary bishop and hosts of priests and deacons for whom we lead the sung prayer at their installations and ordinations.”
Archdiocesan choir offers musical welcome
The responsibilities of the archdiocesan choir include singing for the Rite of Election, where newly initiated come to the cathedral and are greeted by the archbishop or a bishop in the name of the church, as well as for the Chrism Mass at which the archbishop blesses the holy oils.
The audition-only group is open to those who learn quickly, are open to instruction and have a great desire to serve the wider church community.
“We stretched our learning to include more Spanish, a little Vietnamese, Polish and Gaelic, to in a small way, offer a taste of the many and varied peoples of our archdiocese,” said Jeff.
Choir releases CD of 18 songs
The choir recently completed SPLENDOR, a CD of 18 songs from Gospel to Gregorian Chant, sung at events over the past 10 years.
“The project costs were all supplied by our performing a couple of concerts for a stipend,” he said. “And with the sales, we ended up breaking even or coming a little ahead, allowing us a bit of capital to purchase new music for the future.”
As an arranger/composer of liturgical music for choirs, organ and handbells, Jeff’s work is published through Oregon Catholic Press, World Library Publications, GIA, Concordia Publishing House, Augsburg/Fortress, Hope, and AGEHR.
While his schedule is tight, he recently attended a three-day seminar in Milwaukee hosted by the School Sisters of St. Francis.
“(Franciscan) Sr. Mary Jane Wagner called a small group of composers together to begin to share, exchange ideas, hopes, dreams, visions and to struggle with what we uphold in our Catholic sung prayer,” said Jeff. “A great three-day beginning. I personally continue to compose and with such a wide breadth of composers and publishers today, it is a blessing to get a house to accept a work. I am blessed to have that continue to happen periodically.
To get a CD:
Copies of the CD SPLENDOR are available for $10. Checks should be made out to the:
Office for Prayer and Worship
P.O. Box 070912
3501 S. Lake Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53207-0912
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Parents to three sons
As musicians and parents of Aaron, 29, Matthew, 26, and Nathan, 23, the couple agreed Debb would be a full-time mother, and part-time musician, and Jeff would be the main breadwinner of the family, and as such, served in a variety of locations.
“I have had to be flexible with my various positions in pastoral care/music since I wanted to be a full-time mom,” said Debb. “But the blessing at being at different parishes is in meeting so many good and faith-filled people.”
With both working long hours, making their marriage a priority requires a bit of ingenuity, explained Debb, also a member of the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission.
“We have Wednesdays off together every week, so that is our ‘sacred’ day,” she said. When they are not working or visiting their sons, the couple also enjoys reading and hiking together – with a little time on the golf course for Jeff, and for Debb, walking or riding her bicycle.
“The blessing in us both working in the same field is that we both work weekends. Plus, being in the same field, we understand, for the most part, about the other’s job and responsibilities,” she said.
Couple lives their faith
In addition, they have served as role models to other married couples and parents.
“I definitely feel we are living our faith by using the gifts God has given us,” said Debb, adding, “We try to witness through the way we live our lives and to set good examples to others.”
Jeff agreed, adding they strive to live their faith to bring their best to their Sunday assemblies, regardless of personal, emotional, physical or spiritual feelings on any given day or moment.
“That is a part of living our faith,” he said. “Being and giving our all when we might not ‘feel’ like it. That’s a start. Trying to be present to our communities outside Sunday gatherings is another way we live our faith in being present, listening and engaging in the wider life of the people we serve. Knowing we are ministers of music and all that can mean is a daunting task. We continue to try to grow in knowledge, understanding and faith as we lead sung prayer with and for the people of God.”
He added that he is energized by being around others who live the traditions of the Catholic faith and “enflesh Gospel values in their daily life.
“This gives me great joy and helps me keep in love with the God who surrounds us,” he said.