St. Rita's choir celebrates musical milestone
An impressive milestone has been achieved by an outstanding member of the Connellsville community and a talented member of St. Rita's Roman Catholic Church. Henry F. Molinaro, celebrates his 60th anniversary as St. Rita's choir director this month.
Molinaro was born in Connellsville on Aug. 18, 1928 to Luigi and Maria (Palladino) Molinaro. He was the 13th child of 14. All of his siblings are deceased. His father came from Lenola, Italy, near Rome. His father's brother, Giovanni Molinaro, began the Italian branch of the Molinaro Band in Lenola, which continues today. His father's other brother, Michele Molinaro, began the American branch of the Molinaro Band in Connellsville in 1913. When he died in 1935, Henry's brother, Amedio Molinaro, assumed the role of director.
When Amedio died in 1997, Henry became the band's director and remains so today, with the help of his son, Francis “Coco” Molinaro. The band is celebrating its 100th year this year.
Molinaro was stationed in Germany during the Korean War with the 175th Military Police Battalion. While there, he organized a singing group. They entertained at the officers clubs; he had another group that sang at church services.
“There was an article and photo in the Daily Courier about it back then; the paper always ran service news,” Molinaro said.
Molinaro had sung in St. Rita's choir before he left for duty in the Army. When he returned in January 1953, the founding pastor of St. Rita's, the Rev. Enrico DeVivo, and the Parochial Vicar, the Rev. Renato Gianni, asked him to take over as choir director.
Molinaro married the former Rita Mae Ross in 1955. They are the parents of 10 children.
Over the years, nearly all of their children have been involved with the St. Rita's choir. Several of their children have pursued music as a career. Oldest son, Henry L. Molinaro, currently serves as choir director at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Connellsville.
Over the past 60 years, Molinaro has seen a lot of changes at St. Rita's. He has worked with every pastor and associate pastor that ever served the church. He has seen the renovation of the sanctuary. He had to adapt and re-learn the Mass during Vatican II when it was changed from Latin to English and began allowing participation of the congregation in the music, and then adapt again last year when the wording of the Mass and music settings were again changed in accordance with the revised translation of the Roman Missal.
Molinaro has directed since the days when only men were allowed in the choir and adapted in the 1970s when women were permitted to join. For decades, he ensured that the Midnight Mass on Christmas was broadcast over 1340 AM-WCVI until the station closed. He directed the choir when they released a double-sided vinyl album for Christmas 1978. He was integral in the installation of the new pipe organ in 1975 when the old pipe organ from 1925 became too worn out to be used anymore.
Molinaro's “co-pilot” for the choir for 54 years was Rosella (Capo) Talucci.
“Henry always said that that many years must be a world record. He also used to joke that he and Rosella had to learn how to direct and play in English after all the years of Latin,” said Christopher Mickey, longtime friend and organist at St. Rita's since 2007.
Talucci began playing in 1951, and was the organist when Molinaro began directing in 1953. She remained the principal organist of the church until her death in 2007.
Mickey had been an assistant to Talucci since 2001 and Molinaro has commented many times on how smooth the transition of organists was.
Molinaro also has joked that he now holds another world record — the record of choir director and organist team with the greatest age difference. Mickey, age 25, is nearly 60 years younger than Molinaro who will be 85 this summer.
Molinaro recalls that he and Rita got married shortly after the wedding of organist Rosella Capo Talucci and her husband, Bill. Molinaro was very nervous that, for some reason, Rosella wouldn't be back from her honeymoon to play for his wedding. But, she was.
“I have met many wonderful people over the years. Rosella and I worked together all those years. We worked things out every time we both weren't in favor of something,” Molinaro said. “Chris Mickey had studied organ and was Rosella's ‘understudy' for a number of years. After her death, he fit right in. He knew exactly what to do. He and I fit together like a hand in a glove.”
Molinaro has worked with several assistant organists over the years, including Eugene Carbonara, now retired; Sheryl Nagy, now director of music at St. Pius X and Visitation RC Churches in Mt. Pleasant; and Bob Broderick, now organist of Immaculate Conception RC Church in Connellsville.
Henry Molinaro is only the fourth choir director of the church, which has been in existence for 97 years. His predecessors were Alfonso Basilone (1915-1945), Amedio Molinaro (1945-1951) and Michael “Lefty” Saponara (1951-1953).
“Henry always laughs as he recalls the days when the all-men's choir had a bowling team,” Mickey said. “The rule was, to be on the team, you had to be in the choir. The problem was that very few of the choir members could bowl. So, they recruited some of the best bowlers from the congregation to be in the choir so they could have a good team. Then the problem was, the ones recruited from the congregation couldn't sing. So, Henry made a rule that the recruited bowlers could only move their mouths to look like they were singing, in order that they could still be on the team.
“Henry and I have worked very closely over the years,” Mickey added. “He's one of the smartest and brightest people I've met. I enjoy hearing all of his stories. The history has always fascinated me and I am honored to be part of it.
“Henry Molinaro is a pillar of the St. Rita community and the touchstone of our music program,” Mickey continued. “I am inspired by his incredible record of service to our community. I can only pray that he is able to give us 60 more years. Then I would know that God has smiled upon us.”
Nancy Henry is a freelance writer.