Recently, on the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, I planned to do the announcements at the conclusion of the 9:30 Mass – Fr. Joe was the celebrant. As communion was concluding, I was positioned near the choir stalls and thus had the privilege of watching Teri Larson direct the choir in a moving and spirited hymn. During my first year as pastor of The Basilica I quickly became acquainted and moved by Teri’s talent, passion for her craft, and love for the liturgy and music which lifts our hearts to worship God. But to be this close to Teri directing the choir was a wonder to behold – I was watching a master at work.
Today the community of The Basilica of Saint Mary formally bids farewell to Teri Larson – we do so with grateful but heavy hearts. Today is bittersweet – it is a day to celebrate Teri and her amazing career at The Basilica – spanning 28 years and multiple generations of parishioners. But today also marks the end of an era – a wonderful era where Teri led our parish in adorning the sacred liturgy we celebrate each Sunday with music that is sublime.
I know that Teri does not like the focus to be on herself – and always directs our attention away from her to the choir and her talented colleagues on The Basilica staff. That said, I teach Catholic social teaching (CST) and at the heart of CST is biblical justice which is defined as right relationship with God and neighbor. It is right and fitting that as a community we thank and celebrate Teri Larson for extraordinary contribution to our community of faith. For when we do we also honor and give thanks to the God who gifted Teri with abundant gifts and called her to use these gifts to build up the Church. The offering of our gifts to the glory of God and the upbuilding of the Church is at the heart of Christian discipleship – and thus worthy of celebration and thanksgiving.
To put into context the influence that Teri has had and her reputation which has national reach – two things come quickly to mind. First, upon hearing of Teri’s decision to retire, I reached out to Archbishop Hebda to ask if he would preside at Teri’s last Mass where she was conducting the choir. Archbishop Hebda, who has long admired Teri’s gifts and commitment to The Basilica but who is also exceedingly busy, immediately responded yes! Second, in a challenging labor market where many openings for church ministry positions go unfilled for months, in the span of weeks we had 25 applications for the director of music position. This is due in large part to Teri’s national reputation and the fact that she has built a first-class music program at The Basilica. Again, Teri would shift our focus to her amazing collaborators, among them Johan Van Parys who with Teri formed a dynamic duo which lifted the liturgy and music at The Basilica to soaring heights – onto the greater glory of God.
One of the most important aspects of any parish staff member is their faith in God – this is the sure foundation for their life of service to God’s holy people and the broader Church. It is their faith in God and the knowledge that their ministry is impactful on the lives of parishioners – fellow sojourners on our collective journey of faith – that provide parish staff with a sense of purpose and fulfillment in their work. Teri’s deep faith is evident in the way she approaches her ministry – it’s almost as if we are witnessing a beautiful and sustained love song composed and performed for God. Johan recently told me that Teri’s retirement will be difficult for the choir members because Teri was really their pastor – she has shepherd and accompanied them as they offered their gifts in praise of God.
During the season of Lent which was accompanied by the end of particularly long winter, I was sitting in prayer near the end of Mass. My spirit was bowed down that day – as I was thinking about the particular challenges we face – financial, the need to build up our community after the pandemic, and the challenges experienced by our broader Twin Cities community and our nation. Teri’s choice of the post communion hymn was perfect – Behold I Make All Things New. My spirits were lifted as I listened to the choir sing this beautiful hymn – magnificently chosen and conducted by Teri. I had a deep sense as I was listening that in the midst of the challenging circumstances we face, God indeed is doing something new – restoring the beautiful creation God has made – even if that restoration is not always fully perceptible to our eyes of faith.
This is what sacred liturgy and music can do – when done with care and faith – it can transform us, transform our present reality, and inspire us to help build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. This is what Teri Larson has done for twenty-eight years at The Basilica of Saint Mary. We have witnessed a master class and a master at work within our community – helping lift our hearts in praise of the living God and inspiring us all on our journey of faith.
Teri, we wish you, Don, and your family well as you begin this new chapter of your life. We thank you for generously sharing your gifts with The Basilica community these many years. Lastly, we thank God, the source of all gifts, for having called you here, for having sustained you in times of challenge and uncertainty, and who now calls you to new adventures. May God who has begun a good work in you bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6).
Brava & Ad Multos Annos Teri Larson!