Friday, March 9, 2012

In Memoriam: Fr. Lawrence Heiman, C.PP.S. (1917-2012)

During my freshman and sophomore years at St. Joseph's College, Rensselaer, IN, two priests were significant figures in my formation: my spiritual director, Fr. Robert Lechner, C.PP.S., and our college choir director, Fr. Larry Heiman, C.PP.S. Fr. Lechner passed on to his eternal reward on February 22, 1999, and this year, Fr. Larry followed on February 26, the day before my birthday.

In the summer of 1956 Fr. Lechner began what became a respected international philosophical journal, Philosophy Today, and enlisted me as his typist. The other priest with whom I worked closest during this time was Fr. Heiman, college choral and liturgical music director. Larry, then 39, had come to St. Joseph’s in 1944 immediately after his ordination in December, 1943, and was assigned to teach Latin and Greek. When Fr. Paul Speckbaugh, C.PP.S. (1905-1944) died about 10 months later, Larry was asked to step in as both Dramatics director and Music instructor. He spent several summers at Catholic University, Washington, D.C. and earned an M.A. in Speech and Dramatics, with minors in Music and English. During his 58 years of teaching at St. Joseph’s, Larry directed theatrical productions, choir, band, and the glee club. His work with the latter included a half-time show for the Chicago Bears, as well as special performances with the Alverno College (Milwaukee) Glee Club, and Handel’s Messiah in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall.

Larry was an engaging person, terribly bright, always in motion, seemingly untiring. He had some difficulty with his heart, but it never seemed to slow him down an iota. I remember being concerned because of his intensity and non-stop activity. His cheeks always looked rosy on his fair skin. He was an excellent teacher, intense and intriguingly expressive as a director. There was only one time while he was directing the choir that our singing flat-out collapsed. It was during evening Benediction one Lent. We were singing a motet and somehow one of the sections went off course. Larry did a yeoman’s job trying to prompt us with notes, keeping time, and cuing in all the sections. He finally was forced to stop and start over, but was able to laugh about it with us afterwards. He usually had a smiling and cheerful demeanor; I doubt that I ever saw him really angry. He may not always have been pleased with our singing, but he never took it out on us personally.

In 1957 Fr. Heiman was sent to Rome to study at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, where he earned a Licentiate and Master’s Degree in Gregorian Chant. He returned to Rome again in 1968-1969 to work towards a Doctorate in Sacred Music at the Pontifical Institute. In February, 1970 he defended his thesis in an hour-and-a-half-long session, in Italian, before five expert judges! The title of his thesis is so typical of Larry: The Rhythmic Value of the Final Descending Note after a Punctum in Codex 239 of the Library of Laon! He was then 53 years old, and one of very few in the U.S. to earn a doctorate from the Pontifical Institute. He was the founding father of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, the Church Music Association of America, and the Composers Forum for Catholic Music. After I left St. Joseph’s I was amazed at Larry’s continued stamina and the expansion of his musical work there. In 1960 he founded the Rensselaer Program of Church Music and Liturgy, which he directed for 35 summers. It remains the longest-running program of its kind. In 1998 he began the summer Gregorian Chant Institute. Though "retired", he continued to teach a History of Art course, which he'd introduced to the College curriculum in 1956, as well as music courses at the College. 

The responsibility of directing the Schola, and eventually the choir, with which Fr. Larry entrusted me in 1956 gave me a tremendous boost in self-confidence as a young seminarian. I considered it truly an honor and a privilege to be tutored by someone of his caliber. It also surprised me because I was far from being the best singer among my classmates, and I played no instrument. But I apparently had a good feel for Gregorian chant, thanks to Fr. Volk’s and Fr. Larry’s training, and a fair sense of rhythm and timing. 

By the end of July, 1956, I was directing the Schola and held evening Schola classes for Fr. Heiman periodically. I regularly intoned the Benediction hymns in chapel for the whole college community, sometimes daily, during this time. In the fall that year Larry invited me to begin rehearsing with a sub-group of the college Glee Club, called The Singing Seventeen. The most notable in the group was a freshman, Greg Petrin, of Russian descent, who had an extraordinarily rich, powerful, and very deep bass voice. I was always delighted when Fr. Heiman scheduled us to sing Hospodi Pomiluij = Lord, Have Mercy, a traditional Eastern liturgical chant, where Greg and the basses had a major part.

On November 26, 1956, Fr. Heiman and the seminarians traveled to Jefferson City, MO, where we sang for the installation of Bishop Joseph Marling, C.PP.S. (1904-1979) as Diocesan Bishop the next day. We left St. Joseph’s College at 10 AM, probably followed the route across Illinois to Peoria, then down to Hannibal, MO where we crossed the mighty Mississippi, my first sight of it. We'd seen two other rivers that same day: the Illinois and the Missouri. We ate dinner in Louisiana, MO, southeast of Hannibal, then continued on to arrive in Jefferson City around 8 PM. My diary notes: “went to see movie in Jeff. City - ‘War and Peace’. Excellent.” The truth is that Jim Franck, my classmate and roomie for the trip, and I saw most of it, but had to leave early to get back to the motel before our "curfew". We stayed at Kolb’s Motel, which I describe in the diary as “Luxurious living!” The next day we had Mass in the morning at St. Mary’s Hospital, breakfast at the Missouri Hotel (“Scrumptious!” says the diary). The Installation Mass was probably at midday and there was undoubtedly a banquet afterwards. There’s a rather unenthusiastic reference in the diary to a concert which we apparently gave at the banquet: “Concert went pretty well.” 

The diary mentions something about recording songs on tape. Apparently Fr. Heiman had me record the choir and/or Schola at times so that he could use the tapes at various meetings which he attended. My diary notation for May 2 reads: “Recorded [Flor] Peeters’ ‘Ave Maria’ for Fr. Heiman to take to Missouri convention.

Fr. Larry continued to have me direct occasionally through the spring and summer of 1957. The highlight was when Larry asked me to direct a glorious new Mass by a Spanish composer, Bilbao on Easter Sunday. Other opportunities were on the feast of Pentecost, June 9, for the college Solemn High Mass; on June 12, the 3rd anniversary of St. Gaspar’s canonization; on June 19 when I directed a group of seven seminarians, plus two of our college instructors, Frs. Aloysius O’Dell and Ernest Lucas, C.PP.S., for a Confirmation service at the parish in Goodland, IN; on June 20 for the Corpus Christi Solemn Mass; and on June 23, the college Parent’s Day, when we again sang the Bilbao Mass. 

A 2002 student from the Gregorian Chant Institute accurately described one of Larry’s most striking traits: “...the most amazing thing for me concerns his hands. When he conducts chant, his hands are beautiful, so expressive, so filled with prayer.” In our classes with him Larry had emphasized the importance of good chironomy so many times, and I remember well, and often tried to emulate, Larry’s beautiful and prayerful technique. When I visited St. Joseph’s in July, 1995, for an gathering of former priests and brothers and their families, I had a chance to chat awhile with Larry, by then 78, and to thank him for all that he’d given me during my two years there. In 2002, Fr. Heiman was given the prestigious Jubilate Deo award from the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. After 63 years of campus life, Larry finally retired to St. Charles Seminary, Carthagena, OH, in 2007.

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