A Look Back on 10 Years of Ministry in the Archdiocese of Las Vegas

Just over ten years ago, I graduated from Canisius College with a degree in music and business. At the time, the plan was to move west, finish a graduate degree in music education at UNLV, and eventually move into a civil service public safety-based role. Like others who have moved west, mainly to Vegas, I knew I was rolling the proverbial dice. Looking out the window during an early December lake effect snowstorm in Buffalo, this gamble felt necessary.

Through high school and college, I played a lot of Catholic Masses in the Diocese of Buffalo on a rotating substitute basis. At that time, most of the music directors/organists in the diocese were nearing retirement but had held on due to the economic uncertainty of the 2008 recession. I found my bread and butter moving from parish to parish as a long-term sub while many of my mentors had hip and knee replacements. This allowed me room to really, really grow in metered stints.

This coming Thursday will mark my tenth anniversary in the now-Archdiocese of Las Vegas. In early January 2014, Fr. Bob Puhlman interviewed and auditioned me in the old chapel on Rancho. (Those who have been around for a while will remember the grease trap from the neighboring restaurant seeping through the wall.) Before moving west, many told me that Las Vegas was somewhat of a “liturgical free-for-all all” when it came to music. So when Fr. Bob asked me to sing How Great Thou Art, what some describe as the national anthem of Southern Baptists, I wasn’t too shocked.

Over the past ten years, we’ve had ups and downs. When I first started playing at the 4 PM Saturday Mass, I was sitting on a phonebook in the orchestra pit at Centennial High School. Does anyone remember the dimly lit theatre that CCSD never seemed to have lit up? In 2016, we moved from Centennial to our present building. We didn’t have an organ. We had a concert grand Steinway loaned us from an anonymous source. We had no statues, icons, or plants outside… but we did – as a parish – have a lot of love, persistence, and faith in God.

Eventually, an anonymous donor donated a brand new practice-sized organ that we still use today. We were also able to acquire our own piano. Fr. Bob and a group bought beautiful artwork in Mexico City. All of this allows everyone who walks through our doors to enter a place of peace and develop a stronger relationship with God. I don’t know what else could top the uncertainty we all experienced in March 2020.

It’s no lie that the Holy Spirit has been earnestly at work these past few years. A couple of weeks ago, our archdiocese held its first Pallium Lecture. The featured speaker was Catholic scholar George Weigel. Mr. Weigel spoke on the “Vital Legacy of Vatican II.” One of the most interesting points he made that night really resonated with me because of my ministry here at St. Anthony of Padua: Historically speaking, it takes 100 years for the Church to “digest” the changes of ecumenical councils such as Vatican II. We are only about 60% of the way through the digestion process.

This led to a sobering thought: by the time I could possibly retire in April 2057, the Church will still not be done with its “digestion.” This leads to many anxious questions and a reminder that our Church is ever-changing.

So, in practical terms, what does that mean to us as faithful Catholics in the pews?

It’s a reminder that God exists outside of time. That’s literally what eternal means. Parishioners in their 80s today were only 20 years old when Vatican II ended. Parishioners in their 70s today were only 10 years old when Vatican II ended. These parishioners have literally lived their teen/adult lives in the early digestion process. My two-year-old daughter will experience the end of the digestion process that Mr. Wiegel discussed during his lecture.

This requires courage, patience, and grace from each and every one of us. The Church of our elder’s youth and young adult years doesn’t exist precisely the same as it did then… just as the Church, even ten years ago, has evolved. The church music popular for people in their 30s during the 1970s will look, sound, and feel different from the music people in their 30s during the 2020s. The artwork in Catholic media is going to look different. Bishop Robert Barron is the new Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.

God exists out of time, and each of us is challenged daily to become better Catholics than we were the day before.

As I look back on ten years here, I wish to thank every parishioner who has supported our mission at St. Anthony’s. Our parish today looks so different, and I am eager to see what it will look like in 2034.

I also must thank our choirs, choir spouses, choir parents, clergy, and liturgical volunteers. Your love, support, sweat, and tears are what help us bring the Gospel to so many in our community.

In closing, I want to share this brief excerpt from Pope Francis’ 2022 Apostolic Letter, Desiderio Desideravi. I believe that it fully encapsulates the feeling that so many at our parish hold deep in our hearts:

“We must not allow ourselves even a moment of rest, knowing that still not everyone has received an invitation to this Supper or knowing that others have forgotten it or have got lost along the way in the twists and turns of human living” (Desiderio Desideravi, #5).