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The Voice of Notre Dame College
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The Voice of Notre Dame College

“I was in my first class on the first day of school in 1995 at Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin High School,” recalled Sr. Mary Karita Ivancic ’71. “The secretary of the school came in and asked me if I would take a very important phone call.”

On the other end of the line was Louise Prochaska ’64 at Notre Dame College. The fall semester was beginning and the instructor scheduled to teach choir had to back out because of a job change. “They had a group of students ready to reactivate the choir and they asked me if I would be willing to step in. On the spur of the moment, I said ‘This would be wonderful! Of course, sure I’ll do it!’”

Three days after the receiving the call from Prochaska, Sr. Karita was back at her alma mater with an enthusiastic group of women ready to prove that music had not left the heart of Notre Dame.

The initial reformation of the group began in the context of a music class, MU 105, called Choral Ensemble. “There were nine women. That was it,” said Sr. Karita. “But as I look over their names, I have fond memories of these delightful women. They are the refounding mothers of the Notre Dame College choir.”

Among the performances that year, the choral ensemble had two notable concerts. In December, they participated in the first Christmas performance in several years, titled A Christmas Happening. Then in April, the newly named NDC Collegiate Choir performed The Best of Broadway, featuring choral literature from Broadway. But after that spring performance, the tentative rebirth of the choir was put on hold. “I was teaching one night a week at Notre Dame and at NDCL during the day,” said Sr. Karita. “My high school choirs had grown considerably, so when I was asked to teach again in 1997, I had to say no.” The choir was silent once again, but not so the voices of Notre Dame College.

Musical groups performed at the College, proving that the reformation of the chorus had touched a hot button. The Notre Dame College Community Gospel Choir, which formed in 1993, grew into a 17-member group that performed at a number of events and sponsored a Gospel Fest which enjoyed a run of several years. Likewise, the 75th anniversary of the College brought about the formation of the Diamond Jubilee Choir which included students, alumni, faculty and staff.

While music regained traction in the life of Notre Dame, Sr. Karita continued her work in Chardon with students at NDCL. However, in 2001 she was reassigned to teach at Notre Dame College. Looking back with some amusement, Sr. Karita remarked “I thought I was coming as a theology instructor because I was assigned to doctoral studies in theology. What they really wanted me to do, in addition to teaching theology classes, was to get the choir going again.”

Upon Sr. Karita’s return, she and her accompanist Sr. Mary Seton Schlather ’67 worked to prepare the vocal ensemble for Christmas and spring concert performances as well as traditional Notre Dame events such as Founders’ Day and Lady Day.

With each passing year, the role of the choir has increased. They performed during the dedication of the Legacy Walkway and Quinlivan Circle and sang during the holiday season at Legacy Village, a lifestyle center located in nearby Lyndhurst. According to Mark Levand, a junior theology major and co-president of the vocal ensemble, “We’re being asked to do more performances than in previous years. I think it’s largely because our choir has grown in number and in quality.”

In spring 2006, the spring concert, titled Seasons of Love, gave rise to one of the most important performances by the newly reformed choir. The original production was in collaboration with visiting professor of humanities Peter Manos and the Notre Dame Masquers theater troupe. Soon after, Sr. Karita learned that Meghan Wise, a former member of the choir, had died from leukemia. According to Sr. Karita, “Meghan had been one of the founding mothers of the resurrected choir. I asked the choir members if they would like to perform a benefit concert for her family, and they unanimously voted ‘yes.’” She reworked the production, creating a show that strictly featured choral performances and called it Seasons of Love: Reprised. The love offering collected at the show was sent on to help the Wise family.

As the curtain closed on the 2006 school year, Sr. Karita and the choir were asked to take the stage for one last bow. After all of the work the students and Sr. Karita had done, the College recognized them during the Honors Convocation as the Club of the Year. Becky Barger, the director of campus activities, summed up the choir’s impact on the College by saying “They add so much to campus life. A choir show is about giving their talent and energy to the audience. It’s not for their benefit, but for ours. They make the College a better place because of it.”

Choir members are honored to receive Club of the Year recognition, but believe most of the credit should go to Sr. Karita. According to sophomore Maggie Lusnia, “She has a lot of respect from everyone in the choir.”

Junior Mary Busch agrees. “She is just a good teacher. She brings so much energy to her work that it passes on into all that we do.”

Junior Justin Germack was most effusive with his praise. “There aren’t enough flowers, hugs or pats on the back that we can give her to show our appreciation.”

Sr. Karita sees beyond the temptation of self-congratulations, however. “What we try to do is create an aesthetic experience for students. A beautifully rendered madrigal or a beautiful piece from musical theater engages us at a depth that is truly a spiritual experience. They touch the students, and I hope the audience, as well, at a very deep level.”

Steve Ruic is the writer and editor for Notre Dame College.