By ROBIN CAUDELL
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Robert Munn and Theresa Hammett recently received individual papal blessings as longtime choir members of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Plattsburgh.
Munn has been singing with the choir 50 years, and Hammett for 70.
Prior to joining St. John’s, Munn sang with the Plattsburgh Airbase choir.
“I started as a child, as a ... soprano, in Saranac Lake at St. Bernard’s,” said Munn, who lives in Plattsburgh.
“After that, I went to college and sang in the choir and sang in the glee club at Dartmouth.”
When his voice changed, he became a tenor.
The papal blessing includes a photograph of Pope Benedict XVI.
“It was just given as recognition for the work we’ve done,” Munn said. “They’re recognizing our durability. We’ve been there all those years, and we’re still there despite our age.”
Hammett, a soprano, began singing at age 14 at St. John’s Academy.
“We had Sister Mary Theodore, whom I give a great deal of credit to,” said Hammett, who also lives in the city.
“She was the music teacher at St. John’s school. She’s the one who started me signing. She had me singing in church. From that point on, I’ve been singing in the choir ever since. I thank God for the gift he gave me. Sister Theodore was the one who got me started, got me going, and I’ve been there ever since.”
The Rev. Timothy Canaan, pastor of St. John’s, petitioned the Holy See on behalf of Munn and Hammett.
“I did three papal blessings,” Canaan said. “The third one was for the choir, itself, St. John’s Parish Choir. I had to do that in September. We honored them close to the Feast of St. Cecilia. St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music.
“We wanted to honor Theresa for her outstanding years of service and Bob Munn, who has been in the choir for over 50 years. The Holy Father has deemed this year as the Year of Faith, and I wanted to acknowledge the generosity of the people of the choir. Most of our choir members have been in for many years, some decades. Some have been in there 20, 30 and 40 years. I wanted to honor all of them for their faithfulness to the parish. So, I petitioned the Holy See to ask the Holy Father to impart his blessing upon the whole choir.”
The Rev. Douglas Lucia served as the pastor of St. John’s from 1992 to 1995 and well-remembers Munn and Hammett.
“Both of them served so well,” said Lucia, who is pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Canton and serves as the episcopal vicar for worship and priestly formation at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg.
“I remember both of them being especially involved in the choir. They well-deserve those blessings.”
A papal blessing is given as a sign of esteem for a person’s service in the church, as in the case of Munn and Hammett.
“They are given for different occasions,” Lucia said. “A marrying couple could receive a papal blessing, or a couple celebrating a significant anniversary. They are given to parishes or a priest for a significant anniversary.”
Usually the person’s name is submitted to the Holy See or Vatican.
“It’s accompanied by a letter from the local parish priest asking the Holy Father to give a special blessing to pray in a particular way for this person because of the service they’ve given to the church,” Lucia said.
“It’s given as a sign of distinction to celebrate a special occasion. It’s really a gift of prayer asking God to bless that person for their service.”
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