This week, Carole Kelley takes Leaven readers into her role as a member of Our Lady & St. Rose Parish Choir.
Q. What is your name, title and where do you minister?
A. My name is Carole Kelley. I don’t have a specific title. But, I am a member of Our Lady & St. Rose Choir (OLSR Choir). Our parish is located at 8th and Quindaro Blvd. in Kansas City, Kansas. I sing in the soprano section.
Q. Please describe what you do.
A. I participate with the choir in the music for Sunday mass, funerals, weddings and concerts of the choir.
Q. How would you describe how your ministry fits into the larger mission of the Catholic Church?
A. One of the missions of the Catholic Church that I think of is evangelization. As a member of the OLSR choir, I feel that we respond to this particular mission in that we participate with our brothers and sisters of other religious denominations in special musical celebrations in their churches. We also invite the surrounding community and religious denominations to join us when we present musical concerts.
Q. Is your parish choir different from other parish choirs in the Archdiocese? If so, how?
A. I would say that as African American Catholics, our ethnicity differentiates us from other choirs in the Archdiocese. As we sing in traditional Catholic Mass contexts, we also incorporate music that reflects our African American heritage (contemporary gospel style and spirituals, for example). Our Choir Director ensures that we learn and present to our congregation the music for Mass arrangements that have been written by African American composers.
Q. Is this what you have decided to do in life? If not, what road led you to this place?
A. Not necessarily. Singing is something I’ve always loved to do. As a young girl attending a small Catholic elementary school, we always sang daily mass and sometimes Sunday mass. I remember taking music lessons in what was called the “big hall” of the school.
Usually I think we were grouped by levels and taught songs for mass and for special programs that we played, usually in the spring. At that age, we were never taught to read music. We learned by heart. Those early years taught me to love and appreciate music and that has marked me all my life.
Q. Did you pick up any skills in other jobs along the way that proved surprisingly applicable in your department? If yes, explain. Also, were you later trained in reading music?
A. No, I’ve always had jobs in business, finance and management — nothing related to music. As an adult, I took piano lessons for about two years. I always wanted to learn to play the piano. It was the only time I was exposed to actually learning to read music.
Q. What would the average Catholic be most surprised to learn about what you do with your ministry, especially that it has been described as a gospel choir and you perform outside of the mass?
A. Well, I’m not sure. I can say that serving in this ministry is a commitment close to my heart. It is very rewarding to learn new music and I am very proud to be able to represent our church and share our hard work and skills with others. It’s a way to bring people together and share our faith and grace through song.
Q. Who does your ministry primarily serve?
A. My ministry as a choir member primarily serves God and in doing so serves my church family and my community.
Q. What would you like everyone to know about your ministry?
A. As I said earlier, it is a commitment you make to your church to be a member of the choir and it is very rewarding. It brings you closer to God. It’s good for the soul and it feels good!
Q. Why does the world need more of what you offer, especially right now?
A. There is a saying that those who sing pray twice. With everything going on in our world today, we need all the prayers we can get.
Q. What did you learn about the people in that position?
A. I learned that music is universal and everyone enjoys it. Not everyone may be able to sing, but they can enjoy the feel of music.
Q. What did you learn about yourself?
A. I learned not to be afraid to try, especially when it comes to playing solo.
Q. How has this changed the way you perceive your identity as a Catholic?
A. It has not changed the way I perceive my identity as a Catholic. I was baptized into the Catholic Church when I was a child. I have been a member of Our Lady & St. Rose Church for 74 years of my life, and have known the majority of people in my congregation most of my life. We are all proud and value our African-American Catholic heritage. I think that’s what makes our little church family unique.
Carole Kelley is a retired administrative officer in the Treasury’s financial management department. During her career, she worked for a financial institution for several years before working in the federal government for the next 34 years. She and her husband Delbert celebrated their 50th birthday in 2021. They have a daughter, two granddaughters and a great-grandson. Kelley enjoys cooking and sewing.