A Lesson Learned from Father Giltinan
Before Reverend William Giltinan became a priest, he was Mr. Giltinan an eighth grade teacher at St. Patrick’s School in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. And before he was a teacher, he lived in France for two or more years where he learned to speak French fluidly. I met Mr. Giltinan when I went to St. Patrick’s School. He taught French classes, was our choir director, bought us all Good News New Testament Bibles as a gift with his own money then taught us how to use them, taught us from novels he provided for us, and did special projects with us like allowing our eighth grade class to paint the wall of windows in our classroom at Christmas.
One spring afternoon, Father Giltinan took the seventh and eighth grade students to the church choir loft to practice singing. He had been leading our children’s choir for several years and was proud of the special events we sang each year. Some events we sang at were for the Bishop at the Cathedral in Altoona, for special Christmas services, and for special funeral services.
In the choir loft that warm afternoon, Father Giltinan had us warm up, usually with his own version of ‘Me Me Me Me Me Meee,’ which went more like… ‘Me Me Me Me Me Me Not You.’ As we warmed up and began singing a song our choir really enjoyed singing, I noticed a ruffling of a person entering the church below and sitting on the far left side of the church. When the song was done, Fr. Giltinan looked over the choir balcony and acknowledged the person below.
Unbeknownst to us, Fr. Giltinan had arranged for a female friend of his to come and to listen to our choir to give a critique of our singing. I don’t remember this woman’s name, but I remember her having a flowing scarf and having an artistic flair to her, which didn’t surprise me, because Fr. Giltinan was so creative, theatrical, good at singing, and passionate about directing our choir.
So, we sang another song for the silent guest sitting in the pews of the empty church. Fr. Giltinan motioned for us all to sit down on the choir risers and put his finger over his lips to tell us to be quiet. He said he would be right back as he dashed down the spiral choir loft stairs. There is nothing like middle school students being confused, curious, and spell bound by trying to impress a person they don’t know to quiet their spirits for a time. We heard a muffled conversation below, and then we heard Fr. Giltinan on the choir loft stairs coming our way.
Fr. Giltinan turned his right palm to the ceiling and moved it from his waist to his eyes motioning for us to stand up as we prepared to sing another song, but this time he told the organist to play it in another key…a much higher note. We sang the song. Fr. Giltinan smiled at us and took his right palm now turned down raised it to his eye and lowered it to his waist and we all sat down on the risers again as he made a dash for the choir loft stairs and the mysterious guest below. We heard more muffled conversation, and once again Fr. Giltinan appeared before us and motioned for us to stand. We sang another song in the same higher key realizing Fr. Giltinan was working harder to sing at this key. When the song ended, Fr. Giltinan shook his head and said, “I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner.” With that he ran down the stairs of the choir loft one more time and spoke with our guest who was leaving the pew and moving toward the back of the church.
Fr. Giltinan appeared before us catching his breath and filled in the missing information. He explained how he had asked a friend to come and listen to us and to share her thoughts on how we could improve our singing. He apologized for not introducing her to us, but said she was in a hurry. He said she liked our choir very much. However, she thought we would sound better at a higher key that matched our age. He said he agreed with her and said he thought we did sound better. He acknowledged he wished he had been doing this all along with us, as up until this point we had been singing to the key of his voice.
I learned a few lessons from Fr. Giltinan that afternoon. One is he had female friends he respected and whose opinion he sought out and two, he was open to taking suggestions from a friend. At that moment, I saw Fr. Giltinan in a new light. I admired watching my male teacher be open to a female’s point of view as an equal to his and seeing men and women work together. Even though St. Patrick’s School is now closed, and Fr. Giltinan is no longer alive, the cooperative spirit and respectful listening I gained from his example has stayed with me to this day.
Picture used from this article: http://www.tribdem.com/news/local_news/st-patrick-school-to-shut-doors/article_b6ea538e-76a1-5853-9007-9384334556fb.html St. Patrick’s School closed in 2009.