Pastor’s Letter: To Dream of Sugar Plums, Again

‘Tis the week before Christmas, and we dare not gather,
Lest we dither about and create a health matter.
We go through the motions to try to bring cheer,
In hopes that Our Savior will lead us this year,
To Bethlehem’s stable filled with hope and no fear.
We climb in our beds, all cozy and warm,
And visions of sugar plums emerge and take form.
As mothers, as fathers, as children of God,
We gather remotely and venture a look,
At the pure light of love, shining from hillside to brook,
That brightens the paths that we follow and trod.
With a star to guide us on this journey of life,
Let us dream of new worlds, filled with no strife.

Reflecting on what to write in my Christmas message to you, I was drawn to the warmth, good cheer, and good old-fashioned sentiment evoked by Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas.  From its opening words, “’Twas the night before Christmas,” to the wonderful imagery of “eight tiny reindeer” and a belly described as “a bowl filled with jelly,” we are invited to imagine a world filled with merriment and wonder, to a place where sugar plums dance.

I believe that today more than ever we need to be transported in our imagining to a world as fanciful and beautiful as the one described by Moore, one that gives us hope for the future. I confess I am not a poet, and I may be accused of being a plagiarist in penning To Dream of Sugar Plums, Again. My purpose, like that of Clement Clarke Moore or any true poet, is to invite the reader to be washed by memories and images that gladden the soul and through them enter a world of possibilities, to dream.

It takes courage to dream during dark days such as these, with nightmare scenarios of doom confounding our senses, and yet dream we do.  We are resilient because of our faith. God with us today, God with us yesterday, and God with us in all our tomorrows! Is that not what we celebrate on Christmas Day? The realization of all our dreams and hopes in the birth of Jesus Christ. In the midst of darkness, fear, and dread, the light of hope illumined the path to a brighter future, our future. And so, we dare to dream of those things that will bring happiness and hope to ourselves, our families, and our friends – good health, a warm and safe home, a secure job, access to a good education, and so on. All worthy dreams that are good in themselves, but they are limited in scope to our own well-being.

In writing this letter I was also inspired by Pope Francis’ recently published book, Let Us Dream, The Path to a Better Future. In it, Pope Francis opens to the reader the broad vista of a world whose architects we are. It will be fashioned and designed by our dreams. It will be those dreams that will fuel our determination, fortify our will, and, with God’s grace, strengthen our resolve to find the path to a better future – for all. Pope Francis invites us to an understanding of our hearts’ desires, our dreams. They are by their very nature common to all humanity, built upon a shared hope for a better world. It is not simply our health, it the health of everyone in the world. It is not our personal security and well-being, it is the dream of prosperity for all. It is more than protecting our limited patch of turf, it is the care of our common home, Mother Earth. The blueprint for building a better future lies in the acknowledgment that each person’s dreams are essentially universal and not simply the realm of a privileged few. The darkness of these days of pandemic, social and political dissonance, and a planet under siege may dim our outlook for the future, but for those who believe in the miracle of Christmas dreams will never be extinguished.

Can you imagine a world where sugar plums dance? Let us dare to dream – to dream of a future filled with infinite possibilities and the realization of all our hearts’ desires. Let us dream again of sugar plums, whirling about and delighting the soul. For it is on Christmas Day when dreams come true. And so, I end with words of good cheer, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

– Rev. Dennis J. Yesalonia, S.J.

Remembering Nancianne Parrella (November 14, 1935-June 2, 2019)

This week marks the anniversary of the passing of the Grand Dame of the Organ Loft.  Nancianne Parrella was our Associate Organist from 1994 to 2015, and Organist Emerita until her death.  Our parishioners knew Nanci as a kind, gracious woman with a self-deprecating sense of humor, who could really tear it up on Easter Sunday.  But those of us involved in the music scene beyond the walls of the church saw her walk among the titans of American music.  Notable conductors such as the late Joseph Flummerfelt, Robert Shaw, Kurt Masur, and Lorin Maazel regarded her as an equal and indispensable partner.

We were fortunate at St. Ignatius to be graced with Nanci the musician, Nanci the advisor, Nanci the prophet, Nanci the teacher, and Nanci the mother.  Whether you were a seasoned professional musician or felt like you couldn’t carry a tune, she made you feel like the most important person in the room.

Many of us forget that Nanci’s tenure at St. Ignatius was but the closing chapter of an extraordinary career.  Other highlights include:

  • Serving as organist at First Presbyterian, Trenton; Trinity Church, Princeton; and Holy Trinity Lutheran, Central Park West, where she was an integral part of their Bach Vespers Series.
  • Teaching with her husband, Joachim, in the Princeton public school system from 1957 until her retirement in the mid-1990’s.
  • Serving as principal accompanist for the Robert Shaw Chorale and Festival Singers.
  • A 14-year collaboration with the Bethlehem (PA) Bach Choir.
  • Serving on faculty at Westminster Choir College in Princeton alongside Joe Flummerfelt.

In addition to all these engagements, she maintained a dizzying freelance career, playing for and serving as informal advisor to almost every major choral ensemble in New York City, professional and avocational.

Upon meeting Nanci in 2001, she immediately treated me as her peer, which I most certainly was not.  Her husband, Jo, and their daughters, Amy and Lisa graciously embraced the St. Ignatius musicians as members of their household, even when it meant less time with their spouse and mother.  We owe as much a debt of gratitude to them as we do to Nanci.

One of the ways we honor Nanci’s and Jo’s memories is through the Joachim and Nancianne Parrella Memorial Organ Fund.  Use this link for more information about this remarkable couple, the fund, and how you can honor their legacy:

Nanci was real.  She lived with both feet firmly on the ground.  And as her art reached for the heavens, she took us by the hand and, with a bright smile and a twinkle in her eye, led us there as well.

Her voice still echoes in my mind:  “Honey, you can’t just play the damn notes!  Let’s have another bottle of wine.”

– K. Scott Warren, Director of Music Ministries