July 8, 2011

Holy Name music director sings a parting song of joy and faith

Jerry Craney talks with Helen Gasper during a June 5 retirement reception in which he was honored for his 52 years as the music minister at Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Beech Grove. (Photo by Alea Bolwing)

Jerry Craney talks with Helen Gasper during a June 5 retirement reception in which he was honored for his 52 years as the music minister at Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Beech Grove. (Photo by Alea Bolwing)

By Alea Bowling

When Jerry Craney was hired as music minister at Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Beech Grove, he did not intend for it to be a permanent job.

Fifty-two years of dedicated service later, Craney leaves behind a legacy of loyalty, excellence and discipline with a healthy dose of humor. (Related: Longtime musicians are a staple at several archdiocesan parishes)

When he first started working at Holy Name Parish in the fall of 1959, Craney was studying at the Jordan School of Music at Butler University in Indianapolis. He accepted the position to help pay for school, but did not intend to stay at Holy Name.

“When I started, all I had was a pitch pipe and some music books, but I didn’t care because I thought it would be over in May,” he said.

At the end of the academic year, Craney graduated and ended up staying at Holy Name as a music teacher and organist.

This May, the 78-year-old Craney retired from his position as music director at Holy Name. However, he isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

“I’m not dead,” Craney reminded his fellow parishioners during a farewell reception in June.

Craney’s sense of humor stayed with him the entire time that he worked at Holy Name.

Helen Gasper and her husband, Robert, had just joined the parish when Craney first began working and teaching there 52 years ago. It will be hard to get used to a new music minister, she said. Her children and grandchildren were all taught by Craney.

At the beginning of his teaching career, 960 children attended Holy Name School. Craney was the only male teacher in the school, and one of the first two lay teachers in the archdiocese.

The Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg taught all the other subjects at the school. Craney credits them and Father Robert Hartman, who hired him, with much of his success at Holy Name.

“Everybody was so supportive, and I couldn’t have done what I did without that,” he said.

His students remember him as a strict but devoted teacher.

Mark Gasper, the son of Helen and Robert Gasper, was a student of Craney’s throughout grade school. He said the music they played were pieces someone his age would not usually be allowed to try.

“He wanted us to take music seriously,” Mark Gasper said.

Craney’s motto as a teacher—“Excellence is as difficult as it is rare”—was posted in his classroom. He always encouraged his students to succeed and tolerated no goofing around, Mark Gasper said.

“As a 10-year-old in band, we played music that was above our level, but he never made us feel incapable.”

Craney also kept a religious component to his teaching, Mark Gasper added.

“He exhibited Christian values and Christian ideals.”

During his time at Holy Name, Craney worked with a number of different pastors. One of the former pastors of Holy Name, Father Gerald Burkert, remembered the loyalty that Craney had toward the parish.

“He tried to make the music and the parish the main focus,” Father Burkert said.

His dedication to the parish was shown through his teaching. The fact that so many young people come back is a sign of his impact on them, Father Burkert noted.

One of Craney’s proudest accomplishments during his time at Holy Name was organizing an annual Christmas concert, which was held on the weekend before Christmas.

For 48 years, Craney conducted an orchestra and choir in two Christmas performances.

“Some years were good, some were outstanding and some were not so good,” Craney said.

Even in the not so good years, people kept coming.

“We always did a big piece. Vivaldi, Mozart, something like that. [The kids] worked hard.”

Though he would have liked to conduct 50 consecutive Christmas concerts, a minor stroke during one of the performances in his 48th year forced Craney to allow someone else to conduct for the evening.

Through his work at Holy Name, Craney touched the lives of thousands of students and parishioners.

He had such an influence on the lives of his students that many have kept in touch with the parish.

“They attribute their success to me because I taught them how to work,” Craney said.

His service to Holy Name has been recognized previously. In 1994, Craney was awarded the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” award by the Vatican in recognition of his many years of service to the Church.

In 2004, Holy Name dedicated a new gym and performance hall, and named it the Jerry Craney Performance Center in recognition of his work for the parish.

“Holy Name has been better because of Jerry Craney,” Mark Gasper said.

Even though he has retired from his position at Holy Name, Craney intends to stay active in music ministry by serving as a substitute music minister when needed at various parishes in the archdiocese.

After 52 years, he felt like it was time to move on.

“There are other people with new ideas,” he said.

As for Holy Name, Craney will always have a place in his heart for the parish where he served for so many years.

“I just loved it,” he said. “The people were good to me.” †

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