Michael Berger is St. Mary Mokena’s newest Director of Sacred Music. Since starting, his passion for music and vibrant personality has made him a noticeable addition to the parish community.
The Mokena Marian recently sat down with Michael to get to know him better and introduce him to parishioners.
What is your musical and professional background?
“I started in music in the fourth grade after being encouraged by my dad who was a band director and trumpet player. My first instrument was the trombone, and I later started playing music by ear. When I got older, I started doing music entertainment gigs and being a DJ at restaurants, clubs, weddings, and other events.”
How did you switch to church music?
“After entertaining on the road for a while, I was hired at St. John Paul II Parish in Kankakee as a music director in 2015. I started in church music thinking it was just another gig. Eventually, though, the Lord came to me and said, ‘Michael, what are you doing with these gigs? You should use your musical talents to help the church.’ This realization started a reversion in my life to the Catholic faith. I realized the importance of becoming one with our Lord in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and knowing that I can support that worship through song. It became really apparent to me where I needed to be.
“A few years later I visited St. Mary to give a witness talk and fell in love with the parish. When I heard Father Dindo was seeking a new Director of Sacred Music, I applied, and here I am!”
What is the difference between a Director of Music and a Director of Sacred Music?
“A Director of Sacred Music plays Christo-centric music and supports people in song and in worship. He or she encourages what Pope Pius X called active participation in the Mass. In fact, the term ‘Director of Sacred Music’ is the actual correct title in the Catholic Church as opposed to the more generic ‘Director of Music’ title.”
What is the role of music in the Liturgy? What is the role of the congregation when it comes to music?
“My role is to be supportive of worship. Since chant and organ have pride and place in the celebration of the Eucharist, I tend to be more traditional in my musical preferences, although there is a place for more contemporary pieces and styles. When I’m playing, I’m engaging the congregation in song and act as a worship aid.”
What are your favorite Liturgical pieces to play?
“My personal favorite is “Praise to Holiest in the Height” by Cardinal J.H. Newman. It starts off,
‘Praise to the holiest in the height and in the depth be praised. In all His words most wonderful, most sure in all His ways.’
I love the truth behind the lyrics because the Lord really is sure in all His ways, and He knows what’s good for us and takes care of us.”
What is your musical vision for St. Mary?
“I want to continue the musical tradition of the church and take it further. We’re going to get a volunteer choir started again, and I’ll be inviting back members from the previous choir. I am a big proponent of incorporating volunteers, so, if you have a musical interest or idea, please come see me! I want to engage the people in the pews and get them involved.”
How have your first few weeks been at St. Mary?
“Everything is great! I love this place. It feels like the Lord wants me here and eased me into being here. The people have been very welcoming at St. Mary. My only challenge will be remembering names because there are a lot of faces, and it’s much bigger than my last parish.”
Is there anything you want to share about your personal life and hobbies?
“I live in Chebanse, IL., and I’m getting married on November 20th! I’m lucky enough to be living my hobby. Music is my life, and I’ve given it over to God. People don’t get a chance often to say they’re fulfilled in their job, but I am fulfilled in my job.”
What is your favorite faith activity?
“I love the Ignatian Spiritual exercises, and they have been my guide for the past few years.”