The Assumption Schola, the men's choir at Assumption Grotto Church in Detroit, is a direct descendant of the St. Jude Choir of Men and Boys that provided the musical backdrop for many hundreds of liturgies at that church from 1964 to 1980.
How it began at St. Jude and evolved over 40 years at St. Angela, St. Marks Old Catholic, Most Holy Trinity, St. Joseph and Assumption Grotto parishes is a story of strong faith in God, true friendship and belief in the value of tradition.
On August 15, 1964, George F. Schaefer played his first Mass at St. Jude Church and quickly worked to build a boys choir to merge with the existing mens choir.
By Christmas, the choirs were merged and vested in what has become its trademark black cassocks and long white surplices. The next 15 and one-half years at St. Jude were spent adding to and refining the operation.
The choir's first documented appearance outside of St. Jude took place on November 20, 1965 during a Boy Choir Festival Mass at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, presided over by then-Archbishop John Dearden and then-Monsignor Walter Schoenherr. Coincidently, a young Eduard Perrone played the organ at that event.
On December 18, 1966, the choir performed the first of several Christmas open houses at the Detroit Historical Museum.
During Holy Week 1967, the Paschal Dinner tradition began in the St. Jude rectory. Since then it has taken place at the St. Jude Gym, the Golden Lion, the Pontchartrain Hotel, the Detroit Athletic Club and now at the home of Michael O'Brien.
In May of 1967, the choir sang the first of many Detroit Police Memorial Masses, to and from which it traveled by high-speed limousine motorcade with police escort.
During this period, the choir room and vestry were transformed from lower church cry room and storage area into elegant club rooms.
In 1969, the choir sang for the principal liturgy of the Knights of St. John convention at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.
On February 1, 1970, Fr. J.J. Ording retired as pastor and was replaced by Fr. Thomas Villerot.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the men of the choir treated the boys to a weekend camp-like excursion to Kensington MetroPark. The weekend often included an outdoor Mass with Fr. Ording and a choir dressed in swimsuits and t-shirts.
During the war in Vietnam, St. Jude conducted annual Armed Forces Remembrance Masses. The choir played a significant role in these services with its renditions of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Almighty Father, Strong to Save."
A further dose of patriotism came in April of 1972, when the United States Air Force Academy Catholic Choir traveled from Colorado Springs to help the choir dedicate the new organ behind the altar.
Good Friday 1973 marked the beginning of an eight-year tradition of singing John Stainer's oratorio "The Crucifixion."
In July of 1973, chorister and cantor Joe Kaiser became the first member of St. Jude Parish to receive an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy.
The next year, the choir joined the American Federation of Pueri Cantores and traveled to Washington, D.C., for its international congress. The trip culminated with a Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The high school- and college-age members of the St. Jude Choir acted as servers and ceremonial officers for then Washington Archbishop William Baum.
While in Washington, the group performed an evensong service at the National Cathedral and were treated to a concert by the band at St. Matthias Parish. The pastor of St. Matthias was Mr. Schaefer's twin brother, Fr. Thomas Schaefer.
While other choirs traveled to the capital by bus, Mr. Schaefer insisted the St. Jude Choir go by air. Red sport coats featuring the choirs Ed Chesney-designed coat of arms were the non-liturgical uniform of the day.
Fr. Ording used to say "all work and no play makes Joe a dull boy" and the men and boys of the choir took it to heart. From dinners in Mr. Schaefer's basement to New Years Eve parties that lasted until the beginning of 10:30 Mass the next morning to initiations involving the St. Vincent de Paul box behind the gym to elaborate Christmas and Halloween decorations on the ledge above Mr. Schaefer's front door, the choir knew how to have fun.
The choir's biggest supporter, Fr. Ording himself, passed away in February of 1975. A funeral Mass was celebrated by John Cardinal Dearden.
Later that year, members of the choir started the Fr. J.J. Ording Memorial Golf Tournament at the St. Clair Country Club. The inaugural event was won by retired choir member Norm Schlaf. The tournament eventually moved to Fr. Ordings home club, Indianwood, in Lake Orion and continued until 1983.
Throughout the years, a special association developed between the men of the St. Jude Choir, the St. Jude Credit Union and the Frank J. Calcaterra Funeral Home.
Within this Golden Triangle, many young men of the choir got their first employment experience and those establishments were very generous with the choir. When funds were needed for this project or that, Mr. Schaefer knew where to turn. When limousines were called for, Lou Calcaterra was the man to call.
In 1976, Joe Kaiser graduated from the Air Force Academy and went on to achieve the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring in December of 2002 with 25 years of service to his country.
That same year, 1976, sitting choir president Larry O'Brien died of cancer at the age of 47.
On Oct. 25, 1977, the choir sang the University of Detroit Law School Red Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Church, Detroit's second cathedral.
In the spring of 1978, the choir traveled to Manhattan, KS for Lt. Kaiser's wedding. That trip also featured performances at the St. Louis Cathedral in St. Louis and at the Kansas State University Newman Club.
On July 1, 1978, the choir sang the ordination of Fr. John P. Zenz, who would later be named a monsignor, moderator of the curia for the archdiocese and now is pastor of Holy Name Parish in Birmingham.
Long-time choir crucifer Dave Alexander died in Florida on November 30, 1978 at the age of 77. Its likely that most people thought he was that old all along.
Under the pastorship of Fr. William Dowell, Mr. Schaefer and the choir came under fire for its conservative ways and elegant ceremonies, which the pastor referred to as "evil pomposity."
So, on Sunday, June 8, 1980, the St. Jude Choir of Men and Boys under the direction of Mr. Schaefer sang its last High Mass at the church, which was filled to capacity for the sad and historic liturgy.
Many members of the choir followed Mr. Schaefer to his next assignment at St. Angela Church in Roseville, where he led a co-ed choir for the first time in his career.
The men's choir tradition was rekindled at St. Mark Old Catholic Church where it thrived between 1982 and 1993.
In the fall of 1986, members of the choir started the G.F.S. Choir Golf Classic, a weekend event in northern Michigan.
Following Mr. Schaefer's death in 1995, the outing became the G.F.S. Memorial Golf Classic and continues to be an annual event.
The last choir president and a past G.F.S. tournament champion, Dick Keenan died suddenly in October of 1991.
After Mr. Schaefer's death, a core of the group continued to get together to sing and by Christmas it had found a home at Most Holy Trinity Church in Detroits historic Corktown neighborhood.
Between December 1995 and May 2003, the Trinity Men's Choir sang monthly at the church, including two St. Patrick's Day Masses celebrated by Adam Cardinal Maida.
During its time at Most Holy Trinity, the choir produced 13 CDs of church music, including six historic recordings of the St. Jude Choir of Men and Boys.
On the Feast of the Holy Trinity in June 2001, the Trinity Men's Choir returned to St. Jude to sing at a regularly scheduled Mass for the first time in 21 years.
In April 2002, the Trinity Men's Choir and its St. Jude heritage were featured in a two-page color spread in The Michigan Catholic.
Summer 2002 saw the St. Jude Choir influence reach beyond a single parish as former St. Jude assistant organist Dave Warren retired from his business career and became music minister at St. Mary of Creation Church in New Baltimore. Later, another St. Jude alumnus, John Perna, started playing at St. Joan of Arc in St. Clair Shores.
On December 8, 2002, the Trinity Men's Choir returned to St. Jude to perform a Festival of Lessons and Carols.
In September of 2003, the Trinity Men's Choir become the Schola Sancti Josephi following a move from the historically Irish Most Holy Trinity to the historically German St. Joseph Church in downtown Detroit.
"Im sure the (people of St. Joseph) will be as appreciative of your ongoing commitment as I have been," said Fr. Russell Kohler, pastor of Most Holy Trinity.
In February of 2004, Erik Filipek, the choir's organist at St. Joseph Church, died tragically at the age of 25. He was replaced by David Carle.
For two years at St. Joseph, the choir improved itself by doubling its rehearsals and selecting music written for men's voices, replacing much of the SATB music it had brought from St. Jude.
At the end of the 2005 singing season, director Ron Bemrich left St. Joseph to live in New York City. Shortly thereafter, the group decided to move to Assumption Grotto, where pastor Fr. Eduard Perrone accompanies on organ and sings with the group.
Many traditions of the St. Jude Choir of Men and Boys -- including the Paschal Dinner, cassocks and surplices, traditional music and occasionally elegant ceremonies continue.