By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
FREDERICKTOWN, Ky. — Louise Nally started playing the organ at her parish, Holy Trinity Church in Fredericktown, at age 12. That was back in 1946 when she was still known as Louise Hamilton and played under the tutelage of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount St. Joseph.
On Aug. 3, Nally will officially retire as her parish’s organist and director of music after the 11 a.m. Mass. The church will celebrate her 68-year ministry — offered on a volunteer basis — afterward with a luncheon.
Parishioners, friends and family are welcome to attend.
Parishioners of Holy Trinity say Nally’s retirement is a significant shift for the parish, both for long-time members and newcomers alike.
“When you associate anything with this community, you think of Louise,” said Jenny Mudd Neel, Nally’s great-niece who grew up at Holy Trinity. “She is kind of iconic.”
The parish’s young pastor — who has ministered in the community for about a year — said Nally’s ministry helped him feel at home when he came to Holy Trinity.
“She’s helped me feel really welcome here,” said Father Matthew Hardesty. “Even the way she plays the organ makes people feel welcome here. When you hear her play, you know you’re in the Burg (the local name for Fredericktown). You know you’re home.”
Father Hardesty said he recognized Nally’s extraordinary gift of time and talent to the parish when he arrived. He started paying her a small stipend last year. And, he said, he’s in awe of her commitment.
“To have 60-plus years of commitment to a parish is unheard of,” he noted. “I only hope God will help me to come to the same level of commitment as Louise. It’s an extraordinary testament to her love for God, for the church and for the community.”
Nally has served Holy Trinity under the direction of 10 pastors and estimates she’s played for hundreds of weddings. She was married in the midst of her service to the parish, attended St. Catharine College and raised five children.
In 1972, she took her gifts across the church parking lot to Fredericktown Elementary School, where she served as the music teacher for about 20 years. The now-closed school was formerly Holy Trinity School, located on the church property. She attended that school as a child, when it was still parochial. And that’s where her musical life began. The Ursuline Sisters of Mount St. Joseph taught her for 11 years and encouraged her to play for the church.
When she became a teacher, herself, Nally said, her one aim was to help children love music.
To that end, both at the church and school, she has organized plays, musical sketches and Christmas nativities year in and year out — arranging the music, writing scripts and making costumes.
During a reunion for the school last weekend, Nally said, “One guy told me, ‘You taught me to love music.’ And he plays in a band now. That was my goal. My goal was to make them like to sing. And I think I was successful.”
At Holy Trinity, she continues that mission today. She currently has 10 cantors or song leaders who sing for Masses. The youngest is 10 years old.
Father Hardesty said Nally’s knack for getting young people involved in church ministry is one of her special gifts.
“So many parishes are having trouble getting youth involved in ministry. Louise has been able to get youth involved in our parish through music. That’s a testament to her ministry,” he said.
Nally is quick to note that she’s had plenty of help in the last seven or so decades.
“There have been many organists over the years. Margaret Edelen played for many, many years,” she said, adding that Larry Burke, Steven Adams, the late Carole Taylor, Diane Osborne, Brandon Mudd and Gabriel Manion also played organ at Holy Trinity. And Larry Young played guitar. “They might play once a month or twice a month and that was a big help to me. For the last several years, I was the only organist, so I played Saturday and Sunday both.”
“I have also been so fortunate to have many wonderful cantors/song leaders to work with,” she said. “The choir members in past years and their director and organist were my good friends.”
Nally seems to be at the heart of all the music at Holy Trinity and, sometimes, in the region. She leads sing-a-longs at nursing and retirement homes in the area, homes where her late siblings once lived. And, for fun, she sings in the Mid-Kentucky Chorus, a community choir based at St. Catharine College.
At the end of nearly 70 years of ministry, Nally said her retirement feels bittersweet.
“It sure is going to be a change for me,” she said. “I’m still going to be in the Mid-Kentucky Chorus. I’m sure glad I have that to hang on to. I love all my song leaders and all these people I work with. It’s kind of a bittersweet time.”
The Louise Nally Appreciation Day on Aug. 3 will include music provided by the parish’s 10 song leaders and the Hamilton Choir, a family choir composed of Nally’s relatives.