St. Francis Xavier couple brings music to their faith community
By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY - "We are ordinary people," said David Witt. He lounged in a corner of the love seat next to his wife, Ramona, and looked around the room filled with framed photographs and plants. "We're just the people in the pew."
Marty Denzer/Key photo
David and Ramona Witt play music and coordinate musicians at St. Francis Xavier Parish, Kansas City.
The Witts are parents of an 18 year-old son. She works in admitting at St. Joseph Health Center. He's a piano teacher.
They attend Mass at St. Francis Xavier Church.
They have brought music to the liturgy, to the school and the community for many years.
It was a natural evolution, Witt said. He began playing piano at his parish church in Pierce City as a fifth grader. By age 15, he was playing for both Sunday Masses, hitching a ride home from the pastor, since home was over five miles away from the church.
The Witts met and married at Marymount College in Salina, Kan., where both were students. They moved to Commerce, Texas, where Witt was hired to teach in the music department at East Texas State University, now a campus of Texas A&M University.
They joined a small mission parish, the only Catholic Church in Commerce. Witt remembered the "unique feeling of being in the minority, a Catholic in the heart of the Bible Belt." There was a different sense of community because the parishioners were in the minority, he said.
"I taught CCD in Commerce," recalled Ramona."Oh David, do you remember when we went out for dinner that night and the waitress asked if I wanted a beer? I told her no thanks, I was teaching at church later that evening. The waitress was so apologetic, she thought I might be offended," Ramona said.
The Witts gradually found themselves becoming immersed in the "daily doin's" of the mission parish, mainly because of its smallness. In a small community, a great many people get involved, Witt said.
"It teaches you that it doesn't work if people just show up for Mass on Sunday, put their envelope in the basket and leave. When the parish is small, the majority of the congregation gets involved in more than just the liturgy and the coffee and donuts. They clean, they keep the records, they plan the liturgies and they make the music. We were musicians," he said.
"We've been more at home in settings like that," Ramona said.
A series of music jobs and courses took the Witts, and baby son Adam, to Alva, Okla., back to Salina and, in the summer of 1989, landed them in Kansas City. David was planning on pursuing a doctorate in music at the Universtiy of Missouri Kansas City, and they hoped to settle close to the campus. A house was available down the street from Grant Hall, the fine arts building where David's classes would be, and two blocks from St. Francis Xavier Church. The Witts joined the parish and enrolled then 6-year-old Adam in St. Francis Xavier School.
"We found ourselves a church home," said Ramona.
There the Witts discovered Sunday homilies directed at people who wanted to get involved in parish life. They answered the call.
Witt said the couple's involvement in the parish began with music. Feeling a desire to hear church music played the way he wanted it played, Witt started playing the piano at early Mass. Soon, Jesuit Father Glenn Mueller, then pastor of St. Francis Xavier, asked Witt to take over coordinating the scheduling of musicians as well. Ramona began singing with the choir, and acted as cantor at one or two of the weekend Masses. Both David and Ramona played and sang at weddings, funerals and other special liturgies.
Ramona, who is professionally trained in voice, also sang in programs at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. She performed in the dramaturgy, "Stations of the Cross," at Visitation Parish for several Lenten seasons and spent a summer performing for the Kansas City Renaissance Festival.
Several years ago she auditioned for and won a place in Musica Sacra, the Rockhurst University choral and orchestral ensemble for sacred masterworks.
As Adam grew, so did his parents' involvement in their church and school. David played piano for all-school Masses, and frequently worked with St. Francis Xavier students for school concerts, as well as teaching piano to many of those students.
David worked side-by-side with Adam as a Boy Scout leader, encouraging, camping and watching as Adam went on to earn his Eagle Scout award last year.
Ramona served on the school's advisory board, worked with the Parent Teacher Organization, helped with the fund raisers and participated in many of St. Francis Xavier School's multicultural programs.
Ramona currently serves on the St. Francis Xavier Parish Council. She said she plans to stay involved with the school, even though Adam graduated long ago, because of the rich heritage and future of the school.
The couple agreed that while they weren't rich or famous, their lives, centered around their family, their music and their church, have been good.
"I don't think we could have had a better life. We're just every day Catholics," David said.