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ND mourns Walton’s death

Sarah Mervosh | Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dr. Gail Walton, director of music at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, will be remembered as a dedicated musician, teacher and Catholic who touched the lives of many members of the Notre Dame community.

Walton, an organist and director of two Notre Dame choirs, died last week after a long illness. She was 55.

“This was not a job. This was a passion and her life,” Fr. Peter Rocca, rector of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, said. “Her impact was tremendous. She touched the lives of so many students.”

Senior Jordan Schank said when he first auditioned for the Liturgical Choir, he was an intimidated freshman with no choir experience.

 “I know Gail could see my shaking knees. I don’t think I have ever felt so intimidated by a woman in high heels before,” he said. “She took note of my nervousness and she did her best to calm me down.”

With Walton’s help and encouragement, Schank said he was able to learn the challenging music and improve his singing dramatically.

“I can with full faith say that Gail taught me everything I know about singing,” Schank said. “She took a young, inexperienced freshman with terrible Midwestern vowels and formed me into the confident singer I am today.”

Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., was the homilist at Walton’s funeral and spoke to a standing room-only congregation at the Basilica Tuesday morning about Walton’s impact on the Notre Dame community.

“Year after year, season after season, the walls of this place have echoed with the glory and sensitivity of Gail’s music,” he said. “At Notre Dame moments of joy and sorrow, Gail made great music that lifted our spirits.

“Today, the Basilica is filled with only a few of an army of her many friends who loved her.”
Walton directed the Liturgical Choir and the Basilica Schola, which she also founded. She assisted with music at a number of University liturgical events, such as opening mass, Junior Parents Weekend mass and Commencement mass, Rocca said.

Walton also touched the lived of countless couples as they prepared for marriage and worked with families planning funerals for loved ones, Rocca said.

“The Notre Dame community will miss her dedication, her zeal, her knowledge of the liturgy and music, her expertise,” Rocca said. “And ultimately her gracious presence and her wonderful smile.”

Although Walton dedicated her life to music, it wasn’t for her own benefit, but meant to help others, Vice President of the Liturgical Choir Christie Marden said.

“More than anything, Gail valued sacred music and what it can bring to the liturgy. Even though she spent decades making beautiful music, her ministry was never about herself,” Marden said. “She was always reminding the choir … that our job is to help the congregation to pray.”

Schank also said Walton’s focus was on helping others strengthen their faith.

“Gail always stressed that our work in the Basilica was always a ministry and never a performance,” he said. “The choir climbs the stairs to the loft each Sunday morning to help others pray, to enter more deeply into the magnificent mystery of the Eucharist.”

Jenky said in his homily Walton’s impact on her students extended beyond her knowledge of music.

“She taught those choir members not only music, but how to live and how to love,” he said.

Both Schank and Marden said Walton made an impact on their lives beyond music.

“The Notre Dame community has lost a fine woman, mentor, friend and musician. Her warm smile and kind heart will be sorely missed,” Schank said.

Marden added: “I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to get to know such a beautiful woman. She will be missed.”

Jenky encouraged those at the funeral to model Walton’s dedication to her faith and music during this period of grief.

 “When all our human explanations seem inadequate to describe all that we experience, we worship to the Lord,” he said. “Where our words fail, we sing to the Lord … In terrible grief and sorrow, it is music that clearly expresses what we cannot say.”