Ellen Estallo has served as music director of our parish since 2018. She provided first-class music and made the parish her spiritual home, even as she traveled daily from central Jersey. Now she’s decided to take the same position at a parish closer to her home. Her last day is August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. I’ve been reflecting on her ministry in my three years as pastor.
I came to the parish just a couple of weeks after public Masses resumed in summer 2020. At that time, Ellen ingeniously organized a handbell choir to provide beautiful music without singing, which was discouraged for safety reasons. In the following months, Catholics gradually returned to Mass at parishes along the Kings Highway corridor that were now led by new pastors (Christ Our Light and St. Rose of Lima parishes also received new pastors that summer). This meant lots of new faces in the pews. I remember Ellen introducing herself to a couple seated and waiting for Mass. They later told me it was the first time a parish staff member had ever introduced herself to them in a Catholic parish. Some of the people she met became huge parts of the music ministry, like the Trinidad family at the late Sunday Mass.
In fact, building community has been a hallmark of Ellen’s work in the parish. She established a sort of small Christian community from the music ministry. The cantors especially often gathered for fun and fellowship outside of the parish. We’re all looking for community in our busy, digital world. Some call creating community the first step of Christian spirituality. No wonder Ellen had success recruiting top-notch cantors to complement her outstanding work at the piano and, more recently, at the organ.
Ellen was also responsible for music ministry innovations like the wedding showcase, in which couples could hear from our musicians, sing-alongs, and educational opportunities. Recently, she enhanced our monthly family Masses by training a children’s choir.
When Ellen announced her resignation, I told her it would be difficult to find someone as talented as her and near-impossible to find someone with her combination of talent and affability. I am already working with the pastoral council on finding new leadership for the music ministry. Please offer a prayer or two for our success!
Before she leaves, please be sure to thank Ellen for the great music and ministry. Even if you’ve never had much cause to talk to her before, it will mean so much to her to hear from you now.