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Archives Musician retires after 53 years at organ bench

Oct. 9, 2019

By Darcy Fargo

COLTON – For Cindy Hennessy, playing the organ for St. Patrick’s Church in Colton, has been a labor of love and a way for her to contribute to her parish.

Hennessy first took a seat at the organ bench in 1966.

“I was a music teacher, and they needed an organist in Colton,” said Hennessy, 79. “It was all volunteer. Musicians didn’t get paid in those days. I just wanted to do it. I loved the idea of accompanying people who sing in church. And I was just starting out. I didn’t have much money. This was how I could give.”

She continued to volunteer in the role for more than four decades before accepting payment for her work. Hennessy retired from the position earlier this year.

“I stopped because I have (rheumatoid arthritis),” she said. “I wanted to retire before people started hearing me make mistakes. I still go in the church and practice, though. I want to make sure I can still play.”

In her time behind the organ, Hennessy has served under 12 pastors, including one who served the parish two different times.

“It wasn’t really a challenge,” she said, of changing pastors. “It was kind of fun. Each had their own ways, yet there’s a steadiness in the Mass and how it has to go. They were all great about letting me choose the hymns, and the people seemed to like my choice of hymns.”

Hearing any choir singers and the parish as they grasped new hymns brought Hennessy some of her favorite moments.

“I really enjoyed when I would teach them a new song, and it would work,” she said. “People really started singing in our church. I could feel the energy. And people would tell me they liked it. I liked the feedback.”
Hennessy said she tends to gravitate toward older, traditional hymns.

“When I was a kid, I was brought up as a Presbyterian,” she said. “I knew all those old hymns. A lot of those hymns are also used in the Catholic Church. People always seemed to enjoy those.”

Hennessy was born in Johnstown and attended college at Potsdam’s Crane School of Music, where she met her husband, Tim.

“We got married in 1960, and he got his first job in Colton,” she said, noting the couple arrived in the community in 1961. “I didn’t turn Catholic until after I was married. I wanted the family to be united in one faith. My first priest, Father (John W.) Canning made a big impression on me. He baptized me into the Church.”
Hennessy has five children, 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A retired music teacher at Colton-Pierrepont Central School, Hennessy remains committed to serving her community.

She is chair of the Colton Zoning Board of Appeals, and she volunteers with the town historical society and Colton-Pierrepont Senior Racketeers. She has also been involved with the town Planning Board, the Colton Tourism and Beautification Committee, the Potsdam College Council and Colton Country Days.

“I like to be active, and I like to help people,” she said. “I still say volunteering is the most rewarding thing anyone can do.”

Though she thoroughly enjoyed her time as organist for her church community, Hennessy said she won’t miss the job.

“I’m not going to miss anything,” she said. “I’m old enough to know I did what I wanted to do, and I loved it. You know when you’re ready to retire. I knew when I was ready to retire from the school system, and I knew when I was ready to retire as organist. But I haven’t retired from life.”

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