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Sharing faith, sharing music

April 22, 2020

Editor’s note: This is an installment of an ongoing series featuring how Catholics of the Diocese of Ogdensburg are living out their faith. To suggest an individual to be featured in this series, please call the North Country Catholic at 315-393-2920 or email dfargo@rcdony.org.

By Eileen Greenwood
Contributing Writer

WATERTOWN – Joan Grappote Carlo is bolstered in her faith by sharing her love of music and bringing Jesus to others, both in Communion and by sharing joy.

Carlo, a resident of Watertown, is the third child of five in her family, (four of the children were girls). She grew up in a home with one Methodist and one Catholic parent. Her grandmother was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in Philadelphia, and Carlo credits her love for teaching from her grandmother.

Carlo became a teacher and taught many years at different grade levels before retiring. It was her mother who nurtured and built a strong base of music in Carlo’s life. Carlo learned to play clarinet, and this was a way to help with her asthma. But that was just the beginning.

Carlo, her three sisters and mother formed a musical group and began to play for the mother/daughter banquet and as a folk group at St. Patrick’s.

“Mom said, you will get better when you play for a group,” Carlo said.

Carlo later taught herself guitar, though now she is taking professional lessons to further improve her playing skills.

Carlo fondly remembers playing for Sister Maurice Black’s special religious education class of adults.

“They love music and seeing them clapping along made me happy,” she said.

Eventually Carlo began playing for Holy Family Church, as lead guitarist for the celebration of masses. It was then, that life threw her a hard curveball. On December 5, at age 51, Carlo’s Mother died after having been ill with cancer. With a full schedule ahead to play for church, including the Christmas season, suddenly it was going to be a challenge to perform.

“But I got through it. You pray for strength,” said Carlo, who continued playing for Masses despite her devastating loss.

Six years later, Carlo was hit with another heartbreaking loss, as her sister also succumbed to cancer. Carlo was only 38, and her sister 39 when she passed. Having had Hospice in their home to assist with both of these difficult times, Carlo turned to grief counseling for help.

“I look back and I think it was amazing to go through all that,” she said.

Later Carlo would help children who needed grief counseling.

Carlo began taking classes for lay ministry. When she was invited to sing at a service at Summit Village, a home for elderly, she said “yes.” That “yes” grew into a ministry of love and music that Carlo shares frequently. She sings at the services, but also has sing-a-longs on different floors with songs the residents know. Carlo even dresses up as Mrs. Claus at Christmas. After one show as Mrs. Claus, she reappeared dressed normally and heard from one resident, “Oh, you missed the show! It was wonderful!”

Carlo has taken a major role in the Elks club for 13 years and is serving now as Grand Knight. Her ministry in the Elks program includes a great variety of charity acts, such as collecting donations for the SPCA and the school backpack food program, hosting winter clothing drives for kids, holding Thanksgiving Harvest Dinners for the elderly, (even transporting them to and from dinner) and holding luncheons for veterans, just to name a few.

Carlo is very humble about the volunteer work she does, which fills her days now that she is retired from teaching. When asked how she stays strong Carlo stated, “With Gratitude. My life is so blessed. I have been given gifts to help and to give back. My Mom was my best friend and role model. Just watching her give of herself all the time inspired me.”

She also spoke of days that she is less motivated, how she thinks of the people she sings for.

“I will never forget this one woman who never ever spoke… not a word,” Carlo said. “She just sat and listened. And then I put the microphone up to her mouth, and she sang, too.”

Carlo noted that the residents’ feedback inspires her to persist in the ministry.

“Some days I don’t really feel like going, but seeing the elderly clap along, or try to do the hokey pokey in their wheelchairs, it just puts me in a better mood,” she said. “I always leave there happy.”

Carlo also has a dog, Calleigh, who goes and visits the Summit Village residents with her. The residents enjoy petting and interacting with Calleigh, as well as giving her treats.

Carlo has a multitude of ways she finds to serve her church and community. In addition to sharing her love of music, Carlo takes Communion to the residents at nursing homes. She continues to play at masses and gatherings. Carlo credits her happiness to God for all things, being grateful for her friends and family, and those she met and remains close to in lay ministry.

Carlo is still very close to her Dad, bringing him Communion regularly and very much enjoys spending time with him. She also says she sees a miracle in her nephew, born weighing only one pound, surviving and thriving, and she is very close to him. She speaks of him with such pride and love.

“He is now 23, and although he has Autism he is doing very well,” she said. “All of these things bring you to your faith. I wrote a song for him. He is special to me.”

The words of the song reflect Carlo’s gratitude in God and life (lyrics can be found at the end of the article).

Carlo volunteers on the Commissioned Ministry Board, crediting the formation program for also giving her a strong foundation for her Catholic faith. She loves to read, especially Word Among Us.
Her advice to others?

“Try to come out of yourself for part of your day,” she said. “Use the gifts you have been given. Do it for someone else-and it will make you feel better.”

Joan Carlo’s song for her nephew:
Here you are, ready to dance with life. You’re a precious child, so special, so loved. From the stars above, the windows from heaven, the angels are watching, We know.

We wait, we pray, we hope. As you begin your journey with us. We’re so proud of you, our shining star. You’re ready to dance with life.

So eager to come into the hearts of us all, Your Mom and Dad are so special, so loved. In the rainbow of time you are a treasure. The angels are watching, We know.

We wait, we pray, we hope, As you begin your journey with us. We’re so proud of you, our shining star. You’re ready to dance with life.

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