Thomas Stehle, center, the newly named director of music for the Papal Liturgy that Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate at Nationals Park on April 17, visits with musical colleagues LynnŽ Gray, left, of St. Anthony's Parish, N.E., and Henry Herrera of St. Thomas More Parish, S.E.  For the past 17 years, Stehle has served as pastoral associate for liturgy and music at Our Lady of Mercy Parish , Potomac.
Thomas Stehle, center, the newly named director of music for the Papal Liturgy that Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate at Nationals Park on April 17, visits with musical colleagues LynnŽ Gray, left, of St. Anthony's Parish, N.E., and Henry Herrera of St. Thomas More Parish, S.E. For the past 17 years, Stehle has served as pastoral associate for liturgy and music at Our Lady of Mercy Parish , Potomac.
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When Thomas Stehle heard that Pope Benedict XVI would be coming to Washington, D.C., and celebrate a papal Mass at the new baseball stadium, one of his first thoughts was what an awesome undertaking it will be for the liturgy's then-unnamed music director.

This week, the Archdiocese of Washington announced that Stehle has been named the director of music for the Papal Liturgy. "It's a tremendous honor, and I feel that it's a tremendous responsibility," he said of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. "I didn't expect it at all, but I'm happy to serve."

For the April 17 liturgy, Stehle will direct a 250-voice Papal Mass Choir, along with additional ethnic choirs, for a total of about 550 voices, as well as a pianist, organist and a 25-piece orchestra.

Stehle, who serves as pastoral associate for liturgy and music at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Potomac, said the final musical selections for the Mass are being worked out, but one thing's for sure Ð the liturgy's music will highlight the rich cultural heritage of the archdiocese.

"We also expect it to be very reflective of the wonderful diversity of the Archdiocese of Washington," he said.

A native of Butler, Pa., Stehle, 51, said he grew up in a musical household. "Music was always a part of my life, my family and growing up in an Irish Catholic family," he said. "I carried that into adulthood."

He graduated from Duquesne University and went on to become the associate director for the Office of Worship in Peoria, Ill., where he also served as director of music at St Mark's Church and the assistant director of the Cathedral Schola Cantorum. He later continued music studies at Westminister Choir College (now part of Rider University) in Princeton, N.J.

Stehle frequently served as the cantor or psalmist at diocesan celebrations at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh, including Archbishop Donald Wuerl's installation Mass as the bishop of Pittsburgh in 1988.

He came to Washington, D.C. in 1988 and began graduate work in liturgical studies at the Catholic University of America. He later received a master's degree in theology, as well as a master's degree in architecture from Catholic University.

In the Archdiocese of Washington, he first served as director of music and liturgy at Holy Redeemer Parish, College Park. For the past 17 years, he has been pastoral associate for liturgy and music at Our Lady of Mercy Parish.

For the papal Mass, Stehle said the music "will be familiar and will focus on the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives."

Stehle added that there will be a few original musical arrangements unique for this Mass. "There will be some new things Ð new texts which speak of the Holy Spirit, but with tunes that people know," he said.

According to Stehle, the Papal Mass Choir will be composed of people invol-ved in music ministry in the archdiocese. Auditions will be held in mid-February at locations throughout the archdiocese. An announcement will be sent to all pastors and to adults in music ministry, including music directors, cantors and choir members. Rehearsals will begin in early March.

Stehle said he's grateful for the support he's received from people all over the archdiocese involved in music ministry. "An instant choir doesn't happen in an instant," he said. "There's been a tremendous willingness to pitch in and help out at any level."

Although the Mass will be a large, public event, Stehle said at the heart of the liturgy is the Eucharistic celebration, not unlike what Mass-goers experience every week in their own parishes.

"The most important thing to me is that everyone present is fully engaged," he said. "The music is aimed at allowing the assembly to take up its role and not just be spectators, but full participants in the celebration, no matter where they are sitting."