In Your Midst

From the Archives

Dec. 2008

A Glimpse of a Golden Age

The Schola Cantorum, 1932.  Charlie, Martin, Bobby, Mark, John, Albert, Joe, Bill, Billy, Emmett,
Vincent, Wally, Mickey, and Guy, all under the able direction of Mr. Theodore Sanger, choirmaster.
John Van Horn is in the back row, fourth from the right.  Mary Van Horn (John's mother
couldn't look at the picture without pointing out that John's neck bow is crooked!

        On October 13, 1933, Bishop Gerald Shaughnessy was installed as the Bishop of Seattle in St. James Cathedral.  After the Mass, the new bishop took the Cathedral’s pastor, Monsignor James Gordon Stafford, aside to compliment him on the beautiful liturgy.  The Progress reported the conversation: “The Bishop told Monsignor Stafford that he thought, when the Cathedral Schola began its sweet music, that only one boy was singing, so perfectly did the voices of the eight lads blend.  ‘That is the highest compliment you could pay the boys,’ said Monsignor Stafford.  ‘It is the reward of many years of training.’”

        This 1932 photo of the Schola Cantorum was recently given to Father Ryan by Mrs. Gwen Van Horn of Friday Harbor, the widow of John Van Horn (fourth from the right in the back row).  On the back of the photo is a fascinating story, a treasured addition to the Cathedral Archives:

        “This picture was originally the property of Theodore Sanger, the choirmaster at St. James Cathedral.  The Schola Cantorum was Mr. Sanger’s creation.  While Dr. Palmer was the organist, the choir saw him only once a week at Sunday High Mass.  Mr. Sanger was employed on a full time basis and was a very interesting person.  English by birth, he was raised in the Choir School at Exeter Cathedral and was an accomplished musician.  Under his direction the Schola, in addition to singing at the Cathedral’s daily High Mass, weddings, and funerals, entered the Boys’ Choir Competition in the British Empire Music Festival the year it was held in Victoria, British Columbia, and won second place in the event.  The choir also sang at lunch time in the Georgian Room at the Olympic Hotel during the Christmas season.  One of the Schola’s favorite occasions was singing at the Bishop’s annual Mass for the Carmelite nuns at their convent.  The reward for this was a huge breakfast prepared by the sisters and a chance to talk to them afterwards.”

        In 1935, Monsignor Stafford was reassigned to Assumption in Bellingham.  He invited Theodore Sanger to come with him and start a boys’ choir there.

        John Van Horn relates the surprising and bittersweet sequel. “My parents were on a business trip to Vancouver and stopped at the Bellingham Hotel for dinner.  To their great surprise, there was Mr. Sanger (by then quite old) dressed in a bellhop’s uniform, carrying guests’ luggage and running the elevator.  He took my parents to his small room in the basement and gave them this picture so that it would be well taken care of.  Everything else from his former life had been sold off.”

        The picture Mr. Sanger treasured now has a home at St. James Cathedral.


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