Organist brings sound of music to Vernon parish for 60 years

by Susan Moses

North Texas Catholic

April 7, 2020

Mary Boatman
Mary Boatman (courtesy/Holy Family of Nazareth Parish)

VERNON  ̶  On Wednesday afternoons, Mary Boatman can be found practicing the organ at Holy Family of Nazareth Parish in Vernon. With more than 60 years of playing the organ at the church, why does she still practice on Wednesday afternoons? Because on Tuesdays and Thursdays, she volunteers at the hospital gift shop.

“I still have a lot to learn,” she said.

Music is the release for the joy and love Boatman feels inside of her. “It comes automatic. It just comes out. You’re not singing for people. You’re singing for the Lord. I love to sing to the Lord,” she gushed.

Growing up the youngest of 19 children in Houston, Boatman developed her musical talents on her own. She stayed late at her Catholic school to practice the piano, and she discovered a knack for being able to hear a musical phrase and repeat it. She found an easy book and taught herself to read music, a necessary skill because “now I need the notes,” she said.

She began making music in the Diocese of Fort Worth in the late 1950s at St. Mary Parish in Quanah, in the northwest corner of the diocese. There, she met and married her late husband. When they moved to Vernon in the 1960s, she began playing at the local parish while she raised her four children.

Boatman, who turns 90 on April 7, plays at both the Saturday Vigil Mass and the Sunday Mass. She admitted she is at the parish every time it’s open: for daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, or Stations of the Cross.

“Myself, I live here. Get me my little pillow and I sleep here all the time,” she said in jest. “I feel really good after I get out of the church on Saturdays or Sundays that I played here. I forget my troubles. I just thank the good Lord and He makes me feel really good.”

She plays traditional church hymns as well as modern worship songs. Her favorite religious song is “Lord, When You Came to the Seashore,” not because her name is Boatman, but because it has English and Spanish lyrics, and she speaks both languages fluently.

One of her worries is what will happen when she is no longer able to lead the congregation in music. Although it’s a rare weekend that Boatman isn’t perched on her stool behind the organ, she recently began teaching the organ to two young women in the parish who already play the piano. With them in training, she’s reassured that music ministry at the parish will continue.

When Father Philip Petta, the pastor of Holy Family of Nazareth, encounters Boatman, he’s reminded of a lesson from seminary. He said, “When I went to seminary, I was told by Father Tucker, ‘When you get to be a pastor, you are going to meet people in your church that are way holier than you are or than you’ll ever be. You might as well get that thought in your head right now.’ Mary is a prime example of that. If I had her shot of getting to heaven, I’d be very well content.”  

Mary Boatman

VERNON  ̶  On Wednesday afternoons, Mary Boatman can be found practicing the organ at Holy Family of Nazareth Parish in Vernon.

Published (until 4/7/2035)