Noteworthy: Vernon organist retires after six decades of leading music

by Susan Moses

North Texas Catholic

March 22, 2022

Mary Boatman at organMary Boatman at organ
Mary Boatman at the organ at Holy Family of Nazareth Parish in Vernon, where she has played since the 1960s. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)


VERNON — After more than 60 years playing piano and organ at Mass, Mary Boatman of Holy Family of Nazareth Parish has retired from music ministry, but she hasn’t gone far. She has swapped the piano bench for the front pew of the Vernon parish.

Although Boatman acknowledged “music is my life,” attending Mass without worrying about being on the correct page before the next song is “beautiful. I’m at peace, I’m comfortable, I’m enjoying it.”

Playing the organ for Saturday Vigil Mass, Sunday morning Mass, funerals, and weddings became more difficult for Boatman as arthritis affected her hands. Physically and mentally, “I’m not as young as when I started,” she said. Of course, she started before most parishioners were born.

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, she told the NTC in a 2020 interview.

She began playing 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.

Her family now includes seven grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren.

“I’m rich,” she said. “I have two families: the one God gave me and my church family.”

Both families benefit from her holy habits. She begins each day with an hour of prayer, naming each priest who has served the parish and giving her family to God. “God just lends [your family] to you. They belong to God,” she said.

Father Phil Petta visits with Mary BoatmanFather Phil Petta visits with Mary Boatman
Father Philip Petta congratulates Mary Boatman on her retirement. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)


If the church is open, Boatman will be present. She attends daily Mass, Adoration, and Stations of the Cross. “People say you don’t have to go to church to pray,” she explained, “but I like to go visit Him; I like to pray in church because you are there with Him.”

Boatman, who turns 92 in April, was honored by past and present parishioners at a retirement party in the parish hall on March 20.

Her friend and fellow music minister Sherri Syptak described Boatman as faithful and compassionate. “She’s a ray of sunshine who just radiates her love of the Lord and her love of playing music. I’ve played with her for 30 years, and I could count the number of times she’s missed on one hand.

“Knowing her is a blessing. She’s a role model to younger women, a shining light that’s still shining. Sometimes I think, ‘I know a saint,’” Syptak continued.

Mary Boatman at keyboard

VERNON — After more than 60 years playing piano and organ at Mass, Mary Boatman of Holy Family of Nazareth Parish has retired from music ministry, but she hasn’t gone far.

Published (until 3/22/2036)
Back