Director of Campus Ministry James Erps, SJ, has high praise for the "wonderful ministerial and musical gifts" Meyer Chambers (shown during a recent rehearsal of the Liturgy Arts Group) has brought to Boston College: "He has a real understanding of liturgy and he has the ability to work so well with our students. It is obvious that he and the students enjoy singing together."
Making Mr. Washington Proud
Meyer Chambers dedicates his life to music, service and faith - and he has a school janitor to thank for it
By Stephen Gawlik
Ask Campus Minister for Liturgical Arts Meyer Chambers about the role models of his New Orleans boyhood and you'll get an unlikely answer.
"You know, janitors are cool people," says Chambers, with a knowing grin. "And Mr. Washington was the coolest.
"He was the elementary school janitor, but he did so much more. He did all the things I wanted to do: He directed the choir, he was the organist, he did all the weddings and funerals, but he was a wonderful teacher, too.
"Mr. Washington is the reason I became a musician."
Although he never learned the first name of Mr. Washington - who died decades ago - Chambers will never forget the profound impact the janitor from Corpus Christi Parish had on his life.
Chambers was recently awarded the Bishop Augustine Healy Award from the Archdiocese of Boston's Office for Black Catholics for his service work fostering educational opportunities and demonstrating strong personal faith and compassion - the same traits Chambers admired in Mr. Washington.
A graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans with undergraduate and graduate degrees in music education, Chambers worked for several years in Louisiana's Catholic schools as a music teacher. He would later take the opportunity to move his talents north to upstate New York and then to St. Sebastian's School in Needham, where he still serves each morning during chapel services.
Chambers, who now lives in West Roxbury, was appointed campus minister for liturgical arts at Boston College in 2003. He is responsible for preparing music, musicians and vocalists for every Mass celebrated on campus through the Office of Campus Ministry, including some weekend Masses, as well as the annual Welcome Mass, Mass of the Holy Spirit and Parents' Weekend Mass among others - large affairs that typically attract many worshippers. He also co-directs the Liturgy Arts Group.
"We are very lucky to have Meyer here as he brings such wonderful ministerial and musical gifts to Boston College," said Director of Campus Ministry James Erps, SJ. "He has a real understanding of liturgy and he has the ability to work so well with our students. It is obvious that he and the students enjoy singing together."
After meeting Cardinal Bernard Law in 1991, Chambers was offered the position of directing the newly formed Office for Black Catholics, which aims to offer pastoral services to African-American Catholics in the Greater Boston area.
"People put so much trust in me and the responsibilities were enormous," he said. "I ended up working there for 12 years and loved it. I can't tell you how important that was to me."
Chambers would go on to direct the Archdiocese of Boston's Black Choir, a position he still holds today. In 1993 he earned a master of liturgical music degree from the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music of The Catholic University of America.
The last year has been trying for Chambers and his family. Two relatives were killed when Hurricane Katrina struck and most others were displaced from New Orleans, some to Boston and Chambers' home.
"The sadness has been pretty devastating," he said. "Everyone is doing better, now. But there's still much to be done."
The silver lining in the cloud is that Chambers has had the chance to get closer to relatives he has not lived near in some years.
"I've not had the luxury of having my family so close. But it's bittersweet," he said.
Chambers says he knows very little about what remains in his old neighborhood, but hears that the Corpus Christi Parish did not fare well, although he is holding out hope.
"I remember my first Christmas Eve in the choir loft of that church. There was one kid who had the most beautiful voice and I knew I wanted to be like that," recalls Chambers. "I didn't know what it all encompassed, but I knew I wanted to be a part of that."