Twelve years ago in the fall of 2003, Charlene Angelini was an unassuming senior in the College of Creative Arts at West Virginia University, pursuing her lifelong dream of studying performance through the School of Music.
She never could have imagined back then that her dream would one day guide her to serve as a lead cantor for the head of the Catholic Church.
Angelini was selected to join Pope Francis at the altar during the Philadelphia leg of his inaugural visit to the United States this past weekend (Sept. 26-27) for both the Saturday Mass at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul and the Sunday Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which brought a crowd of nearly one million people to the city.
While Angelini never could have predicted that she would sing for the pope during her time at WVU, she unequivocally credits her College of Creative Arts education and mentors for preparing her for this path.
“My time at West Virginia University absolutely influenced everything that I did this weekend,” said Angelini. “I came to WVU on a full scholarship for piano performance and I was very fortunate to study under Christine Kefferstan, who ignited a passion for music and a sense of professionalism within me that has influenced every step of my career.”
Kefferstan—who was a beloved professor of piano in the School of Music—passed away in 2014. Angelini said that Kefferstan was the key mentor who gave her tremendous opportunities to mature in her performance and inspired her to have an emotional connection to music that continues to guide and inspire her.
“I had the opportunity as a pianist to accompany all of the choirs at WVU during my time as a student; that taught me how to communicate with conductors and helped shape my passion for my craft,” said Angelini. “I credit Dr. Kefferstan for giving me those opportunities.”
Those opportunities led to Angelini’s selection as one of the lead cantors at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, where she has served as the archdiocesan cantor for most of the Cathedral’s big events since 2010.
“I auditioned on a whim and they hired me that day,” said Angelini. “I’ve been very blessed to be given this opportunity.”
While opportunities have been abundant for Angelini, she said that her journey to success was never a certain one.
“I think every artist has a bit of self-doubt; that’s something that comes from taking a career path that doesn’t come with a traditional nine-to-five job,” said Angelini. “But I just kept putting myself out there and working hard and when something amazing came along, I embraced it.”
When that amazing thing did come along and she found herself at the altar with Pope Francis pouring her heart and soul into her music and her religion, she found herself in disbelief.
“Everyone wants to know what was going through my head during that moment,” said Angelini. “I just kept thinking, ‘is this really happening?’ I found my grounding by thinking about my graces and calling upon those who have influenced me in my musical growth and my family—it was so important to me to do my best for them.”
Her best certainly did not go unnoticed by her friends at the College of Creative Arts, including Dean Paul Kreider.
“The College of Creative Arts is very proud of Charlene on being chosen to fill this important role during the papal mass,” said Kreider. “We are so pleased that she represented her art and her alma mater with so much professionalism.”
Angelini is feeling reflective as she prepares to celebrate her daughter’s first birthday this week with her husband of seven years. Above all, she is grateful for the many blessings she’s been given and humbled by her weekend in her hometown of Philadelphia.
“I was so moved to be able to sing for Pope Francis,” said Angelini. “It was a wonderful moment in time that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
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