By Stephanie Kim from thehour.com
When Mary Higgins directs the Bridgeport Diocesan Youth Choir, one goal takes priority over the others. It’s not for the choir to deliver a flawless performance, but for all members to carry joy in every note that they sing.
“This is not about being perfect. This is not about adjudication,” the Wilton woman said. “This is about the glory of God.” Higgins was tapped by Bishop Frank Joseph Caggiano to lead the Bridgeport Diocesan Youth Choir, shortly after it was formed in 2015. Caggiano created the choir to give new life to the Catholic Church and to engage younger members of the Bridgeport Diocese, which includes more than 460,000 registered Catholics in Fairfield County and represents 45 percent of the total state population. And in just a year, the choir has grown to a group of 75 middle and high school diocese members from more than 32 parishes.
“The young choir members are the beginning of the renewal that we’ve been praying for,” Caggiano said. “Mary is an amazing coach and mentor to our young people. She brings a passion for teaching, a deep faith, and a commitment to music as a formative experience in the life of young people.” “We’re very fortunate to have her as our inaugural choir director,” he added. For Higgins, the director position could not have been “more perfectly designed” for someone like her, given her Catholic background and extensive career as a singer, teacher and conductor.
She attended Our Lady of Fatima School and Church in Wilton throughout her childhood and adolescent years, received a full ride to Northwestern University’s Music Education and Voice programs, won the Kahn Career Entry Award at the end of her two-year master’s of voice and opera program at Boston University, has shared the stage with the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra and other renowned performers and symphonies, and has directed the choir at Our Lady of Fatima Church for 17 years. “Bottom line for me, it combined the three things I love most,” Higgins said, “young people, my faith and music.”
These passions and values were instilled in her by her parents, who lived out their faith in and out of the house, she said. Her dad, who passed away 10 years ago, taught English in the Bronx, N.Y., for 36 years, and would open the school early in the morning so kids could play basketball and have something to eat. He would open the school at night, too, for kids who didn’t have a home to go to. Her mother was also an educator and worked at the Old Lady of Fatima School in Wilton for 36 years. She started the first kindergarten class, created an all-school musical and served as the school’s principal for 17 years. “I’m used to being from a family of people who give a lot and I don’t know how to be any other way,” Higgins said.
In her role as the director of the Bridgeport Diocesan Youth Choir, Higgins said she gives back by making sure that every middle or high school member who wants to join the choir is welcomed. “I do everything I can to make sure that every kid who wants to be apart of it is a part of it,” she said. “I work around every obstacle that they have, every after-school commitment, their jobs. I teach this six times a week so kids can go to any rehearsal they want all over the diocese.”
Higgins also juggles a few other jobs on the side, as a real estate agent for William Pitt Sotheby’s and the director of the choir the Treblemakers, an all-female vocal ensemble in Wilton, for 17 years. But none of these positions feel like actual work, she said — especially her job as the director of the Bridgeport Diocesan Youth Choir. “I say to myself every morning I wake up, how fortunate I am to be one of those people who can honestly say I do what I love to do every day of my life,” she said. “It’s a joy for me and an honor to work with these kids. I get so much out of it. I put my entire heart into it and they don’t let me down.”
Higgins is currently wrapping up preparations for the annual Arise and Shine Christmas Concert. Last year’s Christmas concert filled the Norwalk Concert Hall and this year’s was at the Klein Memorial Auditorium in Bridgeport on Sunday, with a set of 17 songs and few scriptural readings in four different languages. “It’s absolutely other worldly. It’s sheer joy for me,” Higgins said. “I think once the kids experience this concert, I think they’re changed forever too.”