Shouts and Murmurs: A verse or two for ‘Father Tony’
While driving into Tonganoxie Saturday morning I played the same CD I usually do, a Peter, Paul and Mary that includes two songs I learned in high school: "Blowing in the Wind" and "If I Had a Hammer." I was on the way to funeral services for Tony Molina at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. On the seat beside me was a manila folder containing pages with lyrics to the above-named songs, as well as lyrics to many others. The pages, stored carefully over three decades, are reminders of a 1960s Tonganoxie singing group -- the Young Christian Minstrels.
Father Tony, as we called him in the late 1960s after he started an interdenominational singing group for teen-agers, was a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church where he served with Father John Stitz.
The group started small. My first attendance was at the house behind the church where Tony would play the piano with one hand and direct our singing with the other, smiling from ear to ear as he encouraged us to reach the high notes, or more simply, to stay in tune. When the group expanded, we moved our practice sessions to the roomier church basement.
Because during those years Tonganoxie High School lacked the strong music programs it has today, for many of us Father Tony filled that void. He took the talent we had, incorporating a few great voices -- Cathy Putthoff and Joan Eibes -- and a few talented musicians -- Terry Skaggs on the guitar and John Schlup on the trombone, with the multitude of voices.
Because Father Tony later left the priesthood, I will refer to him as he was known throughout the last 30 years of his life -- Tony.
In the 1960s, Tony was a man who let his dreams roam the world. We benefited. I was told by Janice Sorensen, a YCM member who attended Saturday's service with her sister, Jane, that the group's first performance was not in the Catholic Church, but in the Congregational Church.
Tony's connections took us farther than Tonganoxie churches. We sang at an inner city church in Kansas City, Kan., as well as at an elaborate private home in Mission Hills. We sang at Forbes Air Field in Topeka, we sang at Haskell Indian Nations University, we sang on the stage of Tonganoxie High School. We sang on the bus, we sang everywhere we went.
Janet Banks, who also attended Saturday's service, recalled that Tony arranged a group trip to a Peter, Paul and Mary concert.
YCM must have included 100 or more participants at one time or another during its three-year existence. For many of us, the peak was a cross-country summer trip by chartered bus that included a performance in an inner-city St. Louis neighborhood. Mind you, this was during an era when racial tensions were high. Tony arranged for us to stay at homes of African American families in St. Louis.
That summer of 1969 was eventful, not only for us, but for the nation. While on the bus near St. Louis we heard Neil Armstrong's voice on the radio as he said for the first time: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
In Dayton, Ohio, we performed at the University of Dayton. On the way to our next performance stop in Virginia Beach, Va., our bus broke down in the Appalachian Mountains. We hiked up a mountain as the bus sputtered up the road behind us. For many of us, including myself, that trip allowed our first ocean swim.
I can't imagine the courage that inspired Tony to plan the cross-country adventure. For one thing there was the fund-raising. My mother recalled Tony saying what tipped his decision to make the trip. He was on an elevator. A man got on and Tony said: "Say one word, just one word."
The man said, "Faith."
The trip began.
Now, for Tony and his wife, Elaine (Sanderson) Molina, who died in 1990, the earthly trip is over. Yet Tony's music will long remain a part of my life and I would imagine a part of the lives of many others. As Father Mark Goldasich said during Tony's funeral mass, take a moment or two to listen to songs that remind you of Tony.
And let the music he taught us, the songs he wrote, the songs we sang and their messages of peace and brotherly love, live on.