CARMEL Cole never expected any reward for 50 years of service playing the church organ.
However, the 77-year-old organist was honoured at a Mass and community celebration at The Fort with Brisbane’s Passionist Community last Sunday.
And to top it off she received the Croce Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, known in English as the Cross of Honour, from Pope Francis.
“I am overwhelmed actually. I never expected that,” Mrs Cole, who received the medal for her outstanding service to The Fort from 1967 until the present day, said.
Mrs Cole (pictured at the organ) started out playing a reed organ, which she said had to be pumped with the feet to make it work.
These days she plays a small electric organ.
When a distraught parish priest 50 years ago asked Mrs Cole if she could help out with the music, she said she would give it a try.
She said life was much simpler in those early days because the priest would come out before Mass with the Living Parish Handbook and simply say “I think we will have this, this and this”.
She would find the music and Mass would begin. As music presentation became better co-ordinated, Mrs Cole’s husband Don looked after the children – three boys and a girl – while she went to The Fort to rehearse the music for Mass on Sunday.
Mrs Cole said she was first attracted to The Fort because the homilies were devoted to the love of God, not the hell and damnation sermons she was used to.
The congregation in the late 1960s was small.
Now Mass is celebrated in “the Shed”, The Fort’s cherished place of worship.
Mrs Cole started playing music at the age of eight at a convent at Home Hill. That’s where she learnt to play a reed organ.
“You had to keep your feet going to pump air to make the organ play,” she said.
“The nuns got me to play. I remember losing my way during one Mass, and a nun standing behind me leant over and said ‘keep playing, keep pumping’.”
Mrs Cole’s father was a stationmaster with the railways so transfers were commonplace – Townsville, Proserpine and finally Brisbane, where she attended teachers’ college and graduated in 1957.
She became a teacher at Taringa State School, and married in 1964.
Her husband’s parents attended Mass at The Fort, and that was Mrs Cole’s introduction to the Passionists, and to her career as an organist.
“I really can’t believe that 50 years has passed so quickly,” she said.
Mrs Cole now lives in a retirement village, but still has a piano at home for daily practise.
“It keeps your hands supple, and your reading going,” she said. “I try to practise every day, even if it is just ten minutes.
“I thought I better not play too late at night or annoy the neighbours, but they tell me to keep it going. They open their windows to listen.”
Mrs Cole enjoys the classics, especially Mozart.
And her musical highlight comes each year at Christmas – with carols followed by a Vigil Mass.