Church history: Irene Ramos has been Christ the Redeemer's organist 50 years

Christ the Redeemer Church is 50 years old, and for 50 years Irene Ramos has been the church organist.

She performs for three masses on weekends, every weekend, and she provides the organ music for the children’s choir and for funerals, communions, sometimes weddings, and more, plus the rehearsals that go along with those events.

Retired from U.S. Motors, Ramos said she doesn’t have a formal music education — no music degree from a college or university, but rather a traditional family music education.

She’s calls herself “the old fashioned parish organist.”

“When I was 10, my mother said, ‘You’re going to take piano lessons,’” Ramos said. “There were no ifs, ands or buts. I took piano lessons.”

There was a piano in the house, and lessons were just a matter of course for Ramos and her siblings growing up in New Bedford, Mass. She studied piano privately for 10 years.

Ramos was 15 years old, living with her family in Massachusetts, when a neighbor who played organ for the local church told Ramos she couldn’t make it one Sunday. Ramos filled in. And since her neighbor didn’t really have time to perform the church music anymore, Ramos took over.

With the organ gig officially hers, Ramos studied organ for five years under an experienced organist who performed at a nearby cathedral.

“We worked on the fingering and the keys, and then after that the pedals, before I put them both together,” Ramos said, explaining that to her, the organ is similar to the piano and it wasn’t a big leap going from one to the other. It is mostly the touch of the keys and the impact of the pedals that are different, she said.

Ramos played for nine years at Our Lady of the Assumption in New Bedford, Mass.

“I thought, what an honor to be playing for God, to be playing for the church,” she said, explaining the mindset that led her to play that first Sunday, which is the same mindset that has kept her playing all these years.

She was married in 1957 and left her hometown and her church to come to Milford.

“Back in those days, when you left a parish you knew you would be going to a new parish,” she said, noting that the pastor in Massachusetts gave her a sealed letter to present to her new church in Milford.

She delivered the envelope to St. Mary’s Parish when she arrived in Milford, and it wasn’t long before she was tapped to teach CCD and then to play piano and organ for various church events and programs.

A friend later told her that the sealed envelope from Massachusetts said that Ramos would do whatever church work was asked of her.

In the mid-1960s St. Mary’s Parish had grown so large that church leaders determined that another Catholic church was needed to serve the population. Ramos was one of the people who would move to the new parish of Christ the Redeemer, and she was named its organist before the new building was even built.

When the new church building was being completed and the Christ the Redeemer parishioners were meeting at Mathewson Elementary School, a Ladies’ Guild bulletin noted that a church organist would be needed. Ramos offered her services, and it wasn’t long before the founding pastor, Father Richard Toner, told her, “You have the job if you want it.”

She took it, of course.

Ramos has a number of stories to go along with all these years as church organist. She remembers playing for a wedding at the church more than 30 years ago. She recalls that when she heard the Irish names of the families in the wedding party, she decided at the last minute to swap out the traditional wedding march for “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” and the tune accompanied two elderly grandmothers as they marched down the aisle.

The family loved it.

Last year she was playing at the funeral of a woman she knew had been a huge Jeopardy fan: During her life, friends and family were not allowed to make phone calls to her at 7 p.m. because that’s when Jeopardy started. During the service, Ramos very softly played the notes to the Jeopardy show opening medley.

“Everyone who knew had a smile on their face,” Ramos said.

Today Ramos is 83: She will be 84 in November, and this year marks her 59th wedding anniversary to James Ramos.

Those are big milestones, and she has others: She and her husband have five children — Gary, David, Jeffrey, Marie Elena and Stephanie — as well as grandchildren and grandchildren on the way.

And there’s this: The number of churches at which she has played the organ.

“I made a list once of all the churches I’ve played at,” Ramos said, noting she’s played at nearly all of Milford’s churches, plus churches in Fairfield and Rhode Island. “I got to 50.”

The church will be celebrating its 50th anniversary with an anniversary dinner Friday, Sept. 30, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Costa Azzurra and an anniversary Mass Sunday, Oct. 2 at 10:30 a.m. at the church. Father Cyriac Malikai will honor Ramos for her years of service during the anniversary celebration.
Check back later for our feature story on the 50th anniversary of Christ the Redeemer Church.