June 17, 2011

Young girl puts musical talents at service of Perry County parish

Courtney Berger, 11, plays the organ at St. Mark Church in Perry County. Courtney has accompanied the congregation’s singing at the Tell City Deanery parish since she was 9, and also often assists as an altar server during Mass. (Photo by Danny Bolin)

Courtney Berger, 11, plays the organ at St. Mark Church in Perry County. Courtney has accompanied the congregation’s singing at the Tell City Deanery parish since she was 9, and also often assists as an altar server during Mass. (Photo by Danny Bolin)

By Sean Gallagher

Charlie and Dianne Gardner began their ministry in pastoral music when they were in grade school in the 1950s.

Nearly 60 years later, a young girl at St. Mark Parish in Perry County is following in their footsteps.

A few years ago, the Tell City Deanery parish had a bit of a problem. It had no one to accompany the singing of the congregation at its Sunday Mass.

The person who stepped forward to fill the need wasn’t a veteran pastoral musician or someone who had just played the piano for pleasure at home for years.

It was Courtney Berger, who was 9 at the time and had just started to take piano lessons, but was starting to show some real talent.

St. Mark’s pastor at the time, then-Father Paul Etienne, encouraged Courtney so she gave it a try.

“The piano is similar to the organ,” Courtney said. “So I just started messing around with it. And then, all of a sudden, I came up with all of these chords. Then people kept telling me that I’d get better every week. I’d add more chords.”

“I’m just amazed,” said Diane Berger, Courtney’s mother. “I’m very proud of her. She gets so much back from the people at church.

“I can’t go anywhere without somebody saying, ‘Oh, your daughter does such a great job.’ It feels good, and it feels good knowing she’s doing something for God and the parish.”

One of those people who is impressed by Courtney’s talents is Marlene Kunkler, who has been a member of St. Mark Parish for 44 years. She has seen a lot of things happen at the parish over the years, but few to compare to what she has seen—and heard—in Courtney.

“I think it’s at the top,” Kunkler said. “She’s just a lovable little girl. She just hops along with her black ponytail flopping back and forth. She’s always peppy. Everybody recognizes that she’s a special little girl.”

As an accomplished organist himself, Father Dennis Duvelius, St. Mark’s current pastor, is in a good position to understand just how special Courtney’s musical talent is.

“I get to hear what she does before Mass,” Father Duvelius said. “She comes in early and practices, and not necessarily Church music. While no one’s in there, she just sits down at the organ and goes wild.

“It’s really quite impressive what she can do at the age of 11.”

In addition to helping Father Duvelius at the organ bench, Courtney also assists him as an altar server—sometimes during the same Mass.

“I just rely on my [fellow] server to do the parts that I can’t do,” Courtney said of the times when she pulls double duty.

Nelda Waninger, a member of nearby St. Augustine Parish in Leopold, formerly served as an accompanist at St. Mark for its Saturday evening Mass. She was happy to see the musical talent Courtney has, and helped her learn about the organ.

“She just hopped up there and wanted to do this, and played one day on Sunday,” Waninger said. “She just wants to do so much. She’ll just keep getting better and better. I think she’s a gifted child.”

Courtney was born in China. Diane and her husband, David, adopted Courtney when she was 13 months old, and brought her home to Perry County.

The fact that God placed this young girl, born halfway around the world, in a small rural parish in Perry County makes her service even more special to her parents and her fellow parishioners.

“If we wouldn’t have adopted her, we wouldn’t have any idea where she would be today,” said David Berger. “Maybe in an orphanage somewhere. She wouldn’t ever have the chance to affect people’s lives as she does now.”

Courtney is pleased that she is able to see just how she touches people’s hearts.

“It’s fun to do,” said Courtney of playing the organ at Mass. “I just love how I put smiles on people’s faces.” †

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