August 26, 2022

Priest hits high note in living his dream of singing national anthem

Seminarian Isaac Siefker, a member of St. John the Apostle Parish in Bloomington, throws an axe on Aug. 9 during an outing of archdiocesan seminarians to Anarchy Axe Throwing in Indianapolis. The outing was part of the annual convocation of archdiocesan seminarians. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father Rick Ginther and the Indianapolis Indians’ mascot, Rowdie, pose for a photo at Victory Field before the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis sang the national anthem before a home game on Aug. 4. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

On the day that Father Rick Ginther lived his “bucket list” dream of singing the national anthem at a professional baseball game, a friend sent him a pre-game message that read, “I’m certain you will knock it out of the ballpark.”

Actually, the experience of singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Indianapolis Indians’ home game at Victory Field on Aug. 4 was even better for the 71-year-old pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis—in ways beyond his a cappella performance. (Related: Watch a video of the Fr. Ginther singing the anthem)

After all, while it’s a great blessing to live a dream by using your God-given talents, there’s extra meaning when you live that dream among people who have touched your life and who have had their lives touched by you.

And that’s exactly what happened for Father Ginther.

It all began when he arrived at the stadium shortly before 6 p.m. and was greeted by a group of his classmates—and their wives—from the 1968 class of the former Latin School in Indianapolis.

“It was humbling. There were 16 in the group. One came from Highland, another from Evansville, and another from Granger,” Father Ginther says about the three Indiana communities far from Indianapolis. “I was doing something that would take a minute and a half. It meant a lot to me. Their laughter helped. They were very encouraging. It made me realize how much they cared.”

So did the people he met inside the stadium.

Walking along the concourse, he heard someone call, “Father Rick!” from behind him. It was someone who was a teenager back when Father Ginther was the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Richmond. Now in his 40s, the man was married with four children. He had seen the story in The Criterion about Father Ginther’s bucket list dream and told his family that’s how he wanted to celebrate his birthday. All six of them were there to hear the priest sing.

So were people from his former parishes of St. Margaret Mary and St. Patrick, both in Terre Haute. And from his former parish of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis, a group led by their current rector, Father Patrick Beidelman.

Father Daniel Bedel also came with a group of friends. Indeed, everywhere Father Ginther turned, he saw a familiar face and heard a friend wishing him well.

“I really felt loved,” Father Ginther says. “People were smiling. They were happy to be there. It was kind of overwhelming. I get to do the bucket list dream, but beyond this, it was, ‘I love you,’ and ‘We want you to enjoy this.’ ”

And that’s what he set out to do as he strode onto the playing field with a few Indians’ staff members and his friend, Chris Swinefurth.

Swinefurth is the one who had been there in Las Vegas with Father Ginther last year, a trip during which the priest lived one of his other bucket list dreams—driving a Shelby GT Mustang on a racetrack at more than100 miles per hour.

With that dream checked off the list, Swinefurth asked his friend what he wanted to do next. So Swinefurth set his pastor’s dream of singing the national anthem in motion.

As he stood behind home plate waiting to live that dream, Father Ginther saw some children from Our Lady of Lourdes wave to him and call his name. “One of them gave me a double high-five through the fencing,” he says.

Then, at 7 p.m., the Indians’ announcer told the crowd that Father Rick Ginther would perform the national anthem.

It was his time to sing, to live this dream.

Wearing his black clerics and his white Roman collar, he walked onto a small stand near home plate, stood in front of the microphone and looked out toward the American flag beyond the left field wall of the stadium.

“I lowered my head, closed my eyes, and put my hands behind my back. It’s a singing posture,” he says. “I just started. And the song took on life. It was delicious. From that very first moment, I knew I was OK. It just flowed out of me. Surprisingly, I was very relaxed and very focused. As a singer, it just felt good.”

The crowd’s response was terrific.

“It was quite an ovation, and it wasn’t just my friends. It was the whole place,” Father Ginther says. “As they walked me up the stairs from the field to the concourse, people told me ‘Well done’ and they liked it. An Indians’ worker came up to me and said, ‘That was absolutely beautiful. It gave me goose bumps.’ ”

In the midst of the congratulations, Swinefurth smiled at Father Ginther and said, “Next stop, how about the Super Bowl halftime show?”

“I looked at him and said, ‘No!’ I was so relieved to have it done,” Father Ginther says. “Afterward, I spent almost all of the game finding the folks I knew were there. I thanked them for coming and spent some time with them. I did that for seven innings, wandering from one end of the stadium to the other.”

The reality of the experience lived up to the dream for him.

“On a scale from 1 to 10, I give it a 10. As a singer, it was very rewarding. As a human being, I felt love. As a pastor, I felt appreciated. As a citizen, it felt good to be thanked for doing it. That’s a pretty good bucket list fulfillment.”
 

(To see Father Rick Ginther’s performance of the national at the Indianapolis Indians’ Aug. 4 home game at Victory Field, go to cutt.ly/FrGintherSings.)

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