Catholic Sentinel photos by Clarice Keating
As he has done every week for 61 years, Ray Lynch conducts choir members at St. Charles Church in Northeast Portland.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Clarice Keating
As he has done every week for 61 years, Ray Lynch conducts choir members at St. Charles Church in Northeast Portland.
“I just can’t stop singing.”

That’s how Ray Lynch describes his motivation to serve as a choir director at St. Charles Parish for 61 years. This year, at 87, Lynch finally retires from the music ministry, but anyone who has performed with Lynch know the man’s interest in music won’t slow down anytime soon.

“I’ll continue with music as long as I can,” he said.

By 8:15 a.m. on Sunday mornings, Lynch has traveled the 20 minutes from his assisted living center in Vancouver, Wash., to his longtime parish home in Northeast Portland. Once there, he gets the singers’ voices warmed up while parishioners filter into the church, dignified in their Sunday finery. Lynch’s ministry starts with the Mass at 8:30 a.m.

Before St. Charles School closed in the early 1980s, Lynch always had a steady pool of singers to draw from, but over the years the number of singers in the choir has dwindled. These days, he has a dedicated group of 10 or so.

“They are very loyal singers, but many have passed away or grown older so it’s hard for them to get to church each week,” Lynch said.

Lynch’s children also provided an abundant source of talent for the choir.
When Lynch and his second wife Shirley blended their families in 1975, they had 13 children between them. Today, Lynch has 81 grandchildren, and countless great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. Shirley died last year, but her family continues to grow.

Lynch’s son Michael regularly visits his father in the apartment-turned-music studio. The space is a testament to Lynch’s work — stacks of music books surround his computer, where he plans which songs will suit the weekly liturgy.

Outside of his church ministry, Lynch studies classical music. He almost gave up his church music ministry several years ago as his voice began to change with age.

That’s when he started working with Laurel Freeborg, who teaches an Italian voice technique that she learned from European opera singers, which helps maintain an aging voice. Freeborg, music director at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Southwest Portland, said Lynch works tenaciously to keep his singing voice in shape.

“Ray shouldn’t ever stop singing. It is so important to him to praise God with his voice,” she said.

Singing has been part of Lynch’s world since has a young boy.

Born in the Vancouver Barricks to a first sergeant in the 7th Infantry, Lynch sang in local church choirs as a boy. He signed up for any and all music-related activities as a high school student in California (after his father transferred to Camp Roberts).

When World War II broke out, Lynch was attending Commerce High School in San Francisco, right next door to the San Francisco Opera House.  

Lynch joined the Air Force and went to Europe, where he went through gunner training with a buddy who planned to enter into seminary once they returned from combat. The military chaplain asked Lynch to oversee Latin music services.
Once they returned stateside, both men entered the Maryknoll Seminary in Ossining, N.Y. Naturally, Lynch was asked to be the choir director there, where he underwent intense Latin studies and was immersed in chant.

After 2.5 years, Lynch left to head west, enrolling at the University of Portland. He stayed in the active reserve, joining the 104th infantry band, where he played trumpet. He became a second lieutenant, retiring 39 years later.

With the Second Vatican Council in the ‘60s came a dramatic change in music. Lynch has enjoyed the contemporary music that has been added, but still loves the traditional church choir songs.

On Palm Sunday and at Pentecost, Lynch works with contemporary choir director Kent Ludwigsen for a musical collaboration. Ludwigsen has been a member of the parish since 1978 and became director of the contemporary choir in 1993. He too has watched church attendance drop, which makes recruiting for the choirs more challenging.

“We struggle with that, but Ray faces it with enthusiasm,” Ludwigsen said.
The parish is planning a celebration for Lynch’s retirement in August.