Band visits Rome and Barcelona for performances, one with Pope

Members of the St. Louis U. High Band program spent Spring Break performing across Europe. The most notable of these performances was in Vatican City in front of Pope Francis himself. 

SLUH band and teachers pose with Pope Francis. photo | Courtesy of Jeff Pottinger

The trip included musicians from all branches of SLUH music. Jr. Bills from Jazz Band, Concert Band, Symphonic Band, and Chamber Orchestra were accompanied by music teachers Brian Reeves and Jeff Pottinger along with President Alan Carruthers and math teacher and junior parent Don Steingruby.

Despite the myriad locations, audiences, and cultures the bands encountered, the trip was anchored to one clear aspect: faith. The band incorporated an aspect of religion into every day of busy travel and music performing.

On day one of the trip, the students visited the Maggiore Basilica in Rome; on day two the band paid a visit to Gesu Church in Rome.

Day three, however, was not any regular religious tour. Instead, the band ventured to St. Peter’s Square, where the Jr. Bills played for Pope Francis and a larger Papal Audience. The band had arranged to perform at the Vatican, but there was still uncertainty surrounding whether they would be heard by the Pope himself.

“We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to play or if the big instruments would be allowed in, and then, the next thing you know they were ushering us up to the front of the crowd and asked us to play before the Papal Audience and for Pope Francis’s entrance. It was amazing,” said Pottinger. 

“When Pope Francis came up to take a picture with us, he stood right in front of me saying, ‘Remember to pray for me too,’” said Simon.

After playing their instruments for the Papal Audience, SLUH musicians were personally invited to greet the Pope. 

“After our performance at the Vatican, we got pulled aside by Vatican workers telling us that we could meet Pope Francis,” said sophomore Gavin Simon.

As part of this once-in-a-lifetime experience, students posed for photo opportunities and even spoke to the Pope. 

“It felt like an honor but at the same time humbling, because he told us to remember to pray for him,” said junior Gino Stephens. “He seemed glad to see us but at the same time it felt like he was just as honored to meet us as we were to meet him.”

Such an experience did not come easy to SLUH’s band members, as it followed many days of tireless practice. 

“In the symphonic band, we’ve been practicing our music for about six weeks in preparation for this trip,” said Simon. 

Day four featured visits to the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica, and was the group’s last day in Rome, because on day five, the band flew to Barcelona and visited Sagrada Familia Church. 

Days six, seven, and eight were the last few days of the trip, but nevertheless impactful. 

The group shifted its broader religious theme to a more mission-fitting theme of Ignatian life and culture. On day six the group toured Ignatian Barcelona (Barcelona Cathedral, Gothic Quarter, Santa Maria del Mar church); on day seven the group attended Mass at Montserrat, Spain and performed shortly after. Following their performance the band hiked along the Ignatian Way. The hike follows the footsteps of St. Ignatius, who trekked the same hike after his conversion in 1522.  

“It was very profound to see his tomb, his sword and shoes, the cave at Manresa and walk the Ignatian Way,” said Pottinger.

“It was five miles, which took about two hours with the whole group, but it was a good reminder of all that he did even with a healing leg and low amounts of food and water,” said Stephens. “It was a good reminder of what he put himself through, sort of like Jesus walking through the desert for 40 days.”

Day eight brought students to the cave of St. Ignatius and concluded the trip with one final performance at the Manresa Sanctuary. 

“You felt God in every church you walked into. I prayed a lot more than I expected and really connected with God, which reminded me a bit of Kairos and the feeling I got on the retreat,” said senior Diego Torrez. “It was for sure a highlight of my SLUH career and something that I’ll remember forever.”

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