Meet Gloria Bridgestock, accompanist at St. Matthew, Farmington for 70-plus years

Gloria Bridgestock is shown in her familiar domain -- at the piano in the choir loft of St. Matthew Church in Farmington. The parish recently honored the 87-year-old musician for serving as accompanist at Masses for more than 70 years. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

FARMINGTON — More than 70 years ago, Gloria Muzzarelli — then barely a teenager — played the tiny one-octave pump organ at St. Matthew Church for the first time all on her own at a Sunday Mass.

It didn’t go well.

“When it was time for the Sanctus, I played too soon,” she recalls. A woman in the assembly waved her hands in a vain attempt to stop the young organist.

“I’d already started so we went ahead,” said Gloria. Flustered, more mistakes would follow. “I remember going home and telling my mother ‘I’m not going back.’”

How her mother, Maggie, responded changed the course of music history at St. Matthew Parish.

In an even, no-nonsense voice, she assured her daughter: “Oh, but you will go back.”

Seven decades, a 53-year marriage, a new church, two children and two grandchildren later, Gloria Bridgestock is still going back. And on Sept. 21, the people of St. Matthew Parish expressed gratitude for their beloved accompanist’s remarkable dedication and service with a celebration in her honor after a 4:15 p.m. Mass on the parish’s patronal feast day.


“I knew absolutely nothing about it,” said Gloria, now 87, who almost skipped the potluck because she didn’t have time to prepare a covered dish. The active volunteer had spent the day serving in the gift shop of Proctor Hospital in Peoria.

Fortunately, choir director Diane Toohill convinced her to come to the parish hall. Gloria was soon called to the front, and the tributes began.

The cake Gloria received at the celebration in her honor at St. Matthew Parish, Farmington.

Father Daniel Ebker, pastor, presented her with a crucifix. The Altar and Rosary Society gave her a card and gift certificate to a local supper club. The choir presented her with flowers. And then she was shown a cake decorated with musical notes and “lyrics” that read “Gloria, thanks for helping us make a joyful noise for 70+ years.”

“It was overwhelming,” said Gloria. “It was something I won’t forget for the rest of my life.”

Through tears, she told parishioners that she enjoys playing, “otherwise I wouldn’t have been here that long.” Playing the organ and now piano for Masses makes her feel “uplifted,” she says, “kind of like I’ve prayed twice.”

She especially loves members of St. Matthew’s choir, which she considers “a second family.” The affection is clearly mutual.


But just as more than 70 decades ago, Gloria remains her own toughest critic. She laments she never learned to play the organ “the proper way,” confesses she can’t play by ear, and now has trouble learning new music. And then there is the arthritis.

“It’s hard to play anymore because you never know if those fingers want to move,” said Gloria, who no longer plays at weddings and funerals, though through the years “I’ve married and buried a lot of people.”

She then launched into a flawless rendition of her favorite hymn, “Amazing Grace,” for a reporter during a recent interview in the St. Matthew Church choir loft. (See video below.) Another favorite is the “Ave Maria” — especially when choir member Patty Nelson sings it.

Which songs has she played most often? “Holy God We Praise Thy Name,” “Panis Angelicus,” and “O Sancitissima.”

“Those were the mainstays for quite some time,” she said.

Many pastors have come and gone, but Gloria plays on. Father Michael Ferran, IC, served the parish for 30 years. “He was a character, easy to work with and very appreciative,” she recalls.

She played through the post-Vatican II years — learning more folk-oriented hymns such as from the “Glory and Praise” books — and throughout her five decade-plus marriage to husband Don, who died 13 years ago. Their daughter, Lynette, who now lives in Chicago, formerly sang in the choir and played the flute.  Their son, Greg, played the saxophone in the high school band and is now retired in California.

Gloria found a way to climb the choir loft steps even after breaking her ankle and having a hip replaced in recent years.

Her father, Fiore, died from pancreatic cancer when she was only 9. The piano lessons that her mother found a way to afford at 50 cents per half-hour have proven to be, pardon the pun, a sound investment.

And yes, Maggie Muzzarelli, Gloria will keep going back.

“I know I don’t play as well as I used to,” she confesses once more to a now skeptical reporter, “but they still want me, this group.”





SPALDING PASTORAL CENTER | 419 NE MADISON AVENUE | PEORIA, IL 61603 | PHONE (309) 671-1550 | FAX (309) 671-1595
© Copyright 2024 - The Catholic Post || All Rights Reserved || Design by