‘Matriarch of music’: St. Vincent honors Federal Way organist of 50 years

First came Lois Hanson, and then came the church.

First came Lois Hanson, and then came the church.

A musical pillar of the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, Hanson has played the organ and piano for the congregation over the past 50 years. Her dedication and talent were honored last Saturday at the church with a concert and reception, which drew close to 200 people.

With more than 2,500 multicultural and diverse families, St. Vincent de Paul is the largest Catholic Church in Federal Way. The mixture of young and old, and nationalities from across the globe form the diverse base of this welcoming and musically talented community.

The concert featured organ pieces played by Hanson and Joseph Adam, a world-renowned organist who also happened to be Hanson’s most recent teacher, from 1998 to 2003. At the concert, Hanson played four songs, one of which, “Song of Praise,” was her own composition.

St. Vincent’s adult choir hosted the reception afterward and there was no shortage of apple pie as the community shared some of their favorite memories.

“She has a history here that spans so long that there is probably nobody here that she doesn’t know,” said Joe McQuiston, pastoral associate for Adult Faith Formation. “She just has such a great love of music.”

Prior to the establishment of the parish in 1961, Hanson joined the St. Vincent community, which at the time met in nearby schools and halls. There she played the organ for the choir.

“When the church building was finally built, I continued on as an organist. And now we have a new building and I continued to play in that also. So it’s been a total of 50 years as of this month September,” Hanson said with a laugh.

This year, Hanson will be stepping back from her duties as the director of  music ministry to focus on directing the children’s choir, teaching piano in her home studio and continuing as an organ and pianist at the church.

Nan Merlich, who last year worked part-time as the choir director, will be replacing Hanson and overseeing the music ministry at St. Vincent de Paul.

“Lois was here before the church was even built,” said Merlich, pastoral assistant for music and liturgy said. “We call her the matriarch of the music of St. Vincent. She’s carried the torch. She’s very nurturing and helpful. She’s very strong in her musical ability. But also in her ability to get music across to the congregation.”

St. Vincent is nicknamed the crown jewel of the south end, simply because of its great selection of music and the multitude of opportunities to get involved.

“It’s this attitude of support that our parish has, that has allowed us to draw good musicians and people that want to be involved in the ministry and that has made things work,” Hanson said. “It’s been a real pleasure to do what I do best. I feel like part of a family in our parish. This is my family. There’s real support there. It’s a good place there.”

Hanson first met her husband, Lee, when they were school teachers in the suburbs of Chicago. After getting married and having a child, the Hanson’s decided to move to Federal Way.

Her love of music started at a young age because her dad was a piano tutor and was “very anxious for me to learn the piano.” She started playing the piano in the second grade, taking lessons from the Sisters of St. Francis and eventually learned to play the organ.

For Hanson, music is more than an art form.

“It’s something that people can express by themselves through their own creativity, joy, or sorrow —something that words wouldn’t have,” Hanson said. “Especially when I play the organ, I experience those voices along with what I’m doing.”

When asked about her faith and the importance that music plays in it, Hanson said, “I truly believe that music is an important expression for people, and that God has made us with many gifts.

“We can take those gifts and give them back to him in ways that serve others and help others and give us opportunities to love and care for all those around us.”