NPM: A Short History (prepared by Gordon Truitt)

Father Virgil C. Funk, a priest of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, founded the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) in 1976. The new organization began with no members and a staff of two—Father Funk and Sister Jane Marie Perrot, DC, and their first office was in the basement of St. Mark Parish, Hyattsville, Maryland. Father Funk offered this explanation of the association’s purpose: “Our focus was—and is—on the musician: Good musicians make good music. We decided to work to work to motivate, encourage, and support pastoral musicians and clergy and to develop skills and understanding in the areas of music, liturgy, preparation for worship, communication, and spirituality.” Solicitations brought in the first 1,700 members, and the association was on its way.

The first convention of NPM’s members took place in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in March 1978, with the theme “Musical Liturgy Is Normative.” To make that affirmation and dream a reality, the association began adding to its services for members. One of the most widely used and most practically helpful additions to NPM’s repertoire of services were its summer schools and institutes, programs lasting three to five days that focused on particular ministries or rites. The first such program was offered in 1978; in subsequent years, there were repeatedly successful schools and institutes for cantors, choir directors, organists, ensemble musicians, Gregorian chant, music education, children’s choir directors, adult initiation, and more.

In 2001, the National Association of Pastoral Musicians reached its twenty-fifth anniversary. Father Funk retired as NPM’s president and executive director, and Dr. J. Michael McMahon took on those roles. Under Dr. McMahon’s leadership, the association reached its largest membership so far—nearly 10,000 members—and stabilized its formation program. There were summer conventions and institutes, a winter program, the magazine  Pastoral Music and other periodical publications, a developing website, and local gatherings of members in NPM Chapters. Dr. McMahon also firmed up a structure begun by Father Funk: a strong Board of Directors and an NPM Council to represent particular interests within the association and to act as advisors to the Board. Under McMahon’s leadership, a fledgling certification program developed into a well-rounded program for cantors, pianists, and organists (this latter developed in cooperation with the American Guild of Organists). A fourth certification program was for directors of music ministries, a long-time goal of NPM’s Director of Music Ministries Division; it was later approved by the USCCB Commission on Certification and Accreditation (now the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service) as part of a wider approval of processes for lay ecclesial ministries. And in 2007, as an indication that NPM had been successful in its focus, the phrases “pastoral music,” “pastoral musician,” and “director of music ministries” were incorporated into Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, a statement of guidelines for liturgical music approved by the Latin Church members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Despite these advances, however, events beyond NPM’s control threw future development into disarray—among them the worldwide clergy sex abuse crisis; the 2008 recession that reduced budgets for parish pastoral musicians and their educational development; and the rise of LGBTQ recognition and cultural liberation, with its challenges to traditional Catholic morality.

In 2013, Dr. McMahon left his position as NPM’s president and executive director. In an interim period of leadership, two staff members—Dr. Gordon E. Truitt and Mr. Peter Maher—shared the work of president and CEO for a year, until Rev. Msgr. Rick Hilgartner, a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, assumed those dual roles in 2014, while also serving as pastor of a large parish. The association continued to function smoothly, though its membership fell slowly under the weight of the various crises in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

By 2016, it became clear that Monsignor Hilgartner had to focus his full attention on the parish he served, so he resigned as president/CEO (though he remained on the Board as Director of Ecclesial Identity and Mission), to be replaced by Mr. Steve Petrunak in May 2017. Membership had fallen to about 6,000 individuals.

Under Mr. Petrunak, NPM’s formational approach continued to offer programs and publications in both liturgy and music, while expanding the association’s cooperation with other associations and groups. Such cooperation, part of NPM’s life from the beginning, was growing to be a key aspect of the association’s programming. At the same time, NPM began to rely more on its own members, especially those who were its Chapter directors and those in the Director of Music Ministries Division, as well as leadership from the NPM Interest Sections and National Committees, for services that had once been performed by the National Office staff.

Under the guidance of the Board of Directors, chaired by Jeremy Helmes, “NPM 2.0” was announced and initiated in 2019, a plan to involve the members more directly in the association’s programming and services. Just as that renewal took hold, life was disrupted by the COVID pandemic. NPM held its first “virtual” (online) convention in 2020 and had to abandon any public programming that had been scheduled. At the end of 2020, Steve Petrunak left as the last person to hold the title “NPM President,” to be replace briefly by Dr. Bob McCarty, former executive director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, as an interim executive director.

In early 2021, Jennifer Kluge accepted the task of being NPM’s first full-time “executive director,” ending the original title of “president,” as the association continued to reshape itself in service to its members and for continued service in the future.