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 | By Erika M. Hirschman

Memories of music and serving God’s people

Retiring Office of Liturgy duo reflect on their ministries

Their friendship is based on their love of music and serving God’s people. Father James (Jim) Wm. Bessert and Pam Bourscheidt agree they feel blessed to have worked together in the Diocesan Office of Liturgy –  Father Jim as director for 18 years and Pam as associate for liturgical music for nine years.

Throughout their lives and especially in those ministries, music and liturgy has played a role in how they connect with the Word of God, and they hope their ministries have helped others in doing so, as well. 

Father Jim said his life, ministry and spirituality is greatly enhanced when the church’s liturgy is done well. For him, that means “good presiding, good proclamation, good preaching and most definitely good music.”

For example, an appropriate choice of sung psalm aids a spiritual connection with the Word of God, he said.

“I believe that the choice of the Gospel acclamation and verse before the Gospel can make a difference for engagement for the assembly to be ready to hear the Gospel proclaimed,” he said.

Pam notes that music reflecting the Scripture can help people recall the readings. 

“I've heard church music being called the handmaiden of the liturgy,” Pam said. “Sermons and music can aid in the liturgy, and be more meaningful.”

Lifetime devotion to music and liturgy

Over the years, Father Jim has played a role in music and liturgy in a variety of ways. When he was a seminarian in 1976, Bishop Francis Reh appointed him to the Diocese of Saginaw’s Worship Commission. He then joined the Diocesan music ministry as an accompanist, conductor and cantor. 

The same year, he authored a training program for pastoral musicians, which became a diocesan-wide formation program for parish musicians and led to his Master of Divinity thesis at St. John Provincial Seminary in Plymouth. He also holds a Master of Arts in Theology - Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame and has composed hymns including “A Song to the God We Love” and “This Day in New Jerusalem.”

Pam has also sought to glorify God through music. Growing up in Illinois, Pam first learned accordion before beginning to play the organ for Mass at her Catholic school in fourth grade. She went on to study music at the graduate level in Boulder, Colorado.

She moved to Midland to serve as the music director and organist at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church until 1989, when she retired. Impressed with her musical background and education, Father Jim asked her to come work for the Diocese of Saginaw when a position in the Office of Liturgy became available. 

“It’s been a privilege working [in the Diocese of Saginaw],” she said. “I hope I have enriched our ministries.” 

During her tenure in the Office of Liturgy, Pam provided music for numerous Masses and liturgies at the Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption and other churches throughout the Diocese. She also directed the choir for special liturgies. While she has written some 75 psalm settings (a reflection on the first reading) for weekday Masses, Pam said she’s never considered herself a “composer.”

Unity and engagement

Their work in the Office of Liturgy also calls for meticulous organizing and coordinating of Masses and liturgies that take place throughout the year. The office also fields questions from parish leaders and provides resources regarding liturgies, liturgical seasons, music and other topics.  (To learn more about the Office of Liturgy, see Christ’s Mission Appeal serves you through resources from the Office of Liturgy, page __.)

Their work ensures there is corresponding music and unity in the order, structure, and spirit of each Mass. That proper liturgy aids worship, said Father Jim. 

“[It’s the] brilliance of the Roman Rite, so that consistency and repetitive responses of the presider, ministers and assembly can fully participate and not be distracted by innovative and/or unnecessary changes that actually cause disconnect, not unity,” he explained.

Father Jim and Pam both speak of the honor they’ve had each year organizing the Red Mass, which is celebrated annually for all members of the legal profession, regardless of religious affiliation. 

“It’s all hands on deck,” Pam said about the preparation for a large liturgy like the Red Mass. “Many hands make work easier.” 

And there are many hands to help in parishes across the Diocese.

“People are very engaged,” Pam said. “It’s a network of people that make it all happen.”

Musical memories

One of their most cherished memories is when Father Jim led the singing of “This Day in New Jerusalem” at the burial of Bishop Ken Untener at Mount Olivet Cemetery.  

Based on the traditional In Paradisum chant, Father Jim composed the piece in 1979. It is now sung at Requiem Masses during the Final Commendation throughout the Diocese of Saginaw and beyond. 

Years later in 2018, Pam played “This Day in New Jerusalem” on the pipe organ accompanied by trumpets and a choir assembly at the funeral Mass for Bishop Joseph Cistone at the Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption. 

“It sent chills and brought peace to my soul,” said Pam. 

Other fond memories include the installation of Bishop Robert Gruss and singing the hymn “No Greater Love,” which correlated with his episcopal motto and coat of arms, and Father Matthew Gembrowski’s ordination as the diocese’s youngest priest in May. 

“It was a fanfare intro— especially when the assembly started singing,” Pam said. 

Looking forward

Both Father Jim and Pam look back fondly on their time working together in the Office of Liturgy.

“[Father Jim] is so brilliant, and his depth of knowledge is amazing. I’ve learned so much from him and been blessed to have worked with him so closely and be able to collaborate,” Pam said. “It has been a real gift.”

“[Pam is] an outstanding musician, but more importantly she has been a stellar collaborator, companion and pastoral minister who has been a delight to have worked with, all while serving the people of God,” Father Jim said.

The pair agreed that retirement is a new chapter after departing the chancery staff at the end of June. Retirement doesn't mean the end of their work, however. Both have plans to remain active all while serving God.

Currently, Father Jim serves as pastor at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Bay City. Pam is keeping busy as a substitute organist throughout the Diocese, playing at All Saints Parish in Bay City, Blessed Sacrament Parish in Midland and Nativity of the Lord Parish in St. Louis/Alma.

And certainly, both will continue to praise the Lord through liturgy and music.

While Pam Bourscheidt and Father Jim Bessert are now retired from the Office of Liturgy, both plan to remain active in ministries. Pam will continue as a substitute musician in parishes and Father Jim serves as sacramental minister.
Father Jim Bessert laughs during a retirement party at the Center for Ministry in Saginaw.
Bishop Robert Gruss blesses Pam Bourscheidt following the last chancery staff Mass at which she played piano on June 28. Photo by Danielle McGrew Tenbusch.