They say you only meet a few people in your life who change you as a person. Jean Dargis, former Choral Director and Administrator of St. Victor’s Catholic Church in San Jose, CA, was one of them. Jean passed away this week.
While I lived in San Jose, my home town, I sang in Jean’s choir for ten years. Although I read music, played the piano and had some experience singing, when I joined St. Victor’s Choir, I had no idea how Jean, his wife Mary Ruth, and the other 65 choir members would alter my life for the better. Some might call it a blessing. I believe it was a miracle.
Before joining the choir, I had fallen away from the Church for many years. I found the Church behind-the-times, too conservative and unresponsive to the social changes happening around me.
In the early 80’s I had also developed a medical problem with my neck, pushing me further away from my faltering faith. I didn’t see the value of a dogmatic organization that ignored a changing world’s needs and problems.
Like other fallen Catholics, I wondered how an anachronistic organization could save the world. Only later did I realize changing yourself first leads to an improved society.
Choosing to return to the Church–especially St. Victor’s–gradually taught me this. And it was Jean’s example as a caring, humble, yet real person that helped me feel the joy of giving again. He, Mary Ruth, our two organists, and the fantastic choir members shared their friendship and showed me through their actions how love changes you internally as you help others.
When we rehearsed on Monday evenings, Jean often reminded us of that commitment and the power of music and singing to help ourselves and others. It took time but I eventually believed Jean’s reminders about praying twice when you sing. As I watched Jean’s eyes when singing works of Bach, Mozart and contemporary choral works,
I felt his soul speaking to mine. He communicated to me how music invigorates your spirit. Sometimes as I watched him direct, he entered a different world–a world of perfect harmony, a place in the heart that quiets anxiety and fear. It’s a world you only feel but can’t explain. It happens in a twinkling second of time, then leaves you changed in some miraculous way.
Jean worked for the March of Dimes for over 40 years, gradually rising in the non-profit sector to Executive Director. But his responsibilities didn’t stop there. He was also St. Victor’s Administrator and Choir Director for decades and managed fund raising for the Church and Diocese of San Jose. A quiet man, Jean worked behind-the-scenes to improve society. Likewise, Mary Ruth became a leader in women’s and other organizations.
When Mary Ruth passed on late last year, after a long bout with cancer, Jean kept working as Administrator for the Church and Choir Director. But I don’t think he was ever the same after losing her. That spirit in Jean’s eyes had faded despite his abiding faith in God and the Church.
But I’m sure he knows, wherever in the Heavens he resides, that he helped change many lives for the better and, for that, we’re eternally grateful.