By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
For a guy that is just 20 years old, Jeff Braconnier certainly has a full plate. At St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Media, he directs the children’s choir, is a youth minister and handles technology support. He is also a full-time student in his third year at Immaculata University.
As much as he loves working for the parish and school at dynamic St. Mary Magdalen, the area where he is really making his mark is as founder and director of the Catholic Community Choir (CCC).
It all began about six years ago when he was a young teen in his home parish, St. Kevin in Springfield.
“I directed the St. Kevin children’s choir and I wanted to do more, so I started a theater program for kids,” he said.
Music has always been part of his blood; he started playing piano about 15 years ago and still does it whenever he can.
The first year, with 30 children, the group put on a production of “Seusscal,” with music based on the Dr. Seuss books. The following year saw a children’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.”
This year, the choir, which is still based at St. Kevin Parish, has a cast of 180 kids, grades K to eight drawn from roughly 20 parishes in Delaware and Montgomery counties. The choir performed Walt Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” recently, and sold out the 730-seat facility in advance.
In a way, his work at St. Mary Magdalen, where the youth group meets weekly and mixes worship with talks about real topics in the young people’s lives, provides a template for the CCC.
Teaching the vocal arts to children was not his main purpose for starting the group. Every Sunday when the group meets for rehearsals, they typically include, in addition to tunes of any show they are planning, the reading of the Sunday Gospel and perhaps acting it out.
“Think of it as musical CYO,” Braconnier said. “My goal is building up the kingdom, and working with kids is the way to go. Religion is definitely the number one priority in my life; it’s who I am.”
“Jeff is very giving and very caring,” said Stephanie Egan, the set designer for the productions. She has known him since grade school, and also happens to be his girlfriend.
“Working with the CCC has introduced me to a big family that cares for each other,” she said. “The kids are wonderful, and he teaches them good moral values as well as music and dancing.”
A next venture for CCC will be a smaller group for a July summer camp where in the end the kids will give a presentation of numbers from Disney’s “Jungle Book.” Next year’s full production will be based on “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.”
Braconnier doesn’t do it all alone by any means. At this point there are about a dozen core team members drawn mostly from family, friends and parents.
Andrea Kovacs, who is the volunteer business manager, has had daughters Michelle and Megan in the shows from the very beginning.
“I’ve been with Jeff through all of this and I think it’s phenomenal,” she said. “The kids have a safe haven to express their talents and they are given respect and love.”
Fourth-grader Matt Sorti of Holy Cross Parish, Springfield, has been with CCC for three years.
“Catholic Community Choir is a fun way to meet people and get experience,” he said. “It’s also a fun way to pray and to learn about the Gospel.”
Just how big CCC will grow is anybody’s guess; right now it is so big they’ve had to incorporate it.
One thing Braconnier has come to realize through both his work at St. Mary Magdalen and the Catholic Community Choir, “I love what I do.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.