Pope Francis pictured during private audience at VaticanTwo Archdiocesan high school bands have been given the opportunity of a lifetime: to play for Pope Francis as he enters and leaves Philadelphia.

The Cardinal O’Hara High School Band in Springfield, Delaware County will serenade Pope Francis as he lands at Atlantic Aviation, a section of Philadelphia International Airport, on Saturday morning, Sept. 26.

The band of Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown will provide the pope a fitting send off with music on the tarmac as he ends his first visit to the United States on Sunday evening, Sept. 27.

Each band was getting ready last Friday, Aug. 7 to leave for a band camp to practice music for upcoming events when they learned the news, which came as a total surprise to the stunned teenagers.


Shanahan’s approximately 100-member band has only existed three years but already it has earned notoriety under inaugural director Charles Keating, who is also the Fine Arts chair at the school.

It has performed annually and won awards at the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade, as well as the West Chester Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade in front of over 30,000 spectators and the Downingtown Good Neighbor Christmas Parade.

The news for Cardinal O’Hara came from a familiar friend of the school — Donna Crilley Farrell, an alumna and currently executive director of the World Meeting of Families.

“It is so gratifying to make this surprise announcement to students who will have the unique opportunity to share their musical gifts with Pope Francis and the world,” said Farrell.

O’Hara’s band has racked up numerous honors over its 52 years, whose 45 members are today led by Nicholas Corvino. In addition to playing for the last papal visit in Philadelphia, St. John Paul II in 1979, the band also played for Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1981 and has performed a concert on the stage of the Philadelphia Academy of Music.

More recently, the O’Hara band has led the Philadelphia Phillies into Opening Day every year since the opening of Citizens Bank Park in 2004. In 2014 they were selected to lead off the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

“I’m grateful to the band directors and administrators of both Bishop Shanahan and Cardinal O’Hara High Schools as well as the band members at both schools for their willingness to create special and memorable moments for the Holy Father as he arrives at and departs from our archdiocese,” said Farrell.