The Singing Mortician

Chris Ronk, ’04, lifts spirits and voices as a member of the Chapel of St. Ignatius choir

Barbara Mulvey LittleSU Mag Fall 2010 Singing Mortician Large Image

Chris Ronk, ’04, has been an important and active member of the choir at the Chapel of St. Ignatius since he first joined 10 years ago.

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For the past 10 years, Chris Ronk, '04, has been a fixture in the choir at the Chapel of St. Ignatius. His voice can be heard most Sundays at the 11 a.m. Mass, where he worships through song with his smooth baritone cantering psalms, the Litany of Saints or verses of a hymn. If you've been in the chapel during choir practice in the two hours before Mass and heard the choir members burst out in laughter, it was likely generated by Ronk and his playful nature. Yet his joie de vivre and quick wit belie a serious personal faith mission to comfort those who mourn.

"When it's Easter Vigil and everyone in the congregation is singing the 'Gloria' together, with handbells and all the instruments, nothing tops that high for me."
— Chris Ronk, '04

By day, Ronk is a mortician. The road to his current vocation cut through Seattle University, where he earned a degree in sociology in 2004 (he's also working toward a degree at the School of Theology and Ministry). He followed this with mortuary school, a career direction that surprised his Portuguese grandmother, who, according to Ronk, was one of the reasons he chose it. His grandmother and her sister, Mary, had often taken Ronk to the cemetery when he was younger to visit their departed husbands. These visits taught him that death is a natural part of life.

When Mary passed away while Ronk was a teenager, he found comfort in helping plan her funeral. Shortly thereafter, he read a book about the funeral industry that set his life's trajectory. This was a very different path for Ronk, whose early career plans were focused on becoming a lawyer. Over time he realized his calling was to help families going through the grieving process after the death of a loved one. Having learned from the Jesuits about consolation and desolation, he knew it was the right decision.

When his personal need to be ethical with grieving families was not supported in his work at traditional funeral homes, he found another way. "I really feel like I landed where I belong," says Ronk of his work today at a nontraditional funeral company called A Sacred Moment. The company specializes in in-home services and green burials, which preclude the use of chemical preservation; biodegradable coffins or shrouds are used instead. As a funeral director, Ronk performs life celebrations and in-home funerals. He explains that in-home services give families the time and the processes necessary to help them come to terms with mortality.

While his work is a meaningful and important part of his life, Ronk also finds purpose in his role with the chapel choir. A passion for music was nurtured in Ronk's childhood by his mother, a singer who played piano at home and in church. Before long he was singing, and when he had the chance to audition for the chapel choir, he didn't hesitate.

Since joining the choir his freshman year Ronk has been an active and engaged member of the group, says Bill McNamara, campus minister for liturgical music and the choir director. "Over the past decade he has been a cornerstone of the choir community and has immersed himself in every possible leadership opportunity," says McNamara, adding that Ronk has served as a cantor/psalmist, section leader, retreat leader, Taizé planner, member of the music selection team and graduate intern.

But he has brought much more to the choir than just a tireless devotion and moving voice, adds McNamara.

"More than just being involved, Chris has been committed to the mission of the choir, bringing his unique blend of talent, humor, wisdom and pastoral presence to his fellow choristers and the wider university community through service at countless Sunday Masses and special liturgies," McNamara says. "It's hard to imagine chapel choir without Chris in our ranks."

The chapel choir allows Ronk an outlet to express himself creatively while engaging his spirituality. "When it's Easter Vigil and everyone in the congregation is singing the 'Gloria' together, with handbells and all the instruments, nothing tops that high for me."



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