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Tom Dorff: Press/Reviews

August 31, 2007

CRHP retreat inspires musician to sing God’s praises

by Jean M. Schildz, Review Staff Writer
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A Christ Renews His Parish retreat may not make everyone want to sing God’s praises, but it sure got musician Tom Dorff going.

Because of his experience with the evangelization program, the O’Fallon resident now cantors and plays guitar at Mass at his parish, Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie. What some may not realize is that the songs he sings often are his.

Dorff attended a CRHP weekend retreat last year at Immaculate Conception. The program, presented by parishioners, offers a means to help rekindle faith, form faith communities and enrich parish life. There are separate retreats for men and women. About 40 parishes in the archdiocese have offered the renewal weekends.

The CRHP retreat changed his life, Dorff said. Though a practicing Catholic, he hadn’t gone to confession in 30 years. The retreat gave him the strength to unburden his soul in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Said Dorff, "At that moment I knew something was changing in me. ... I knew I would never be the same." Since then, he has put God first in his life every day and "sees Christ in people where I never did before."

Dorff was so touched spiritually by his experience he volunteered to help with the next CRHP retreat at his parish.

"I would have been fine with kitchen help," the 50-year-old said with a laugh, but apparently the Holy Spirit had other plans. Dorff was asked to serve as lay director. He worked closely with fellow parishioner and CRHP spiritual director John Schulte to plan the retreat.

Dorff, an accomplished guitarist and former band member, wrote a song about the renewal process and sang it as a gift for those on retreat. The lyrics came to him at a Blues hockey game. He went home and wrote them from memory.

"Renew My Song," first performed for CRHP retreatants, is one of the songs he sings at Mass. It also is the second song on his inaugural CD, titled, "here i am."

Dorff worked with top-notch studio musicians in Nashville, Tenn., to make the recording. It was released this spring.

Immaculate Conception pastor Father Bob Reiker has a copy of Dorff’s CD and loves to listen to it "as a prayer." Dorff’s music, he said, was invaluable to adding to the spiritual aspect of the CRHP retreat. His music "really moved" participants, the priest said, and gave Dorff the encouragement he needed to get involved in the parish’s music ministry.

Parishioners often comment how beautiful Dorff’s songs are, the pastor continued. Many don’t know they are Dorff’s own compositions. The message in his songs "just touches people because it’s coming from someone that’s just like them, who’s kind of in the same place that they are," Father Reiker said.

Immaculate Conception is now in its fourth year of offering CRHP. Roughly 150 men and 150 women have taken part to date. Most, Father Reiker said, "are just blossoming in their faith after going through" the retreat program. Nearly all the participants have become more active in the parish than they were before, he said. They "really upgrade significantly in their living out their faith in the parish setting. The retreat surely lives up to its name, Christ Renews His Parish, because these individuals are getting renewed. So it’s a remarkable experience."

The parish, for instance, has seen a new men’s club and women’s club spring up because of CRHP. "There’s just dozens of stories like this," Father Reiker said.

Of Dorff, Father Reiker said, "I think he’s found a whole new ministry, a whole new avenue of using God’s grace for the good of the parish."

Noted Jan Parker, Immaculate Conception’s music and liturgy coordinator, "Many church musicians have amazing talent. True ministers of music have something more important — a deep spirituality and openness to ongoing conversion and transformation.

Tom Dorff has both. His songs come from a heart that experiences a living relationship with God. His story is told in his songs, and it’s a story we all can relate to.

His lyrics are personal, but theologically sound. As a new addition to our music ministry team, Tom is a great witness with remarkable creative gifts."

Dorff said he wants to use his musical talents now to touch others and bring them to a closer relationship with the Lord. "Evangelization through music is key," he said.

He recently organized a group of parishioners to perform contemporary Catholic-inspired Christian music, including his own. The band plays at church services and local events. Fellow band members are Monty Criswell, Tom Dolan, Laura Helleny and Steve Sitter. Dorff has dubbed the group "‘The Christ Greater than I’ worship band."

Dorff added he has placed his musical career in God’s hands. He has about eight or nine more songs at different stages of completion and soon will be ready to record again.

"Wherever God wants me to go with it I’ll go," Dorff said. "I don’t care about making money, it’s just about getting the message out. And if one person is moved by it, it’s more than I can ever have imagined."

Call Dorff at (636) 294-8414 or visit www.tomdorff.com for more information on him, his music or the worship band. His CD may be found at Catholic Supply, O’Byrne Religious Goods and Back to Basics.

Parishes wanting more information about CRHP should call Gail McDonough at the archdiocesan Office of Laity and Family Life at (314) 792-7178.