Polly Pappadopoulos looks back on nearly thirty years at Viterbo

Nathan Janzen, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Polly Pappadopoulos has been a part of the Viterbo story since her first year as a student in 1994. Since that time, she has become a prominent figure at the piano in both the Fine Arts Center and San Damiano Chapel. In August, she was given the title of Assistant Director of Liturgical Worship, Ministries, and Chapel Programs for Campus Ministry. To mark this achievement and her longstanding history with the university, the Lumen sat down with her to get her perspective and hear stories from Viterbo’s past. 

Pappadopoulos was first hired by Viterbo in 1998—prior to graduation—to work in the burgeoning Preparatory School for the Performing Arts. “It was a booming music school at the time,” she recalls, noting about the program, “The [Preparatory School] existed before the Fine Arts Center and the Fine Arts program. [It started with] the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration teaching private lessons to all ages, mostly children.” 

When asked which part of her work she enjoys the most, Pappadopoulos says, “There are so many different aspects, but I really love my work with the students. Being a part of [a student’s] journey, whether academically or through life is an honor and a blessing. I know that is God’s call.” 

Looking back on how her career has developed, Pappadopoulos says that “There’s just no denying it. It was all Him, one hundred percent. There are so many students I’ve had come through the doors of Viterbo, and music is the avenue that brought me to them.” In addition to her roles with Campus Ministry and San Damiano Chapel, Pappadopoulos also serves as an independent coach-accompanist for students in the Conservatory for the Performing Arts.  

Part of her liturgical responsibilities involve directing the St. Francis Choir, which performs at mass for the San Damiano parish and at many Viterbo events. It was this choir that connected her with one of the central figures in her musical and professional life. When she first joined the St. Francis Choir in 1995, it was directed by Earl Madary, whom she remembers as “One of the most incredible musicians and people I have ever met.”  

From the start of her career until his passing in 2007 from cancer, the man called “The Soul of Viterbo” served as a beloved mentor. “He was very funny—full of humor all the time,” she recalls. “He ‘harassed’ me to come and play flute with the choir, and then he got me to sing. He would throw music at me, [saying] ‘You don’t get to rehearse.’ He taught me so many musical skills by making me do that. I didn’t know it at the time, but I learned so much.”  

Before Madary passed away, one of his wishes was for Pappadopoulos to take over the Saint Francis Choir. At the time, she recalls, “I had no intention of being in liturgical music. I could not play piano to save my soul.” She would end up mustering the skills she needed to carry out his wish. “It’s one of God’s miracles in my life—I just had to learn.” 

Now, Pappadopoulos remembers the other mentors who helped her on her path. One was Sister Anna Rose Glum, who was nicknamed Sarge. “She was patient with me. She was instrumental in making sure I stayed with music in college.”  

Other FSPA members who have left an impact on her life include Sister Malinda Gerke, whom she says “Has shown me how important the power of music is in changing people’s lives, and taught me how the sound of music can affect someone’s body and mind. She has taught me that music doesn’t have to be perfect.” This is just one of the wise anecdotes Pappadopoulos has learned during her nearly thirty-year career at Viterbo.