Story By Julia Ernst, Contributing Writer
Photo Courtesy Archbishop Hannan High
Traveling to Italy recently with my paternal grandmother, Linda “GeeGee” Ernst, was truly a dream come true. We took the trip with Archbishop Hannan High School through Hannan Travels, the annual travel abroad program.
When it was announced last year that a trip to Italy was being offered, my grandmother, a 1961 graduate of a St. Mary’s Dominican High and my confirmation sponsor, and my grandfather, Major Gen. Retired Carl F. Ernst, a member of the De La Salle Class of 1961, gave me the trip as my confirmation gift.
Sadly, my GeeGee’s mother, Margie Boe, passed away in 2018. The timing of our trip was much needed for my grandmother, as her heart was still aching. Her mom was a remarkable woman and truly taught all of us about love, faith and loyalty. At the age of 96, she left a hole in all of our hearts, so the trip allowed GeeGee and me to make some new and joyful memories together.
The trip was packed with sightseeing and covered so many amazing landmarks in Italy. The day we visited Pisa was no exception, but it ended up being the highlight of the trip.
When we entered the baptistery at Pisa, I was immediately aware of the stunning acoustics of the building, constructed in 1363.
As a classically trained opera singer, all I could think about was the sound in that beautiful and holy place. The tour guide gave us an example of how the sound traveled in the room, and it was incredible!
I mentioned to my teacher, Tammy Petit, that I would love to sing there, never thinking that it would happen! She asked the tour guide if it was possible for me to sing. After reassurances that I was a classically trained opera singer, I got my chance.
We waited for the tour in front of us to exit the baptistery and the doors were closed. I sang “Ave Maria,” in the most beautiful place for my grandmother, friends, their families, the Hannan faculty and for the tourists who happened to be on the second floor at the time.
Even though I sing all the time, this was different. It was beautiful and reverent, and I wanted to cherish every single second. I was so nervous I was shaking, because knowing what a privilege I had been given and wanting to make my school family and my grandmother proud.
Shortly after I sang, my teacher posted the video on the Hannan Travels Facebook page and it went a little bit “viral.” The story was picked up by a few news stations. I loved seeing the joy it brought to others. As a singer, I will treasure that opportunity for the rest of my life and I know God had a hand in allowing it to occur.
Earlier trip to Germany
The trip with my grandmother actually was the second time I had traveled to Europe. I was lucky enough to be chosen to attend IPAI (the International Performing Arts Institute) last summer in Keifersfelden, Germany, between my sophomore and junior years to study opera for a month with my voice teacher, Dr. Maryann Kyle, who teaches at the University of Mobile.
Dr. Kyle urged me to audition for this intensive summer program, and I was thrilled to be accepted as its only high school student. I was able to study with Kirsten Chavez, a singer with the Metropolitan Opera. It was a life-changing experience!
While in Germany, I truly fell in love with Europe. After that experience, I was offered a scholarship from the government of Bavaria to return to Keifersfelden this July to study musical theatre with the IPAI on scholarship.
I also will travel to St. Olav College in June to compete in nationals for NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) in the categories of high school classical and high school musical theater.
I currently cantor at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Covington and have grown so much as a singer because of this opportunity to lead the congregation each weekend. My favorite event at Most Holy Trinity was the recent First Communion Mass for which I sang. I loved being part of the sacrament received by so many precious children.
I will continue to a cantor during my senior year at Archbishop Hannan High, working with parish music director Dana McAndrew. The upcoming school year will be a busy one, with Student Council, theater, choir and undergraduate auditions. When I begin my undergraduate studies in August of 2020, I will pursue a degree in vocal performance with the goal of singing opera professionally.
I know I am so blessed. The trip with my grandmother was one I will cherish for a lifetime. Singing in the baptistery in Pisa was a dream come true, and I believe that my MawMaw Margie had a front-row seat in heaven orchestrating the entire thing.
The Italy trip and the experiences I have had at Archbishop Hannan High School continue to help me and all students pursue their dreams in a faith-filled environment and one that prepares us for our future.
As Father Charlie Latour, our outgoing principal, reminds us, “It’s a great day to be a Hannan Hawk, all day, every day.”
Julia Ernst is a junior at Archbishop Hannan High in Covington.