Flanked by a nurse and other helpers, Frank Gemmato carries his guitar during a visit to Lourdes, France, in 2021. After the pilgrimage he reded-icated himself to music. (Courtesy Peter Scuder)
Flanked by a nurse and other helpers, Frank Gemmato carries his guitar during a visit to Lourdes, France, in 2021. After the pilgrimage he reded-icated himself to music. (Courtesy Peter Scuder)
“I am 69 years old, a broken man, and God has found a new use for me,” says musician Frank Gemmato, a member of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Southeast Portland. He not only plays piano, guitar and sings but also has directed choirs in several Portland-area churches over the years. While in Lourdes, France, this year Gemmato heard a call: Do more.

Having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease eight years ago, Gemmato finds it increasingly challenging to play and sing. Yet he recognizes that, like so many of us, he often judges himself harshly — demanding perfection and thus limiting his ability to use his talents. “Rather than judging, I need to put every ounce of heart and love into my music,” he says.

Since returning from the pilgrimage to Lourdes, Gemmato has volunteered to lead songs at daily Masses and other church events and begun performing Saturday nights at the Barley Sprout Restaurant in Gresham. “Music is key to speaking to God, in both secular and religious music,” says Gemmato. He enjoys playing Beatles and other compositions from the Beatles era.

In 1987, Gemmato composed his own Mass setting for the feast of Christ the King. It was again performed this year.

Gemmato delights in filling the church with music, reveling in how his God-given talent can help carry the congregation into a more profound Mass experience. “For me, there is no dichotomy between prayer and singing,” he says. “Music can help us connect with God.”

At 69, broken or not, Parkinson’s or not, he continues to enrich lives with his gifts. “All we ever really have is here and now,” Gemmato says. “Our life is an exercise in cultivating that awareness, that presence in ourselves.”

Boris, administrative assistant at St. Joseph the Worker, is a parish ambassador for the Sentinel.