By John Alexander and Jessica Easthope
Don and Diane Competello have more in common than your average husband and wife. The married couple, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in June, have both served as music directors at St. Margaret Roman Catholic Church in Middle Village for the last 12 years, and they are both longtime educators.
Don has been an eighth-grade math teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ozone Park for 22 years, and Diane is the Principal at St. Athanasius Catholic Academy in Bensonhurst.
Don’s music ministry extends back to his 23 years as music director at St. Stanislaus Kostka in Maspeth, which followed a three-year stint at Blessed Sacrament in Cypress Hills.
In fact, Don has been part of the music ministry at St. Rita’s, his childhood parish in East New York, since he was 18 years old. Today Don splits his time working at St. Margaret on weekday mornings and on weekends, and teaching in the afternoon. Both vocations matter greatly to him, but he proudly admits that he and his wife have worked for the church their whole lives.
The Competellos share a deep knowledge of liturgical music. “When we teach the choir, she teaches one section and I teach another section. We work with each group separately and then we combine. We actually have two keyboards, the organ plus a very good keyboard. She plays at the same time I play and we both have different parts,” Don explained.
Don believes that music is an important component in the Mass and in attracting people to come to church. “Music is integral to the liturgy today, so we are always working towards fuller and greater participation on every level,” he explained. “My main objective in making music is to entice people to sing, and they love to sing the hymns.”
Diane concurs and believes that music can truly transport you to another place.
“It just shuts out the rest of the world and it’s a different way to bring you to prayer,” she said. “It’s a gift so as people are sometimes thinking about things and want to escape from the world, they can find a prayerful state and isolate themselves and just get caught up in the music and realize that it’s all about praising God.”
Father Robert J. Armato has been the pastor at St. Margaret’s since 2017. He was immediately struck by the talents of the Competellos and called them a talented, gifted, and prayerful couple, who are always ready to serve the parish.
“We share our love of liturgy, our faith, and our Sicilian heritage,” explained Father Armato. “They are a very talented couple, and they have been working with our English and Italian adult choirs and now are in the process of developing a children’s choir to enhance our Sunday Masses and special occasions.”
Don is quick to point out the difference at a choir Mass. St. Margaret has 23 people in the choir and they sing at a Mass that is a combination of more traditional pieces including Latin Motets, which he admits people seem to enjoy.
They don’t necessarily have to participate, but they can sit back and enjoy the music. Diane feels there is an added spirit with a choir group and that the notion of prayer resonates even more deeply with a choir Mass. “We all know why we’re there, and that’s to praise God and try to bring others to praise God.”
Linda Mircik, a member of the St. Margaret Choir, called it an honor to work with Diane and Don because they make everyone feel welcome.
“Don keeps the bar accessible to all: the only thing necessary to join is a pulse,” she laughed. “They make sure that every voice contributes to the liturgy and thus engages others in a deeper way through the music ministry.”
Choir member Marlene Duffy cites Don’s extraordinary talent on the organ and agrees with Mirick that Diane and Don are exceptionally welcoming to new members.
“That is just how they are … always ready to accept someone new. They have made us a family and not just a choir. It is a joy to sing with them,” Duffy added.
Among Diane’s favorite hymns is a choral piece the choir performed last year called “On the Lips of An Angel,” which combined with the Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria.” “It’s just a beautiful piece that speaks about the angel’s message to Mary and how she responded. It’s just incredibly beautiful to listen to,” explained Diane.
Another psalm Diane is partial to is “Bless O Lord the Work of Our Hands,” that she recalls a six-year-old first-grade student of hers performing to perfection back when she taught at St. Elizabeth before becoming a Principal at St. Athanasius.
With Diane’s encouragement, the child went on to pursue a career in music. Diane recently ran into the young lady at a wedding where she asked Diane if she remembered when she let her sing that psalm. “I said, no, I didn’t let you sing the psalm, you gave that gift to the whole school. She just had the voice of an angel,” Diane added.
Arlene Muller called it a blessing to be a member of St. Margaret’s choir. She cites Diane and Don’s dedication, knowledge, skill, enthusiasm and their kindness and appreciation toward the members of the choir for making it the success it has become.
“The most important element of Don and Diane Competello’s music ministry is their spirituality that permeates their ministry and is communicated to us,” said Muller. “It is evident that their main focus is to use their talents and help us fully develop and use our talent to glorify God and to facilitate worship. Their motto is ‘In Our Music God is Glorified,’ and on several occasions, they have reminded us that we are using the gifts God has given us as our gift back to Him.”
Diane said that it is difficult to put into words the secret to their 50 years together. She simply calls it a gift from God and is also quick to sing Don’s praises.
Don recently worked with a class of eighth graders for the annual Christmas pageant and had them sing the Christian song “Emmanuel (Our God is With Us).”
While the once predominantly Italian Queens neighborhood has changed, the need for an all-Italian Mass has lessened, and now St. Margaret hosts a 10 a.m. bilingual Mass where Don sings a combination of Italian, Latin and English hymns. Don can also sing in Spanish whenever it’s required.
Both Don and Diane also contribute their talents to performing at other parishes in the diocese when the need arises. Recently, Don was asked to perform at St. Michael, and Diane performs on Saturdays at the 5 p.m. Mass at St. Elizabeth in Ozone Park.
The couple, who have four children and 10 grandchildren, credit their faith with keeping their family close. “I was very blessed with my children and grandchildren, and I worked for some very good priests over the years that were very good to me and allowed me to earn a living doing what I love to do,” admitted Don.
Twenty-three-year-old Kristiana Wolfe had been a student at St. Margaret School from Pre-K through eighth grade and joined the St. Margaret choir in 2019.
“Although I am one of the youngest members, I always feel like I have a place in the choir,” explained Wolfe. “Mr. and Mrs. Competello have led the choir and all the music ministry at St. Margaret Parish with grace, kindness, and a passion for what they do. Not only are they a beautiful couple, but they are very talented. They both know so much about music, the faith, the liturgy, and leadership. Since they both have decades of experience in Catholic education, they know how to lead a group.”
As far as working together as a team, Don admits that he couldn’t do his job without Diane. “Sometimes the choir laughs because I’m always relying on her to do things because she is so much more organized than I am,” he added.
And both agree that the secret to their ministry is the passion and honesty for the music that they are able to convey.
“We’re just people who have worked for the church our whole lives in some capacity or other,” said Don. “When the kids were growing up and my wife wasn’t working full time, financially it wasn’t easy, but God always provided, and I have to say, somehow we always pulled through. And music has always been my passion, so I was truly blessed.”