By Tony DeGol
Friends of the late Jeff Arpino say the well-known church organist left a legacy as uplifting as his music.
Arpino, Music Director at Sacred Heart Parish in Altoona and organist at Saint Joseph Parish in Bellwood, passed earlier this month due to complications from COVID-19. He was 57 years old.
“Jeff Arpino was the best,” said Deb Kelleher, a Sacred Heart cantor. “It was just beautiful what came out of him. He brought peace to so many through his music.”
Kelleher and her husband, Mike, were stunned to learn of Arpino’s passing.
Their friendship with him dated back more than two decades when their daughters participated in ballet together and the families spent time together socially.
The bond continued through the years at the parish.
“He was a gifted musician,” noted Mike Kelleher. “I could listen to him all day. He was so humble with his talents. Maybe he didn’t realize how many lives he was touching.”
According to his obituary, Arpino was inspired early as a musician and started playing the organ at Masses at age 14.
Among the other parishes at which he played are the former Saint John and Saint Joseph in Portage and Saint Francis Xavier in Cresson.
He served at Sacred Heart for 23 years.
It was there that he and Judy Wahl became good friends.
As a cantor, Wahl sings at many funerals at the parish, and Arpino often played the organ.
“In all the years I have been a cantor, there were only a handful of times he wasn’t there,” Wahl mentioned. “He would always take the time to make sure I was comfortable with the music.”
A cherished memory of Wahl’s is Arpino teaching her the Ave Maria.
Beyond music and parish life, however, the two shared other interests including gardening, antiques, and hosting social gatherings.
Like Wahl and the Kellehers, others in the Sacred Heart family are mourning Arpino.
“For sure he’s going to be missed,” said the pastor, the Very Reverend Lubomir Strecok, VF.
Although all generations related to Arpino and his music, Father Strecok was especially struck by Arpino’s ability to engage children in the ministry.
“He knew how to encourage their singing,” Father recalled. “It was a great gift. Jeff would want us to not stop singing. Just like he used his talents, we have to use our talents.”