A 50-year passion that began in second grade

A 50-year passion that began in second grade
Robert Gladden, Jr. has been playing the organ at St. Rose of Lima Parish, Haddon Heights, for 50 years. His son Kyle turns the pages of the sheet music for him Nov. 8, the day he was honored by the parish. Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

Robert Gladden, Jr. has been playing the organ at St. Rose of Lima Parish, Haddon Heights, for 50 years. His son Kyle turns the pages of the sheet music for him Nov. 8, the day he was honored by the parish.
Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

In 1960, second grader Robert Gladden, Jr. first heard a pipe organ while sitting with his family in the pews of Saint Rose of Lima Church, Haddon Heights, during Sunday Mass.

Since then, that sound has reverberated throughout Gladden’s life and, since 1965, he has been the one making it at Saint Rose.

Recently, Gladden, Jr. celebrated his 50th anniversary as organist for the church. Starting out as a 12-year-old in the seventh grade, playing at the church’s 11:45 a.m. Sunday Mass, he is now the full-time organist at the parish.

After he fell in love with the pipe organ after its first notes, he soon received a toy organ for Christmas, followed by lessons in Collingswood, not far from his Haddonfield home.

When Robert was in seventh grade at Saint Rose of Lima, Sister Philomena Marie recognized his passion and talents and asked him if he wanted to practice his skills on the church’s own organ. In the spring of 1965, he began lessons with her, and soon was playing every Sunday. The next year he began playing the Tuesday night Mass, and performed all the music for the school’s events. After graduating, he spent his next four years at Bishop Eustace Preparatory School, Pennsauken, and continued playing at Saint Rose of Lima.

In 1970, Robert went for one semester at Wheeling College in West Virginia, before transferring to Westminster Choir College to study organ music. On the weekends, he would come home to play for Saint Rose’s Masses.`

Four years later, he enlisted in the U.S. Army for active duty, still finding time to play the midnight Mass for his parish. In 1975, he was honorably discharged, and began teaching others the organ and piano. Gladden soon became the full-time organist, and when the Saint Rose Choir began, he became the director of music for the parish.

Today, he still plays every Mass, school event, wedding and funeral. In 1979, he began repairing and rebuilding pipe organs, which he still does with his business, Gladden and Assoc.

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