by Moira Cullings
OVERLAND PARK — Nearly two years ago, Mark Fortino and Sarah McEnerney Boal were singing to an empty congregation at Church of the Ascension here.
Catholics participating in the parish’s Masses via livestream took comfort in the hymns they sang while churches in the archdiocese were closed due to COVID-19.
Now, the duo’s voices are echoing through countless speakers around the country thanks to their album “Come to Jesus.”
“We’re all sinners, but we’re called to Christ,” said Fortino. “And when you seek Christ in your life, all of your problems truly do go away.
“You can really cope with any issue as long as you know that you’re not alone.”
The 13 songs that make up “Come to Jesus” were professionally recorded and mastered in Nashville, Tennessee.
The album is available to purchase as a digital copy or physical CD.
“People ask, ‘Why do you make a recording?’” said Fortino. “I think the biggest thing is it enables your music ministry to go beyond the walls of the church.”
Boal said the album’s release is timely.
“In a time of such division and isolation,” she said, “I hope this has reached across all of that and speaks to everyone who hears it.”
The duo had help from Dorothy Brandwein, music director at Ascension, who played piano for the album.
“When you listen to the intensity in the keys and the intensity in the music that she puts into it, it’s amazingly musical and inspirational,” said Fortino.
Destiny Mermagen and her husband Michael also played a critical role, providing violin and cello arrangements, respectively.
“I was almost in tears as they were laying their tracks down,” said Fortino. “They came up with all original arrangements.
“You’ll never hear any of these songs done this way in any other recording.”
The project was funded by Fortino, and all profits made are going toward the making of more “Come to Jesus” CDs to distribute to various organizations, including Catholic Charities.
Fortino said the album was inspired by his aunt Chris Kastler and Msgr. Charles McGlinn, a priest of the archdiocese. Both passed away within the past two years.
Msgr. McGlinn “was always a lover of music,” said Fortino.
“He believed in the power of music in the liturgy and what it can do to bring people closer to Christ and really inspire people,” he said.
Fortino’s aunt was also passionate about music, playing the organ from the age of 11 on, mostly at St. Mary Church in Joplin, Missouri.
“[She was] this vibrant woman, loved by so many, and a real leader in the music ministry at St. Mary’s,” said Fortino.
The influence Kastler and Msgr. McGlinn had on “Come to Jesus” is clear. The album is already inspiring many.
Msgr. Tom Tank, senior associate pastor at Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park, called it “a magnificent collection of uplifting, inspirational hymns.”
“It is that wonderful power of music that soothes our spirits and renews our hope,” he said.
The feedback Fortino and Boal have received has been gratifying.
“When people are experiencing difficult moments in their lives — and there’s so much of it right now — these songs . . . bring comfort,” said Fortino. “A lot of people are longing for that right now. And that’s why we do it.”
Fortino and Boal have a long history of cantoring in the archdiocese.
Fortino was the assistant choir director at Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood for 25 years before he and his family joined Ascension in 2013.
Boal started out at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood when the parish was founded. Over the years, she’s shared her talent at countless archdiocesan and parish events.
“The expression of music for me has always been my ministry,” she said. “That’s the way I know how to give back.”
In 2013, Mary Ann Caffrey requested that Boal and Fortino sing at a funeral at Church of the Nativity in Leawood, and their musical chemistry was undeniable.
Now that both are parishioners at Ascension, they sing together regularly.
Boal said that their ministry is more important than ever, and that their songs have been “healing” and “comforting” to many.
“The fact that we can be there to provide any kind of comfort whatsoever — that is an amazing blessing for us,” she said.
The duo hopes “Come to Jesus” will be a source of hope for all who listen.
“Christ is passing by,” said Fortino. “He’s right there. All you have to do is wake up and see it.
“When you recognize it, all of your troubles [and] all of your pain can be taken away.”
Listen to the album
“Come to Jesus” can be purchased online at: in-tuneproductions.com or at Trinity House in Overland Park.
The album can also be found on all major streaming services — including Apple Music, iTunes, Pandora and Spotify — by searching “Come to Jesus Fortino.”