Saturday, June 19, 2021
Jim Davis - Florida Catholic
MIAMI | “I guess God needed another organist.”
Ginny Matheo may have surrendered Michael Derrick to God’s care. But like others who knew him over his decades of music ministry, she’ll still miss him.
“We knew this was coming,” she said of the stroke that claimed his life on June 18. “But when I heard, my heart broke and I cried.”
Derrick, director of music for nine years at St. Gregory parish in Plantation, died at Jackson South after a massive stroke. He was 69.
Derrick guided liturgical music in South Florida for more than 40 years. Among his jobs were music director for the archdiocese, associate director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship, and organist and music instructor at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. He also served at five churches around the archdiocese, including St. Gregory.
While honoring his musical achievements, though, friends and colleagues this week also remembered Derrick’s personal qualities: warmth, kindness, gentle humor, a commitment to excellence – in people he ministered with as well as himself.
“He had an aura,” said Matheo, a lector and Eucharistic minister at St. Gregory. “When you spoke to him, you could see the sweetness in his soul.”
Andrea Heighes-Revilla, a cantor at St. Gregory, was affected in much the same way by Derrick’s death. She was teaching at a theater camp in Davie when an usher called with the news.
“I kept it in while I was teaching,” said Heighes-Revilla, a cantor for two decades. “But then I went to the bathroom and cried.”
Raised in Church Hill, Tennessee, Derrick seemed born and bred for his art: His parents, who were Lutheran, both had backgrounds in music instruction and ministry. He converted to the Catholic faith at Immaculate Conception Church in Hialeah.
He changed churches but not his love for music. At various times, he worked as organist not only at St. Gregory but at St. Catherine of Siena in Miami, St. James in North Miami, Little Flower in Coral Gables and Our Lady of the Holy Rosary-St. Richard, Palmetto Bay.
During his archdiocesan-level assignments, Derrick kept musicians updated on changes in liturgical norms such as new translations. He conducted an inter-parish choir at the archdiocesan millennium celebration at the Miami Beach Convention Center. And he helped organize a chorale of music directors around the archdiocese.
“He was an excellent organist and a good conductor,” said Patricia Zeiler, a former member of the archdiocesan worship commission. “And I can't ever remember him raising his voice. Even when things got tense, he was flawlessly calm.”
Among Derrick’s gifts was blending music of different ethnic groups, according to Father Juan Sosa, former director for the Office of Worship. “He was one of the first to merge different styles and cultures into one liturgical celebration.”
Another gift of Derrick’s: building skills in others, then taking a back seat to them.
“He wasn't larger than life,” said Father Michael Davis of St. Gregory. “He did high-profile things in an unassuming way. He never wanted to be the star. He trained a lot of young adults to be cantors.”
Andrea Heighes-Revilla saw that quality as he trained her in musical worship at St. Gregory. “He helped my voice grow into what it is now. And he never wanted the credit. He always wanted the singers to shine.”
Even severe illness several years ago didn't stop Derrick from returning to the music ministry at St. Gregory – or from showing a cheerful nature. One of his quips: “Don’t do anything to make my blood pressure go up!”
“He wanted us to feel better that he was feeling better,” Heighes-Revilla said. “He always thanked us for participating. He was always saying, ‘Have I thanked you enough?’ ”
Derrick is survived by Brenda, his wife of 34 years, as well as his brother, Mark, and a sister.
A funeral Mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday, June 25, at St. Gregory. At least 10 priests from Derrick’s previous churches and ministries have already said they plan to attend, according to Father Davis.
“That's a testimony to Michael’s relationship with them,” he added. “Usually, that many priests show up only for another priest.”