Steve Petrunak, Incoming NPM President, in Interview

The National Association of Pastoral Musicians recently announced the appointment of Steve Petrunak as President and CEO, beginning next May. Pray Tell visited with Steve about his new job.

How does it feel to step into leading the largest church music organization in the world?
Until May 1, 2017, Msgr. Rick Hilgartner will remain the President/CEO. So these thoughts and ideas will take a few months to fully emerge! You know, I’ve been around NPM and have been a part of leadership for so long now that I don’t really ever stop to think about the fact that it is as large as it is! I’m enormously excited to help serve the membership in a greater leadership capacity, but I also feel a sense of awe stepping into this position. I’m trying hard to not let the immensity of the change become too overwhelming!!

What background and experience do you bring to this position?

petrunakI have served in music ministry for the past 43 years at St. Blase Parish in Sterling Heights, the last 23 years as director of music. So I know pastoral music ministry quite well. I am also a published liturgical artist, so I’m familiar with and sensitive to our relationship with our Industry partners. And I also have 15 years in corporate management experience. The combination of these three different experiences gives me a most unique perspective entering into this new venture.

For many years while in the corporate world, I would question why I was there when my real passion was liturgical music. I now realize that my time as a Vice President of Administration for a steel service center really helped train and prepare me for this moment. I was exposed to and responsible for seemingly every part of the non-production side of the business: all hiring, firing, inside sales, strategic planning, computer systems, training… So after 15 years, I left the corporate world and took over as music director at St. Blase, only to discover that many, MANY of the skills I learned in the corporate world helped me with planning liturgies, scheduling musicians, working with volunteers, communication, dealing with conflict and mentoring youth. I had never realized just how much of what I learned in management applied to my position as music director. What I DID lack when I became music director, however, was the pastoral ministry element of the work we do. Over the years, I was able to learn just what servant leadership was all about, and the community and all of the volunteers at St. Blase helped teach me just what it meant to serve in leadership. It is this style of leadership from which I intend to lead NPM.

What are your dreams for where NPM will be going?
NPM is a membership association, meaning that the association belongs to its members. Therefore, it is one of my biggest dreams to help bring together all of the wisdom and talent of many of our members: of the NPM Council, Industry partners and Committee members, pulling together to help NPM serve the mission of the association. I also hope to empower our Chapter leadership and let them help NPM grow. I would love to see the financial development of NPM through the work of the Finance and Development Committee. And I hope to offer better support to our enormously committed national staff. When these “dreams” come to fruition, NPM will be in a tremendous position to better serve its mission.

What are the main challenges facing pastoral musicians in the U.S.?
As church attendance declines in the U.S., pastoral musicians face the challenge of operating their programs with shrinking budgets. This translates into less support for training, new music and even lower musician salaries. With church closures, merges and clustering, fewer musicians are now required, and some have lost their jobs as a result. Music programs themselves are suffering from the decline in church attendance as the pool of volunteers shrinks. The support that the NPM membership offers one another is so crucial during this challenging time in our Church.

What are the main challenges facing NPM?
It’s no surprise that NPM has lacked the financial security to really fully support the mission. It is my hope that we can find creative ways of developing and strengthening NPM’s financial position and bring NPM to greater financial health. We will certainly require the help and support of all members to achieve this goal! NPM also needs to find a way to stem the tide of declining membership. We must identify and reach out to those liturgical musicians who may have never heard of NPM or who have decided that NPM has little to offer. The expertise of our NPM Chapters will certainly be crucial here! We will look at ways of increasing the benefits for members, especially through the greater use of technology. I believe the relationship we have with our industry partners can definitely grow. Finally, we have a lot to learn from those different cultures we so long to serve but have not yet successfully done so. How can we serve those whom we don’t know? We have a lot to learn from different cultural groups

What are NPM’s hard stats? Do you think you can turn it around or stabilize it?
NPM has definitely experienced declining membership, no doubt. We are now below 5,500 members, down almost 50% from our high-water mark in the early to mid-90’s. However, there is tremendous hope here. Consider this – so there are roughly 15,000 Catholic churches in the US, all of them involving some kind of music program. What if NPM had members from just half of those churches? That alone would add some 2,000 new members. But think bigger here… how many musicians, singers, directors and cantors sing in Catholic churches across the U.S. each Sunday? What if NPM had just 10% of all of those ministers as members? The numbers are there… if NPM can just reach out to them. There is tremendous hope here… and already some interesting strategies brewing to increase membership. Stay tuned!!

If you were to name your vision in 5 words or less, what would it be?
My vision in 5 words? Hmmm… I’d say “United by gifts and talents.” NPM has a most gifted and talented membership, filled with wisdom and energy. It is the task of leadership to bring them all together for the good of the association. My belief in the mission and the deep commitment by so many members drives my passion for NPM.

People will want to know: with your background and gifts, will NPM shift more toward contemporary music, with less traditional or organ-based music?
As far as I’m concerned, we need to look more at what all pastoral musicians have in common instead of focusing on our differences, especially where musical styles are concerned. I’ll never forget working with a group of young pastoral musicians at the Cleveland Regional Convention a number of years ago. I asked about 30 young adults what style of liturgical music they preferred. To a person, they all agreed that it wasn’t the style of music that was important, but the way in which the music was skillfully presented. In essence, was the music done well? If the music was executed well, regardless of the style, the music fed them. What tremendous wisdom! I don’t anticipate that NPM’s support of well-executed music will diminish during my leadership.

Is NPM liberal?
This is easy. NPM supports all pastoral musicians. Period. Our mission says that NPM fosters the art of musical liturgy. I don’t hear any labels in that mission, no delineations, no distinctions. If you foster the art of musical liturgy, you belong. That’s who NPM is – a collection of people who foster the art of musical liturgy.

What are your hopes for outreach to young people, to Hispanics, to African-Americans and Asians and other ethnic groups?
I am convinced that we don’t yet know how to reach out to different cultural groups, what to offer them, or even what they need. We have a lot to learn from these groups about what THEY have to offer US! It’s really a shift in our mindset; once we learn about what they can offer us, we can also then learn about what we can offer them. That will only happen when we stop thinking that we already know what they need. I don’t think we’re there yet.

Regarding our youth, all of us must support our young people through meaningful mentoring programs that empower them with the skills to lead sung prayer. We must invite them and create room for them in our association! They must be given opportunities to share their talents, even within leadership in NPM. It’s my hope to see more and more young people find a home with NPM!!

Do you have any plans for Cincinnati 2017? Or is that all set already?
I have plans on attending Cincinnati and being told what to do!!!! The National Staff and the Cincinnati Local Committee have been working very hard for months on the Cincinnati convention, and the last thing they need is for an over-zealous soon-to-be president telling them what to do! They’re in good shape without me!! And by the way, I’d like to invite everyone who reads this interview to come out and attend the 2017 Cincinnati Convention! With all the energy and effort going into it, this Convention is going to be amazing! Hope to see you there!!

Anthony Ruff, OSB, conducted the interview.



  1. Congratulations to Steve Petrunak on his selection as NPM President! I have deep admiration and affection for Steve, and enjoyed working with him on the NPM Board. I experienced firsthand his strong leadership abilities, his ability to work with people and to understand complex issues, and his deep passion for fostering discipleship through liturgy, music, and pastoral ministry.

  2. Thank you to the NPM Search Team and Board for raising up an NPM member with just the kind of experience needed to lead the organization into its next phase!

    Having worked with Steve on an NPM Committee for the past few years, I admire his enthusiasm, willingness to try new things, his ability to affirm others, and so much more! I look forward to a bright future for NPM in the US!

  3. I belonged to NPM for quite a few years, with the parish picking up the annual membership fee. At some point, the parish let it lapse (without telling me – typical :-)).

    Liturgical music is not my profession – I’m just a weekend warrior. I really think NPM can offer a lot to folks like me, who are sort of contributors to the parish music program but who don’t work for the parish and for whom it’s not a primary income stream.

    I also would guess that the decline in NPM membership is in line with the atrophying in solidarity that we can observe across the larger culture. For some reason we’re less inclined to look out for one another.

  4. Congratulations and welcome to Steve. I’m glad to hear he will focus on greater use of technology. I believe there is great undeveloped potential for social networking and online resources for church musicians. With my busy work and home schedule, I attend maybe one NPM chapter meeting per year, but hardly a day goes by when I don’t interact with my NPM friends and colleagues on Facebook. I would like to see NPM hire a digital-native (i.e. someone under the age of 30) to develop a robust presence for NPM on social media.

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