For 65 years, Carol Grivett has brought music to St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Crystal Lake.
As pastors, bishops and even popes have come and gone, she's been the one constant fixture behind the organ.
Taught by her "inspirational" Dominican music teacher, Sister Herman Joseph, Grivett began at age 12, playing the morning Masses for an occasional 50 cents from the pastor at the time. He called her his "little buddy."
"That was big news back in those days for a 12-yearold," she said of her pay.
Now 77, Grivett still plays weekly at the church, her fingers gliding over the keys to deliver some of the same hymns she played as a child.
And she does so with such enthusiasm it's contagious, Monsignor Dan Hermes said.
"She's' a feisty redhead. She's so much fun and so alive and so full of life and joy," he said. "She's just like the Energizer bunny, she just keep going and going. She loves the parish and is so dedicated to the parish and everybody knows her and loves her."
Grivett never tires of the job, feeling blessed to still be at the church.
This past month, she was officially blessed.
During a surprise presentation at the church's Christmas Concert, Grivett was given a Papal Blessing as her family members looked on. Papal blessings come directly from the Office in Vatican City with the papal seal, signature and hand-painted calligraphy on parchment paper.
"Not just anyone can get one of those," said Julie Hermann, the church's director of music.
Hermann applied for the blessing, submitting the paperwork several months before it was approved.
She wanted to honor Grivett after learning of her legacy at the church.
"Sixty-five years, that's a pretty big milestone," she said. "It's pretty unheard of to find a music minister at one parish for that long."
Hermann has known Grivett the 11 years she's been at St. Thomas, including the past year as music director.
She planned the surprise presentation, asking Grivett's family members, some of whom traveled from out of town, to attend the Dec. 20 service. Grivett has three grown children and three grandchildren.
She had no idea many of them were sitting three rows behind her during the concert.
"I never even turned around and saw them," Grivett said. "It was a total shock when monsignor said, 'I think some of Carol's family is here.'"
Monsignor Dan Hermes announced the Papal Blessing after thanking the chorus.
In the time Grivett has been at the church, eight pastors and 20 associate pastors have come and gone, he told the crowd.
"She's been playing since 1948," he said. "Think of how the world's changed since 1948. She's just been our steady-eddy. She's a treasure. We're so grateful for her. We told her this couldn't be her retirement party – it's just an appreciation."
As soon as Hermes mentioned a parishioner playing the organ since age 12, Grivett said she knew he was talking about her.
And then she learned of the blessing.
"I just about fainted," she said. "I couldn't believe it. I thought it was wonderful. To get a blessing like that is very special. Not too many people can say they have that from the Pope."
Still, she said, playing the organ through the years has never been a chore. Along with Masses, she's played wedding and funerals.
She'll occasionally have to review music beforehand for special requests, but can play most anything by simply sight reading.
"I just remember what my teacher told me," Grivett said. "She said, 'The talent you have received is the gift from God. What you do with it is your gift back to Him.' That always stuck in my mind."