November 13, 2007 is the one year anniversary of the passing of D.C. Fitzgerald. Here is a piece that I wrote last year that appeared in the Pittsburgh Catholic.
D.C. Fitzgerald Legendary Guitarist and Altar Server
by Mark Sullivan
When D.C. Fitzgerald passed away in November, his obituary described him as a talented guitarist and fixture on the Pittsburgh folk music scene. However, altar server at St. Benedict the Moor in the Hill District was not listed among has activities. D.C. was that rare combination of first-rate secular musician and devout Catholic.
Hundreds of people gathered at the Edgewood Club on January 27th for a seven-hour concert celebrating his life and music. If musical success was measured in friendships made instead of records sold, D.C. Fitzgerald was the most successful artist of all time.
I took guitar lessons from D.C. for over three years beginning in August of 1999 until September of 2002. In the short attention span of a twentysomething guitar player, that’s a really long time. Besides teaching guitar, it seemed that he had read every book and listened to every album ever made.
I would say, “I’ve been listening to a lot of …” He would respond in a heartbeat, “Don’t you just love…” an hour-long conversation would follow. That was my favorite part of the lesson.
The last time I saw D.C. was Easter Saturday 2005 in the parking lot of the Giant Eagle in Braddock Hills. He greeted me, “My man! Check it out. Got my Easter ham, and I’m serving tonight at the Easter Vigil at St. Benedict the Moor. Praise the Lord!”
From my first guitar lesson with D.C., I could tell he was a religious person. But it wasn’t until I had taken lessons from him for about a year that he told me he his conversion story. D.C. was a fabulous storyteller, but he didn’t elaborate much—he wanted to know if God existed, so as a test he prayed for God to let him know if He did exist. God told him yes, so D.C. asked him what religion should he join because there was so many. God told him Christianity. D.C. asked what denomination, and God said Catholicism. He went to R.C.IA.
I saw him perform one time and found it curious that he dedicated a song to his “friend in the oil business,” which turned out to be his nickname for Fr. Lou Vallone who had given him instruction in the Catholic faith. Fr. Vallone had also given D.C. anointing of the sick before his liver transplant. D.C loved the “materialism” of the Catholic Faith–that bread, wine, oil, water, and even sexual intercourse could become the actual instruments of God’s grace. He would turn a song into prayer by directing it to God. I remember hearing him play “I’m Beginning to See the Light” and “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” by Duke Ellington and seeing a whole new spiritual dimension open before my eyes.
When I heard that he died, I went to noon mass at St. Anselm’s in Swissvale, near where he lived, and asked the priest to offer mass for the repose of his soul. On my way back to work, I drove by his house hoping to catch a final glimpse of his figure through the window waiting for me to arrive for my lesson. Later that night my wife consoled me, “Just think of how much he’ll be able to help you now from heaven.” The last time I saw D.C. in the parking lot of the Giant Eagle, he was on his way to heaven. The most willing altar boy with Easter ham in hand. I’m sure his Easter joy is full now.