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The Villages
Friday, May 24, 2024

Catholic deacon spends Easter season playing Rabbi’s son on stage

Greg Senholzi in his role as a Catholic deacon
Greg Senholzi in his role as a Catholic deacon.

Greg Senholzi is an ordained Catholic deacon but during this Easter season, found himself in a different role – a Rabbi’s son.

Senholzi played the role of Mendel, the Rabbi’s son, in “Fiddler On the Roof.” The famed musical on Jewish life in turn-of-the century Russia recently played to sold out performances at Savannah Center.
For Senholzi, the clash of religious roles never happened.
“I loved playing Mendel,” said the 71-year-old Villager. “For me, it was an extension of my faith. It brought me back to my Catholic roots, because the Catholic faith is an extension of Judaism. Jesus was a Jew.”

Greg Senholzi currently serves as a deacon at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Wildwood. He has played many roles throughout his life, and not all were on stage or an altar.
Senholzi taught school for 37 years in Long Island, N.Y.  It was there that he and his wife Rochelle – also a retired teacher — raised two children, David and Vicki.

Greg Senholzi played a rabbi's son recently in Fiddler On the Roof
Greg Senholzi played a rabbi’s son recently in “Fiddler On the Roof.”

Greg Senholzi was a math and computer science teacher. But his real passion was theater and he also taught drama for nearly a decade.
He found time to appear in local productions, including a role in “Fiddler,” as a young man. Acting and singing was part of the family history. His father –Bruce Senholzi – was a singer on the Perry Como television show back in the 1950s.

“I enjoy entertaining, singing and being on stage,” he said. In a way, that helps in his calling as a deacon.
“I am a preacher,” Senholzi said. “God gave me the gift of preaching. In order to get the message of God over to people, I have to bring my homily to life.”
Before he does so, Senholzi said he writes a script about the topics to cover. He can use stage techniques, such as voice inflection, facial expressions and making eye contact with parishioners – to add power to his words.

Bill Krone, left, and Greg Senholzi, far right, on stage for Fiddler On the Roof
Bill Krone, left, and Greg Senholzi, far right, on stage for “Fiddler On the Roof.”

“To me, what matters most, is serving God and serving people,” he said.

The role of deacon is a demanding one. Senholzi spent six years studying in a seminary before he was ordained in 1994. He studied another six years to become a spiritual director.

Basically, a deacon’s role is to assist the priest.  In the Catholic faith, a deacon cannot hear confessions or consecrate the Host for communion. But, among other duties,  a deacon can baptize; preside over prayer services and officiate at wakes and funerals. They can also witness marriages and bless religious articles.
Senholzi said he often works morning until evening as a deacon. On the Saturday before Easter, he was in church at 7 a.m. His duties included prayer services and blessing Easter baskets of food. He returned to church at 6 p.m. for more religious duties.
Senholzi often visits hospitals and elderly care centers, to share the faith with those unable to attend church.
“It’s a long day, every day, and I basically work seven days a week,” he said, noting that a deacon is a voluntary position without pay. “I work harder now than I ever did before, but I don’t mind. It’s not about money. It’s about God.”

Rochelle Senholzi understands her husband’s dedication. “It wasn’t easy for him to become a deacon,” said his wife of 48 years.  “He was teaching, we were raising two kids but it was something he felt a calling to do. He wanted to serve the Lord.”

The couple bought a house in The Villages in 2010. And they both found opportunities in the arts. Both are members of The Villages Pops Chorus. Theater offered another opportunity for her husband, as he has worked in many productions.

“I’m so proud of him,” she said. “It’s amazing how he can become someone else on stage. When he gets into a character, he’s like a complete other person.”

Greg and Rochelle Senholzi live in The Villages and have been married 48 years
Greg and Rochelle Senholzi live in The Villages and have been married 48 years.

Rochelle Senholzi’s father was Jewish and her mother Catholic. She appreciated her husband’s  work in “Fiddler.”
“He loved doing that role,” she said. “We had a lot of laughs; I told him, he fit right in with the Rabbi. But no matter what he does; Greg puts his heart and soul into it.”

Bill Krone, who played the lead role of Tevye in “Fiddler,” was also impressed. “He did a good job and worked hard. I got to talk to Greg, and he’s a fascinating guy.”

Faith is what inspires Senholzi. In his role as deacon, he often must comfort those who have lost a loved one. He tells them the story about his father.
“My father always gave a rose to my mother and sister every Christmas. He died in September, 1996. My mother and my sister had rose bushes in their gardens, in Long Island.
“On Christmas, 1996, there was a red rose in my mother’s rose bush. My sister lived in a different house on Long Island, but she also had a red rose growing in her garden.
“There’s no scientific way to explain a rose growing in the middle of winter in New York –but it happened.
“I saw it as a sign — God was telling my mother and my sister that my father was OK.
“I tell that story to give grieving people hope. For me, that’s the best part of being a deacon –giving people hope. Because, no matter who you are or what religion you are –our souls have to live on.”  

Tony Violanti writes about music and entertainment for Villages-News.com. He was inducted into The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame as a music journalist.

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