Caruso, Henry

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Obituary: Henry W. Caruso / Music store owner and church retreat music director

DAN GIGLER Pittsburgh Post-Gazette dgigler@post-gazette.com

Though frequently attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo, the origins of the phrase “he who sings prays twice” is a subject for debate. Regardless of the source, it is a perfect expression to describe the lifelong passion for music and deep Catholic faith of Henry Caruso.

The proprietor of Caruso’s Music Store and Education Center in Carrick for 33 years and the music director for the Retreat Center at St. Paul of the Cross Monastery on the South Side Slopes for the past 11 years, Mr. Caruso died Thursday of a rare and aggressive form of lymphoma. He was 65.

Mr. Caruso’s wife, Christine, believes the near-lifelong resident of Carrick developed his love of music in utero.

“He grew up with his mother who had been accepted at Juilliard, but her father wouldn’t let her go,” Mrs. Caruso said. “She was a wonderful pianist, so Henry grew up playing piano and loving opera.”

He took piano lessons beginning at age 5 and ultimately studied music at Duquesne University, graduating in 1973. He taught elementary and junior high music in the Gateway School District and Pittsburgh Public Schools and married Christine Sawchak on Valentine’s Day 1975.

Less than four years later, the couple opened their music store and for more than three decades, thousands of Pittsburgh-area children (and adults, too) came through the door and either studied music or got their instruments at Caruso’s.

When Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak honored the Carusos with a proclamation after their retirement in 2012, it wasn’t simply a political gesture to a constituent. She was one of those kids.

“I took piano lessons [at Caruso’s] there from the third grade through high school,” Ms. Rudiak said. “He was always in the store when I was there and he was really a kind, pious and devout person.”

Of the store, Ms. Rudiak said, “It was a gathering place for all ages to enjoy music. It was a great neighborhood business. It was on a block with the pizza shop and the library and it left a hole when it closed down,” she said. “He was such a positive force and he will be sorely, sorely missed.”

“He loved the Carrick community,” Mrs. Caruso said, noting his participation in the business association and the litter patrol.

He started a band program for St. Basil’s school and became the organist and choir director for several churches. His deepening faith led him to bring his musical skill to St. Paul’s retreat center, where he composed liturgical music to enhance the retreats.

“He had a special talent in the area of music and song,” said the Rev. Gerald Laba, director of the retreat center. “He shared and directed that gift to praise God and help others to praise and thank God for the blessings we receive.”

A friend, Kevin Hayes of Mt. Lebanon, is a regular participant at the retreats.

“You never know how you’re going to touch people’s lives,” he said. “Well, 2,500 people make that retreat each year, and they got to know Henry and he touched their lives with his music.”

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Lori Ann, and a brother, Alfred.

Visitation is from 5-8 p.m. Saturday and 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Sunday at Boron Funeral Home, 1719 Brownsville Road. The funeral Mass is at 10:30 a.m. Monday at St. Basil Church, 1735 Brownsville Road.

Dan Gigler: dgigler@post-gazette.com; Twitter @gigs412