Choristers from the 2018 National Catholic Youth Conference perform, with Andre Heywood conducting. The choir attracts teens from across the country. (NCYC, used with permission)

The National Catholic Youth Choir kicks off its 20th Anniversary Midwest choir tour Thursday, July 11, with a free concert at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior.

This is the first time in NCYC’s 20-year history that the auditioned camp choir, featuring the talents of 35 singers ages 14-18, will perform in the Diocese of Superior.

Each year, NCYC brings together choristers from across the nation, who spend nine days on the campus of Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota. They rehearse daily as a unified choir under the direction of the St. John’s Boys’ Choir conductor, André Heywood.

Heywood is an instructor in the music department at SJU and the College of Saint Benedict. The choir was founded in 1999 by Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB, a monk of Saint John’s Abbey and professor who teaches chant, liturgy and liturgical music.

Mandy Wolvert, managing director of NCYC, said the camp has grown from 26 participants in 2017, when she first became involved, to 35 this year.

“Our goal is to continue to grow it year after year,” she added. “We think it is a great experience for kids, and we always hear, ‘Oh, we wish it was longer.’”

NCYC’s teen singers come from across the country – many are from Texas and the East Coast, Wolvert explained – and their levels of experience vary. While some are singing with very good choirs, others “aren’t really well supported” and may not have performed outside of church.

Using the auditions, Heywood puts together “a really balanced choir,” offering “a higher level of choir direction” to students of all backgrounds.

“We always want them to leave learning something, not only about music and singing, but also about their faith,” she said.

During camp and in concert, Heywood guides students through a range of musical works, from Gregorian chant to 20th-century pieces.

“The concerts are really entertaining,” Wolvert added.

NCYC’s performances are called “pick-up concerts” because they pick up additional choristers through a free workshop. All students, ages 12-18, who want to join the workshop can register online at

Youths must register by July 1 to join; the workshop begins at 2 p.m. and includes a T-shirt and dinner with choir members.

“It kind of gives them a taste of what NCYC is all about, minus the fun campus experience,” Wolvert said.

Camp always ends with a concert tour in the Midwest. They choose sites within a day’s drive from the campus; last year, they sang at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Duluth; other sites on this year’s tour include the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Mankato, and Our Lady of Grace, Edina. Camp ends with a home concert at Saint John’s Abbey.

The 2019 Good Samaritan Tour has the theme “Serve your neighbor.”

To learn more, visit

Q & A with Fr. Anthony Ruff

Fr. Ruff is the founder of National Catholic Youth Choir.

Q: Why was NCYC formed?

A: I wanted young people to have a great experience singing beautiful music in the liturgy. And I admit, I was inspired by the Minnesota All-State Lutheran Choir, and wanted young Catholics to have an experience like the great choral traditions of our fellow Lutherans.

Q: What do you want choristers to take away from the camp experience?

A: First, I’m overjoyed to see young people strengthened in their Catholic faith. One young woman was wavering when she came to NCYC camp, but during her time with the choir decided she definitely wanted to be confirmed as a Catholic. Additionally, I love it when young people have a positive experience of friendship, community, prayer, and the joy of singing. Our young director, Dr. André Heywood, makes it a blast for the kids, and they really have fun rehearsing and singing.