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Marquette Wire

Marquette priest plays violin alongside students

Photo by Isabel Bonebrake
Father Zeps has been playing with the orchestra since its inception in 1981.

There has never been a Marquette orchestra without Father Michael Zeps, Cobeen’s Jesuit in residence.

Zeps has played violin with the Marquette orchestra since its inception back in 1981 when a group was put together for a production of West Side Story.

“It was so successful that they extended the run for several more performances. Then, they just decided to keep the orchestra going. There was no tradition of string music here. There were no scholarships of course, it was all extracurricular,” Zeps said.

He’s been at Cobeen for even longer than he’s been in the orchestra. With the exception of one year on the 2nd floor, Zeps has been in the same room on the 3rd floor of Cobeen throughout his time at Marquette, which began in 1979.

“You know, freshmen especially are very pleasant. They’re just out of high school, and they’re all wide eyed and interested and so students are just so alive. You walk into Cobeen and it’s bubbly, though it does get a little noisy at two in the morning on Saturdays,” Zeps said. 

Zeps is originally from Milwaukee and attended Marquette High School. Prior to his return to Milwaukee, Zeps spent time in Europe working on a PhD and at several other universities such as Stanford and Santa Clara. 

Zeps started playing the violin back in middle school, though he said he knew he wanted to be a priest as early as grade school. 

“I was always gonna be a priest, but I was never gonna be a Jesuit because I hated school. But then it came time to decide what kind of a priest you want to be (and) the only person I knew of was a Jesuit. But I just know that if I go, if I become a Jesuit, I’m going to end up teaching. And sure enough, I did,” Zeps said.

Though he is now retired from teaching, Zeps spent over 40 years teaching in the history department. There is a retirement community for older Jesuits at St. Camillus, but Zeps said he doesn’t anticipate leaving Marquette anytime soon.

“I would just stay right here. Because it’s exciting. I like being around young people. I live in a dorm. I sure like the basketball games,” Zeps said.

Though he’s spent decades at Marquette, Zeps said one of his favorite moments came this year when the women’s basketball team upset then No. 4 UConn at home Feb 8

While Zeps loves basketball, that’s not the only reason he continues to stay at Marquette.

“I enjoy playing with the students. We put together a quartet every year for the business school graduation in December. So I just go around, I try to get the very best people in the sections each time and we’ve got some very good players,” Zeps said.

Hope Johnson, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and first chair of the cello section, is one of the students that has played with Zeps in a quartet. 

Father Zeps is always offering kind words of encouragement in the orchestra. I have played with him a few times now for a Marquette graduate school ceremony. It’s a nice change of pace to play music with a small group. It’s another excuse to get together to do what musicians love to do, which is play music,” Johnson said.

Zeps said that though music is a big part of his retirement, he also makes time for other things such as gardening. The Jesuits have a place in Holy Hill where Zeps can grow his favorite crop; tomatoes. Last year, he grew 14 different types of tomatoes.

“I start them from seeds, in March, and I watch him grow that so much from my transplant a couple times and put them in the ground and watch them grow. You know, God does the work,” Zeps said. 

While parts of Zeps’s life have stayed consistent throughout his time at Marquette, his relationship with God has changed.

“(My relationship with God) is very different now. God is just always there and it’s very easy to pray whereas before I had to put myself into a situation of prayer. Now, I know him pretty well, that’s just my buddy God,” Zeps said. 

But Zeps love of music hasn’t changed much in his time at Marquette.

“He just likes to play, it’s an outlet for him. And he said to me one time that he’s having so much fun, he doesn’t want to stop,” Erik Janners, Director of Music, said.

Zeps will be performing with students once again this Saturday, April 30 at 2 p.m. in Varsity Theatre for the spring orchestra concert.

This story was written by Megan Woolard. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @MeganWoolard4.

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About the Contributor
Megan Woolard
Megan Woolard, Managing Editor of the Marquette Tribune
Megan is the Managing Editor of the Marquette Tribune at the Wire. She is a Senior from Portland, OR studying journalism and English literature. In her free time, Megan enjoys collecting CDs. She is a huge fan of the Portland Trailblazers. This year Megan is looking forward to spending time with other staff members and producing important content. 

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