After months of meticulous restoration, the pipe organ at Our Lady of Refuge Church, Flatbush, was returned June 17 to the parish for re-installation.
Movers carried parts of the organ piece-by-piece off two trucks and into the church building. Over the next two weeks, the crew will assemble as much of the organ as possible and will then return Aug. 1 to complete the process. The goal is to have the organ completely rebuilt and properly tuned by mid-September.
The organ was built in 1933 by George Kilgen & Son of St. Louis. At one time, 900 pipe organs graced churches in Brooklyn, but now only about 70 remain in use, with less than 10 in excellent working condition.
The restoration of the organ at Our Lady of Refuge started as a grassroots movement six years ago. The organ had been silenced for about a decade prior to that, but it was then restored to working order.
However, the exterior pointing of the church was leaking, which allowed water to seep into the organ chamber. Also, plaster was peeling off of the walls and getting into the pipes, causing further damage.
At that point, Father Michael Perry, pastor, and Joe Vitacco, chairman of the organ restoration committee, decided that while renovations to the parish were ongoing, it would be the optimal time to restore the organ.
Most of the 1,800 pipes – ranging from 18 feet to one inch in length – were restored at the A.R. Schopp Company of Alliance, Ohio, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of organ pipes. The three-manual organ console was sent to Quimby Pipe Organs in Warrensburg, Mo., one of the best builders of organ pipes in the U.S.
Vitacco attended first and second grade at Our Lady of Refuge Elementary School in the mid-1970s. His grandparents had moved into the parish in 1960, so Vitacco remembers going to the parish with his family.
“As a little kid, I fell in love with the pipe organ,” Vitacco said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but it entirely changed my life.”
Vitacco works in business, finance and accounting in Washington, D.C., where he is a parishioner at St. Mary Mother of God Church, yet he always felt a special connection to his first parish and the organ.
He asked Father Perry if he could lead the charge in restoring the organ, and the pastor responded with a resounding “Yes.”
“Pope Benedict said that the organ is the main instrument for the Church,” Father Perry said. “This is an instrument that needed to be preserved and restored.”
Through social media, Vitacco and Father Perry sought donations for the organ restoration process. The parish held soup dinners, concerts and even a pig roast to help finance the campaign. Parishioners were also given the opportunity to “Sponsor a Pipe” with donations anywhere from $10 to $200.
However, the majority of the 1,400 individual donations, which helped raise more than $250,000, did not come from the parish but instead came from organ enthusiasts abroad.
“The response has been rather incredible from all around the world,” Vitacco said. “Most of the people that donated to this have never been to New York or Brooklyn and have never even been to this church.”
Vitacco kept all interested parties updated via the pipe organ’s own Facebook page (Facebook.com/kilgen5163). As donors saw the progress, many were compelled to provide additional funding, Vitacco said.
“It’s an amazing tribute of people’s love for God and people’s love for organ music,” Father Perry said. “The organ adds to the solemnity and the spirituality of every liturgical act that we do here. It provides an oral context for worship, and that oral context lifts up the soul.”
On Friday, Oct. 18, Auxiliary Bishop Frank Caggiano will bless the restored pipe organ followed by a concert by famous French organist Olivier Latry, one of the titulaire organists of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.
For more information on the pipe organ and the concert see the parish website: www.olrbrooklyn.org.
Click here to view NET-TV’s coverage of the unloading of the trucks on Currents.