p.1holyhillorgan2Fr. Thomas Lijewski, seated, is no stranger to the newly installed organ at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians at Holy Hill. He often played the organ while it was in its original location in the Mater Christi Chapel in the Cousins Center. Pictured with Fr. Lijewski is Discalced Carmelite Fr. Cyril Guise, director of development for the shrine. View and purchase more photos of the organ online. (Catholic Herald photo by Sam Arendt)When Fr. Thomas Lijewski plays the pipe organ during its dedication ceremony Nov. 21 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians, at Holy Hill, it will be a reunion of sorts.

Fr. Lijewski often played this organ when it was in its original location, the Mater Christi Chapel of De Sales Preparatory Seminary, now known as the Cousins Center, in St. Francis.

Sunday’s hour-long event begins at 3 p.m. and is open to the public. The recital will include 14 songs with a five-minute intermission.

“For the recital, I’ve selected music to show off what this organ can do, things the old organ couldn’t do,” Fr. Lijewski said.

The previous organ at the shrine definitely qualified as old. Built in approximately 1896, that Kimball pipe organ featured 12 ranks or 670 pipes. First purchased by a church in Two Rivers in the Green Bay Diocese, the organ was electrified and installed in the upper shrine church as a temporary instrument in 1931, yet it served the shrine for 77 years.

The new organ has more than twice the number of pipes as the old instrument. As Fr. Lijewski practiced last Friday afternoon, he grinned and joked while manipulating the keys, pedals and stops as he did while in the seminary. Soaring, vibrant sound cascaded through the church.

Fr. Lijewski, who serves as a member of the in solidum team at the Port Washington parishes of St. Mary and St. Peter of Alcantara, and Immaculate Conception, Saukville, began piano lessons at age 8 and organ lessons at age 12. He has toured Europe, playing more than 50 organs, and has given several recitals as organist and with chorus and orchestra.

Discalced Carmelite Fr. Cyril Guise, director of development for the shrine which attract a half million visitors per year, looks forward to the celebration.

“This instrument is a great asset for bringing out the beauty of liturgy,” he said.

The old organ required a lot of attention and its leather components often needed replacing, he explained.

“It was costly to keep up, but with the expense of a new organ, we never envisioned getting one,” Fr. Guise said.

Then, in 2007, with the possible sale of the Cousins Center, a pipe organ became available. The instrument, built in 1963 by the Wicks Organ Company, was purchased by the Discalced Carmelite Friars for the shrine in 2008.

“We have deep gratitude for the generosity of our many benefactors and to the many volunteers who have made this possible,” said Fr. Guise.

Project involved 1,673 pipes

If you want to go:

Fr. Thomas Lijewski will perform a free organ recital on the newly renovated and installed intrument at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians, at Holy Hill, 1525 Carmel Road, Hubertus, on Sunday, Nov. 21 at 3 p.m.

David Broskowski, the pipe technician who directed the design and installation of the new organ, was familiar with the old organ and the Wicks organ because he regularly maintained them. Carl Braxel, Lee Erickson, Gerald Borzych and members of the Knights of Columbus Holy Hill Council assisted with the installation.

The Wicks organ included 1,673 individual pipes, ranging in size from 16 feet tall to the size of a pencil. Each pipe needed to be separately packed, and after a week of work by the team of volunteers, the dismantled organ filled two moving vans.

“It was quite a project,” Broskowski said. “Not everything fit in the elevator that leads to the shrine church, so we had to lift some things over the wall of the outside walkway.” 

There were countless trips up and down the numerous steps, sometimes carrying fragile pieces that weighed 50 pounds.

“Six of us were needed to lift the 16-foot pipes into place,” Broskowski recalled.

One of the more precarious maneuvers involved the organ’s console, which houses the keyboards, stop controls and pedals. It was too large to fit up the narrow stairway that goes to the shrine’s balcony. Instead, the console was hoisted from the floor, over the front of the balcony and then lowered into place by seven men.

Custom-designed to complement the architecture and the acoustics of the church, the Wicks organ was expanded to 29 ranks, or 1,832 pipes total. A week of tuning and regulating followed the installation.

New casings replicate 1920s design

Two new organ casings made of oak, each about 14 feet tall, enclose most of the pipes. To complement the period architecture of the upper church, the new casings replicate 1920s pipe organ design. Neu’s Builders of Hubertus crafted the casework, and volunteers completed the finishing.

The casings are positioned to flank the stained glass window above the balcony. The old pipes were housed in one casing, which presented a less symmetrical appearance and partially obscured the window.

Another plus is that the Wicks organ features electromagnetic pipe valves rather than leather action, which require far less maintenance in their upkeep.

A bit of the old organ remains. Its golden façade pipes are visible above the balcony rail, outside the south chamber. On the north chamber, new façade pipes were made to match the old ones.

Inside the casework, the pipes align in soldier-like formation in graduated sizes; each pipe produces a single tone. The pipes are made of wood and various metals such as lead, tin, zinc and brass. The smallest pipes sound like high-pitched whistles; the largest provide low, floor-rumbling tones.

Organ expected to enhance worship

Fr. Guise said the new organ was obtained to enhance worship, to help shrine visitors give greater praise to God.

The Wicks organ was first played for Mass at the shrine on Easter Sunday in 2009, but Broskowski continued to work on it.

“The old organ did a fine job, but it can’t compare to the new one,” said Anne Fredrickson, one of the organists at the shrine. “It has more pipes; its tone and quality are amazing and it’s fun to play. At the end of Mass, I like to let it roar.”

The pipe organ is played during weekend Masses and on feast days when a large congregation is present. For smaller groups, the shrine’s electronic organ is used.