A parish in Pewaukee is putting the finishing touches on assembling an antique pipe organ after the organ traveled more than 45 miles from one church in the archdiocese to another.
The unique organ, now located at Queen of Apostles, came from St. Casimir Parish, Kenosha, a parish that closed in 1999 when the parish merged with St. George to form St. Elizabeth Parish, located in the former St. George church.
The organ that originally cost St. Casimir Parish $1,300, was shipped to Wisconsin in 1911 from the Wicks Company in Highland, Illinois. According to Dave Tomasiewicz, director of stewardship at Queen of Apostles, the cost to recreate the organ today would be between $300,000 and $350,000.
“It’s one of a kind,” said Tomasiewicz.
Since the church’s closing, several items were removed from the building and donated to other parishes. St. Anne Parish in Pleasant Prairie received the pews and the Stations of the Cross were moved to St. Elizabeth.
“Everything was left untouched in the church, and everything needed to be kept sacred,” said Fr. Sean Granger, pastor at St. Elizabeth Parish, who wanted to find a home for the organ as well. “It wasn’t good for the instrument to just sit. The longer it wasn’t being played, the worse it was.”
Fr. Granger contacted Queen of Apostles.
“Queen of Apostles was in a similar situation; St. Mary and SS. Peter and Paul (both in Pewaukee) merged,” said Fr. Granger, who came to St. Elizabeth in 2012. “I knew they didn’t have an organ so I contacted them.”
When he first heard about the possibility of acquiring the organ, Fr. Chuck Hanel, pastor at Queen of Apostles, was pleasantly surprised and didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity.
“I thought, ‘What’s the catch?’” he said. “But when I learned the organ wasn’t in a greatly deteriorated situation, I got excited.”
A staff member already familiar with the organ from St. Casimir promised it could be moved and reconstructed, so they drew up a budget.
There was no cost for the organ itself, but there were costs associated for its deconstruction, transit and reassembly at the Pewaukee location. All the necessary labor was paid for exclusively by private donations from parishioners and friends of Queen of Apostles.
“I think having an organ is very important,” said Tomasiewicz. “The Second Vatican Council emphasized the importance of the organ in the liturgical life of the church. It just always struck me a little bit odd that a Catholic Church wouldn’t have an organ.”
After months of planning and fundraising, the moving process began.
“The move was difficult,” said Tomasiewicz. “St Casimir isn’t heated and we were there in the middle of January, when it was freezing.”
More than 30 volunteers from Queen of Apostles and St. Elizabeth parishes helped with the project. St. Elizabeth parishioners who were once members of St. Casimir found the move to be bittersweet.
“In 1911, St. Casimir parishioners paid for the organ to use as Catholic worship and it was able to be used for music for so long,” said Fr. Granger. “People were not happy to close and move parishes, but it was tragic that the property is just sitting there, falling apart. They’re pleased the organ found a new home and will still be used for Catholic worship.”
The volunteers disassembled the organ and individually packed each piece of the deconstructed instrument. All 516 pipes were wrapped in bubble wrap, along with more than 1,000 other parts.
“It was a colossal job that should have taken a number of days,” said Tomasiewicz. “But we had such good help and so many great volunteers that the entire dismantling and packing process was done in one day.”
While the deconstruction and moving process happened quickly, the reconstruction effort was more difficult and time-consuming.
The final pieces of the pipe organ were set in place on March 4.
“I thought it was neat; they put the last pieces together on the feast day of St. Casimir,” said Fr. Granger. “There are still electronics and other features being worked on, but the last pipes were put in on that day.”
Although the organ is not yet fully functional, it has already inspired Queen of Apostles parishioners.
“The parish is very excited, even about the appearance of the organ,” said Fr. Hanel. “They tell me how beautiful it is. People are already impressed with the furnishing of the instrument.”
The parish hopes to have the organ complete and working by Palm Sunday. At some point during the Easter season, Queen of Apostles will host a dedication and blessing of the organ.
“We want to invite whoever in the community wants to come see the organ,” said Tomasiewicz. “We certainly hope people from Kenosha will be able to come up to see the finished organ; it’s such a beautiful and historic piece.”
Fr. Hanel reminds parishioners that even though the organ changed location, its purpose will always be to bring joy and music to the liturgy.
“It’s always called people to worship, and it helped lead people to worship,” said Fr. Hanel. “It provided many decades of music at St. Casimir, but there was a danger of it being abandoned and destroyed. This is its second wind, its second life. It will continue to lift minds and hearts to God at Mass. It’s a win-win.”