A New Pipe Organ

Yesterday, following upon the organ builder’s social media posting, we announced on my parish’s social media (here, here) about the contract we recently signed on a new pipe organ with the Noack Organ Co. of Georgetown, Massachusetts.

The new instrument is being called the Anna Catharine Grace Memorial Pipe Organ, after the generous, long-time supporter of sacred music and the arts in our diocese who, upon her death, left us a legacy gift for about $1.2 million, making this project possible. It will be delivered and installed in 2021.

This page on our Cathedral of Saint Paul web site details some of the history of our present instrument and how we arrived at the point of deciding to commission a new one, rather than attempting to fix the current one. It is a tragic story, for the 1986 instrument should have lasted a great deal longer without needing major interventions, but has barely made it this far. We have done extensive due diligence in pursuing the new instrument and are very confident in the quality and expertise of the builder we have selected.

As you can see in the image above (click on it to enlarge), comparing an actual photo of our current instrument with a computer-generated concept of the new one, the new organ will be quite beautiful in its design, complementing our church’s architecture and also revealing the upper portion of our façade window, which has been covered by the present instrument for the past 33 years. That window, with a modern rendering of St. Paul, our patron, was installed in 1972; the original Victorian gothic window (which matched our other stained glass) had been damaged a couple of decades prior from straight-line winds and, as I understand, had been replaced temporarily by a clear glass window. Although the 1972 window is of a more modern style and quite different from our older glass, exposing it will allow much more light into the church (as the architect intended) and enable us to maintain it better (right now it is inaccessible).

Here is a larger view of the concept for the new instrument:

Full musical/technical specs for the new instrument can be found on Noack’s web site. There are many improvements over our present instrument, including the fact that more stops will be “under expression”, enabling a greater dynamic range that will support many different styles of sacred music and congregational singing. A fuller explanation of these aspects is included in the page our music director, Mr. Bruce Ludwick, Jr., made here.

We have had a Capital Campaign under way for about three years now, connected specifically with this pipe organ project (and some other needs on our campus). Until now it has been a “passive” campaign — we just take a monthly second collection. Soon it will transition to an “active” campaign, with pledges toward a stated goal. Our Capital Campaign chairs are forming a committee and soon we will start the pledge process.

With the estate gift of $1.2MM and other generous gifts from parishioners and friends (whether through our regular Capital Campaign collection, or specifically designated for the organ project) totaling over $250K, we already have about 75% of the cash needed for this project on hand. By signing a contract now, we were able to secure our place in line and ensure that we can have the new instrument by the first half of 2021, about two years from now — even as the task of fundraising remains! Our 1986 instrument is failing rapidly, so those two years cannot pass quickly enough. We are grateful for the support of the Bishop and the diocesan College of Consultors, in allowing us to move forward with a contract and continued fundraising.

If you feel moved to support this project financially, we have a variety of ways to accept your kind gift. If you have a WeShare account or would like to set one up, you may give online at https://stpaulsbhm.churchgiving.com/organ. If you prefer to use PayPal, you’re in luck: we have that also. To give by check, please send it to my attention, so that I can ensure that we credit it properly and that you receive grateful acknowledgment:

Very Rev. Bryan W. Jerabek, J.C.L., Pastor & Rector
Cathedral of Saint Paul
P.O. Box 10044
Birmingham, AL 35202-0044

Because this is a diocesan-approved Capital Campaign, we do not have to pay taxes to the Chancery on the funds that we raise; we can use 100% of the gifts received for this project. Gifts to the Campaign are also tax-deductible gift to the extent of IRS and state laws.

Some may be unable to give or not wish to do so, but I hope all might say a prayer for this project. Right now, we are observing a Year of St. Joseph in the Diocese of Birmingham. It is always good to entrust all of our building needs to the great saintly carpenter! Kindly invoke his intercession! Here is a good prayer, in which you can include this and your other special intentions.

The Church has always been a great patron of the arts, and she taught us in the Second Vatican Council that “in the Latin Church, the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 120). This grand instrument functions much like the human voice and is able to produce a marvelous variety of sounds that come together in a symphony of praise to Almighty God.

An instrument like this is of course quite expensive, but we will reach our goal with many gifts, small and large. This is how it has always been. Our fine church, dedicated in 1893, was made possible because of the sacrificial giving of Catholics, many of whom were not wealthy. Today, also with the help of many, we will succeed in procuring this new instrument in Birmingham, which will, God-willing, be a monument of praise to God and of aural and visual beauty. Thank you for your prayers and support!

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