St. Cecilia organ restoration to breathe new life into old sets of musical pipes

February 13, 2024

A rendering depicts the proposed façade of a new organ at St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Houston. The organ will be comprised of history and renovated organ pipes from St. Mary’s Seminary and the old Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston. (Courtesy of St. Cecilia Catholic Church)

Parish seeks support for organ project

HOUSTON — The organs that once played in three different places of worship going back almost 100 years will be brought back to life at St. Cecilia Catholic Church in west Houston thanks to the vision of its pastor.

The pipes from St. Cecilia’s existing organ, which came from the old Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, along with pipes from the organs at St. Mary’s Seminary and the now-shuttered Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist in Montrose, are being incorporated into a renovated hybrid organ, expected to be completed for this year’s Advent celebrations.

“It will have the ability to accompany the singing of the congregation and allow for mood-setting in which to create a total musical environment that will lift up the spirit of the people and at the same time allow them to really enter into the Liturgy, which is what it’s supposed to do,” said Father Francis Macatangay, pastor of St. Cecilia and the force behind the project. “St. Augustine said, ‘When you sing, you pray twice.’ In this space, it will really lift up your soul.”

The organ from St. Mary’s was originally installed at the site in La Porte, where the seminary was founded in the 1920s. When the seminary was relocated in the 1950s to its current site on Memorial, the organ came with it. The organ was refurbished and rededicated in the early 1990s during Bridget Wenk’s 17-year stint as director of music there.
St. Mary’s Seminary is currently installing a new organ in their chapel, which provided the opportunity for the pipes to be available to St. Cecilia.

Wenk said, “It’s cool” that new life is being breathed into the 100-year-old pipes that have led hundreds of seminarians and guests in the St. Mary’s community for prayers and Masses on a daily basis.

“What a beautiful connection with the past and our traditions,” Wenk, now director of music at Christ the Redeemer Parish in Houston, said. “Our Liturgical documents tell us that the pipe organ has pride and place in our Liturgy, and part of that is its timelessness.”

Father Macatangay bought the organ from the old Co-Cathedral with the idea of having it installed at St. Joseph’s, where he was pastor. With no concrete plans for it at St. Joseph Parish in Houston, Father Macatangay had the organ installed at St. Cecilia after being transferred there in 2014. When he acquired the pipes from St. Mary’s and the church in Montrose, Father Macatangay and his staff started looking into ways to use the pipes from all three organs to build a new organ that would create the right sound for St. Cecilia.

The Tennessee-based R.A. Colby was commissioned for the project, which involves renovating the pipes from the three old organs, augmenting them with new pipes and mechanics, and incorporating digital pipes and stops to create a new instrument. The restored organ will have some 1,740 individual pipes in addition to the pipes for a façade.
“Technically, it’s a hybrid organ with digital stops as well,” said Dr. Michael Ging, a consultant on the project and principal organist at St. John Vianney.

Ging described the project as time-consuming and complicated but said it helps that all three organs were built by Henry Pilcher’s Sons Organ Company and are of similar vintage — the 1920s. Pilcher’s closed in the 1940s.

“We had the benefit of not having to build a Mustang with Toyota parts,” Ging said. In addition to the complexity of using old pipes for the project, Ging said they had to consider the space for the new instrument. The organ will sit at the back of the church, while a façade of pipes in front of it will appear to be suspended for dramatic effect.

“A larger organ at the back of the church will allow us to add more color and a greater variety of sounds to the music and give us more flexibility,” said Andrew Meinen, director of Liturgy and music at St. Cecilia.

Shawn Sanders, owner of Pipe Organ Technicians, who maintained the St. Mary’s and the Co-Cathedral organs, will help dismantle St. Cecilia’s organ after Easter and help install the new instrument after work is completed. He also will maintain it thereafter.

“The craftsmen who built these old organs would be very pleased to know they are still working,” Sanders said. “It should be very nice when it’s completed.”

To learn more, contact Tonia Candelario at †