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Our Lady of good Counsel, Mankato, Minnesota chapel and organ.In April 1975, one of the world’s largest pipe organs moved from St. Mary’s Church in Boston to Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mankato, Minnesota. The organ was built in October 1877. It is the largest surviving organ in a series of organs designed and built by William A. Johnson & Son of Westfield, Massachusetts. The company continued building organs into the early 1900s. In a 1975 article for The St. Paul Dispatch, Richard Lurth, Owner of Lurth Organ Company of Mankato, Minnesota, stated that the construction of the organ was completed in the form of a challenge after another Boston church had ordered an organ built by a European craftsman. At the time, American organ builders were upset by their work being judged as second best. Due to this, when Johnson got the order for St. Mary’s organ, he went all out to prove American organ builders should not take a back seat to anyone. For nearly a century, the pipe organ lent its voice to St. Mary’s Church.

If it wasn’t for a chain of random incidents, the historic St. Mary’s organ may have been lost forever. Lurth worked on the 50-year-old organ the sisters were using at Our Lady of Good Counsel before receiving the Johnson & Son organ. He was well aware of the sisters declining organ, which could only be used when the church wasn’t heated. As a result, the sisters went without an organ during the winter months. During one of Lurth’s many trips, he had told the sisters it was time to get a new organ. As fate would have it, Lurth came across an article, concerning the demolition of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Boston due to urban renewal and the possible loss of their organ to wreckers. Father Peter Brandenhof, Good Counsel Chaplain and President of Liturgy Commission for the Diocese of Winona, Minnesota, also read the same article. As Chaplain, and an organist himself, Father Brandenhof was aware of Our Lady of Good Counsel’s pressing need for an organ and quickly teamed up with Lurth to secure St. Mary’s organ.

Our Lady of Good Counsel, Mankato, Minnesota had an organ moved to their chapel in 1975. This is the outside of the church and a moving crew. When Lurth and Father Brandenhof arrived to inspect the organ, Lurth was pleasantly surprised to find that the organ remained in near original condition. The only changes, all minor, were carried out when the organ was made electric in 1929. They also found that the organ could be purchased if the buyers met two requirements: that the instrument be installed in a place of worship and that it be installed where the acoustics would add to the beauty of its voice. Our Lady of Good Counsel Chapel fit the bill on both accounts.

Once the organ was obtained, Lurth went back to Boston to oversee taking the instrument apart, piece by piece, packing it in crates with care not to damage the metal pipes or any of the vital parts. The organ was transported by three large trucks that transported the organ, 1,400 miles, to Our Lady of Good Counsel. Before assembly of the organ could begin, the sisters worked to complete the cleaning for their new organ. A century of grime was removed from the pipes and the wood parts of the organ were cleaned and re-oiled. While the cleaning of the organ was under way, Our Lady of Good Counsel’s Chapel balcony was gutted to accommodate the massive array of 2,995 pipes and elaborate woodwork that measured 22 feet wide by 18 feet deep. Reassembled, the organ’s pipe case measured approximately 60 feet from the floor to the top of the center pipes. The organ pipe case, built of ash, weighs 17,800 pounds without any works.

Our Lady of Good Counsel, Mankato, Minnesota had an organ moved to their chapel in 1975. This is a picture of sisters carrying in a pipe from the organ.The organ was fully operational for the Easter celebration in 1976. Since that time, it has accompanied countless daily and Sunday Liturgies for sisters and guests. A 1994 restoration project in conjunction with the chapel renovation, introduced solid-state technology to the organ. All of the pipes were removed and restored, along with a new console, modeled after the original Johnson designs, was built.

The organ’s magnificent sound has been featured in many concerts over the years. In 2005, five SSND organists, Sisters Elaine Fraher, Janis Haustein, Carol Marie Hemish, Lucille Matousek and Helen Marie Plourde, created an organ concert CD titled “Celestial Banquet,” which is available at Our Lady of Good Counsel. In 2016, the 40th anniversary of the organ’s coming to Our Lady of Good Counsel was celebrated with a concert.

The CD is still available at a cost of $15. If you are interested in purchasing a CD, please call 507-389-4230 or email missionadv@ssndcp.org.

WCCO’s Finding Minnesota featured Our Lady of Good Counsel’s 142-year-old pipe organ on Sunday, December 2, 2018, at 10 p.m. The broadcast can be seen on WCCO-TV and online.


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