Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 29, 2003
Antique pipes play hymns again
Francophones retrieve treasurd pipe organ
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Cecile St. Pierre found it hard to separate herself from Immaculate Conception Church's antique Casavant pipe organ two years ago.
As a child she listened to its majestic sounds and as an adult she played it for 10 years.
But there was little she could do then. Immaculate Conception merged with St. Thomas d'Aquin Parish in Bonnie Doon in 2001 and the organ was left behind.
Now St. Pierre and the organ are back together and the organist is beaming. "I'm very happy," she says. "It has been hard for me to hide my excitement."
In mid-August the 91-year-old organ was transferred to St. Thomas d'Aquin, allowing St. Pierre to once again make music for the congregation. She and organist Claudette Roy were to play it during a Sept. 28 concert to celebrate the transfer. Archbishop Thomas Collins was to attend the concert, at which Sister Alice Trottier will launch her book on the 43-year history of St. Thomas d'Aquin.
The historic Immaculate Conception in Edmonton's inner city was one of the first parishes in the city to serve the francophone community. St. Thomas, the organ's new home, is also a French parish serving about 400 families.
The Casavant organ, which will replace an electric organ that St. Thomas had been using for about two decades, is part of the Catholic francophone community heritage and its transfer will help preserve an important part of their history, St. Pierre said.
"It's part of our culture. We have modernized but our roots are reflected by things like this."
The pipe organ is a lot different from the electronic organ, noted Father Raymond Sevigny, pastor at St. Thomas for the past eight years. "It has a richer sound and a more complete sound."
Sevigny, who also served as pastor at Immaculate Conception during the 1970s and early 1980s, agrees that the transfer is somewhat historic.
"We moved it here because it is part of the francophone heritage," he said. "That was for me the most important thing."
When the two parishes merged two years ago, the Vietnamese Catholic community bought Immaculate Church and its contents. Seeing that the Vietnamese congregation didn't have much use for the organ, St. Thomas struck a committee to arrange its transfer.
St. Pierre liked that. "I had difficulty adapting to the other organ. So when I heard of the possibility of getting this organ here and I was asked to sit on the committee, I was thrilled," she said. "I had a hard time hiding my excitement about the whole project."
The total cost of the transfer, which was negotiated by the Edmonton Archdiocese and the Vietnamese community, was $70,000.
The figure includes the cost of building a new insulated room to house the 12-foot-wide by 14-foot-high organ and its numerous pipes, some of which are as small as a pencil while others are six inches in diameter.
"There are about 1,000 pipes and each had to be taken apart," Sevigny noted. The organ was moved and installed at St. Thomas between Aug. 4 and 15 by representatives of Casavant Freres, one of the oldest pipe organ builders in North America. The Quebec-based company built the organ in 1913 for Immaculate Conception for $3,500.
The organ, which features real ivory and ebony keys and metal and wooden pipes, was recently appraised at $112,000. Brand new, it would cost anywhere from $350,000 to $400,0000.
St. Pierre says, "I've heard the comment that now we sound like a real church. It's interesting how it brings full circle some people's experience with church."
She said the organ will be used for more solemn occasions, including Masses and weddings.
"There is certainly a sense of power in a pipe organ," she said. "It just fills the church. It's more alive."