St. Bernard Church Organ

St. Bernard is currently in the process of bringing an historic organ to the parish to replace our current organ which is in a state of disrepair.  Please continue reading to learn more about the history of the instrument and the great blessing it will bring to our parish.

The instrument we have acquired has a very rich history in the city of Portland, Ore.  On July 4, 1917, more than 5,000 gathered on the steps of the brand new public auditorium in Portland’s downtown area.  This was the beginning of Portland’s public arts story.  The auditorium was home to the second largest pipe organ west of the Rocky Mountains, and the eighth largest in the world.  Built in 1916 by the Ernest Skinner Co. of Boston, the organ contained more than 5,000 pipes.  The auditorium acquired the instrument in 1920, and was a great source of pride for the auditorium in the years which followed.  Many world-renowned organists traveled to Portland to play the instrument.

In 1965, the auditorium was to be renovated.  There was no specific plan for the historic organ.  Due to the instrument’s size, it was decided that there was no additional room in the renovated space for the instrument.  There were many heated city council meetings and strongly-worded letters to preserve the instrument.  In the end, the council decided to install an electronic instrument in the auditorium, stating that it wasn’t worth the cost to re-install the aging instrument.

The organ was packaged and put into city storage for a number of years.  It was auctioned off in 1972, and was purchased by the Alpenrose Dairy for $2,800.00.  The instrument was relocated to the dairy and installed in a custom-built opera house.  A large restoration of the instrument began over a period of three and a half years.  The dairy employed a full-time organist, whose primary responsibilities included playing the instrument and keeping it in top condition.  This arrangement continued to the present day.

Due to the sale of the dairy, the owners decided to put the instrument up for sale.  Andrew discovered the post offering the instrument for sale on Facebook and immediately contacted the owner.  Due to the COVID pandemic, it was not possible to inspect the instrument in person during purchase negotiations, so the parish employed Bond Organ Co. of Portland to conduct a thorough inspection.  They found an instrument that has been pristinely preserved, in excellent condition and entirely intact.  A small window of opportunity opened up for Andrew and staff from the Quimby Pipe Organ Co. to travel to Portland to inspect the instrument.  They found it just as Bond Organ Co. had described it.  The parish moved to acquire the instrument.  It is set to be disassembled in Portland and transported to the Quimby Pipe Organ Co. in Warrensburg, Mo. in mid-May.  Quimby has been retained by the parish to restore the instrument and install it at the parish. 

Last summer, Quimby made a trip to our parish in Madison to inspect the space in which the organ would be installed.  Plans have been drawn up for the installation, and construction plans to renovate the choir loft are currently with the City of Madison.  We anticipate construction to begin on the loft in the next few months.

Also coming to the church will be a second, smaller organ which will be housed in the east transept.  This organ was also manufactured by the E.M. Skinner Organ Co. and will be a wonderful complement to the larger organ in the choir loft.  The organ will be used for smaller gatherings and liturgical events.  The organ will be able to draw upon pipes from both the east transept and the choir loft, making it very versatile and filling the church with beautiful sound.  The organ is currently be assembled at Warrensburg, and we look forward to its installation in the late fall of 2021.

If you feel called to financially support this project, please feel free to reach out to Fr. Michael.  Thanks to the generosity of benefactors and parishioners, we are more than halfway to our target goal amount.

St. Bernard Parish is affectionately known as the Mother Church of East Madison.  Built in 1906, the parish contains some of the most beautiful stained glass in the city.  Its traditional cruciform style and stone exterior has been a towering presence on Atwood Avenue, a main thoroughfare through the east side of Madison, for decades.  Receiving this instrument will be a tremendous blessing for our parish, for the Diocese of Madison and the city as a whole.  The parish has enjoyed a prominent place here in the city since its construction.  We look forward to opening our doors to all people from far and wide to enjoy the beautiful music of these instruments in a setting of great aesthetical beauty.