By Arlene Edmonds
Special to The CS&T
PHILADELPHIA – Excitement was high at St. Veronica Parish in North Philadelphia Sunday, March 29, as Cardinal Justin Rigali blessed the newly refurbished organ at the church. An organ concert featuring Ted Kiefer, the musical director for St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, followed the blessing.
Father Eduardo Coll, I.V.E., pastor of St. Veronica Parish, called the ceremony “light and simple” yet noted that the impact of the Cardinal’s presence. He said the recital on the revitalized organ will be long remembered by the 700 families in the parish.
This weekend the enthusiasm for the restored 100-year-old pipe organ will continue. It will be the first time that the 800 parishioners who regularly attend the church’s 5:30 p.m. Saturday vigil, 9 a.m. Sunday Mass in English and the highly attended 11 a.m Mass in Spanish will hear the liturgy in their church accompanied by organ music.
“Having the organ restored is important because it’s part of our worship,” said Father Coll. “You know how we received our faith from our ancestors … we also received this (tradition). When we lift up our voices in worship we will be doing so with the pipe organ instrument. It took a lot of work to get us to this point.”
It was five years ago that a committee was put together to raise funds and organize the organ’s refurbishment. Father Coll said that during the 14 years he’s served the parish they’ve tackled numerous beautification projects, including painting the church and updating the sanctuary. The organ, however, was the last thing on their revamping list because it was the most expensive project.
The parishioners stepped up to the plate to help raise the needed resources to bring the organ back to its original grandeur. Subcommittees were formed; they held baked goods and hot food sales, sold raffle tickets, and collected donations.
Even when there were shortfalls in the contributions, the parishioners were not deterred. Some even did part of the restoration themselves so the bulk of the fundraising allowed them to budget for professional revitalization.
“Now we are so happy that we will have a better quality of celebration,” said Father Coll. “Even though we are a poor parish we will be able to have a liturgy that is similar to the cathedral.”
Playing the organ this weekend will be parishioner Diane Hagy. She has volunteered her services. Though she has never been a professional organist, Hagy is familiar with the repertoire for Mass. “I think she will do quite well helping the parish to celebrate the liturgy with the sounds of the organ,” Father Coll said.
Father G. Dennis Gill, director of the archdiocesan Office for Worship, works closely with local parishes to ensure they promote music that is spiritually uplifting and supports the texts that are read. He believes that organ music has its own “sacred voice” that enhances the worship experience.
“Pipe organs give a voice to the music in the liturgy,” said Father Gill recently. “I think it is a suitable instrument for the liturgy. The constitution of the organ has its own prideful place among instruments. They can certainly enhance the liturgy and I know I hold the organ in high regard. That’s why where they are available parishes should make full use of them.”
St. Veronica Parish will be among the growing number of parishes doing just that. In fact, the restoration of the organ also coincides with the parish’s 100th anniversary at their current location. Though the actual parish was founded in 1872, it was in 1909 that parishioners moved into their church home at 6th and Tioga. At that time the organ was brand new. Now, 100 years later the church has live organ music again.
“It’s just a dream come true for our church,” Father Coll said.
Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner. She may be reached at ArleneEdmonds@aol.com.