Mount Carmel Academy’s organ gets new home

Organ technician Luke Headley stands behind some of the smaller pipes connected to an organ that first played at Mount Carmel Academy in 1928. The organ will mark its centennial in seven years in St. Joseph Church in Wichita. (Advance photo)

Volunteers installing organ, construct housing for St. Joseph Parish and Latin community

It took a while, but the organ that filled the chapel at Mount Carmel Academy with sacred music is once again inside hallowed walls.

Luke Headley, an organ technician and a member of St. Joseph Parish in Wichita, said the instrument was originally installed in the west Wichita high school in 1928.

Headley and amateur historian

Headley, who is also an amateur historian, said he has always been fascinated by the academy – in part because a great uncle was given the job of tearing the building down in 1965.

“I found out that he had pieces of the building in his yard,” he said, “but when I found out about this (the organ), it blew my mind.”

The organ wasn’t lost because a Wichitan, Tom Cusick, bought the organ and installed it in his house, Headley said. “He preserved it very well there.”

Cusick passed away in 2000. Headley serendipitously found out about the organ in a conversation with a fellow worker, Cusick’s granddaughter.

“We’re trying to sell my grandfather’s house and there’s an organ in there,” she told him. “We’re trying to find a good home for it.”

Headley said he has heard similar stories numerous times about a family’s old pump or electronic organ, but when she mentioned it was a pipe organ, his interest was piqued.

And when she said the organ had been rescued from a Catholic girls school on the west side of Wichita, Headley couldn’t believe it. She suggested he stop by the house after work sometime. “How about today!” he replied.

Timing was perfect

The timing couldn’t have been better, Headley said.

The Latin Mass community had recently moved from St. Anthony Parish, just east of downtown Wichita, to St. Joseph Parish, just west of downtown Wichita. St. Joseph Church was also being remodeled in part to serve the Latin Mass community.

About a week and a half before he found out about the rescued organ, Headley offered his services as an organ technician to Fr. Andrew Bergkamp, a parochial vicar at St. Joseph, while parishioner Tony Strunk was working on renovations to the church’s sanctuary.

“I told him I’d be happy to volunteer my time putting it in,” he said. “I thought maybe it would be two or three years down the road. But the organ dropped in my lap.”

Fr. Bergkamp and another history buff, Fr. Patrick York, diocesan vicar for priests, accompanied Headley for the organ viewing.

“A deal was made,” Headley said, “and we pulled it out of the house with volunteers from the parish and stored it all over the place. It was in pieces – everywhere.”

Volunteers working to complete installation

He, Strunk, and other volunteers have been assembling and installing the organ in the balcony of St. Joseph Church in their spare time. With input from the pastor, Fr. Michael Simone, Strunk built a room on the balcony to hold the instrument and fabricated the decorative casework for the front of the organ.

Cusick didn’t rescue the organ’s decorative woodwork, so Strunk made the woodwork to match the church environment.

“We did get about 30 percent of the organ playing – just in time for Christmas Midnight Mass,” Headley said. “We hope to have it all done by the end of February or the first part of March.”

An area of one of the church towers was made into a music library with custom-made cabinetry by a St. Joe parishioner. New carpet and improved lighting are also planned.

“Everything is being painted in the balcony to match the rest of the church,” he said.