Technician breathing life into pipe organ

Luke Headley stands next to what will be part of the organ console in the choir loft of St. John the Evangelist Church in Clonmel. Headley is an organ technician and is installing a pipe organ originally played in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The church’s new reredos is visible beyond Headley. (Advance photo)

Luke Headley is breathing new life into an organ he’s installing in St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, currently under construction in Clonmel.

A Schlicker organ built in 1989 for St. John’s United Church of Christ in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and purchased by the parish last year has been in storage in Wisconsin and later in Kansas for several years.

“The organ has 11 ranks and several ‘bells and whistles’ that some of the smaller organs don’t usually have,” he said last week as construction work on the church continued in the background. “It’s in almost like-new condition.”

A set of pipes producing the same timbre for each note is called a rank.

One of the challenges he and others working with him have is fitting the organ into an area it wasn’t originally designed for. The original casework for the organ is a light wood that doesn’t match the church’s architecture.

“We handed the design over to Karl Freund because he built the altar, the reredos, the communion rail, and other furniture in the sanctuary,” Headley said. “So Father Tatro felt it would be good to have him build the casework.”

Fr. Joseph Tatro is the pastor of St. John’s. Freund is the owner of Freund Custom Furnishings.

Headley said they were able to use 25 to 30 percent of the original casework that surrounds the organ but the rest of the woodwork, the woodwork that will be visible, was built by Freund to match the space available and the architecture of the other woodwork in the church.

“He did such a nice job. We elevated the pedal towers – that have the pedal pipes and the bass pipes – elevated them higher to help with the sight line,” Headley said. “So when you’re looking from the floor (of the church) you can see it a little better.”

The back of the balcony is open to the church entryway so the organ will be visible to those in the church from the back and the front, he said, adding the organ’s more central location in the balcony will make it easier to maintain.

Bishop Carl A. Kemme is scheduled to consecrate the altar and bless the new church on Friday, June 28. Clonmel is about 18 miles southwest of Wichita.