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A long-silent organ in a historic New Jersey church is installed in Clifton

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In 2008, a new organ was commissioned by a New Jersey Presbyterian church for an 18th-century sanctuary that, just months after the organ was dedicated, would have to be vacated due to structural problems. Twelve years later, the once-silent organ is now installed at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Clifton, ending the parish’s yearslong search to replace its own failing instrument.


St. Andrew's former hybrid, or partially electronic organ, a gift from St. Catherine of Siena Church in Great Falls in 1997, began experiencing a series of mechanical issues in the fall of 2017 that persisted even after several repair attempts. Music Director Bill Miller and members of the congregation, recognizing a chance not just to maintain but to enhance the quality of sacred music at St. Andrew, quickly formed a committee for the purpose of identifying and obtaining a new instrument for the parish. The members decided to pursue acquiring a full pipe organ to replace the former hybrid. Although more expensive, a pipe organ provides better sound and is designed to last 75 years and beyond.  


“Sacred music lifts our minds and hearts to God,” said Mike Hadro, co-chair of the committee. “When played on a pipe organ, you not only hear it, you feel it. We have a history of beautiful sacred music here at St. Andrew's, and this provides us an opportunity to do something beautiful, to extend that legacy and to provide a lasting expression of who we are as a Catholic community.”


After deliberations, the committee decided to purchase a used organ. In the committee’s market research, they discovered and then employed a New Jersey-based family business, Peragallo Pipe Organ Company — the company that built the long-unused organ for the church in New Jersey, Bloomfield Presbyterian Church on the Green.


“When the sanctuary was closed, merely months after the organ dedication date, we were heartbroken,” said John Peragallo IV. “The congregation has spent years and large sums of money to study and stabilize the structure, only to be left with an historical space that needed extensive and costly restorations. They approached us knowing one of the most valuable things they had to offer to get back on their feet was this new organ and asked us to explore finding a new home for it.”


Peragallo and his team visited St. Andrew to evaluate the space and soon realized they had a solution for both parishes. “On our voyage home that day, we had an epiphany of sorts and began discussing the parallels between St. Andrew's and Bloomfield Presbyterian’s architectures and acoustics,” Peragallo said.


Although essentially a new instrument, the final cost of the Peragallo Opus 693, a French Romantic design with 2,881 pipes, was about half the cost of commissioning a custom organ.


After talks with parish priests and the committee, the Diocese of Arlington signed a contract with Peragallo in August 2019 and launched the process of reconfiguring the organ for its new parish. The organ arrived and was installed in June.


Father Robert J. Wagner, pastor, recognized the blessing. “I am so thankful for the hard work of the priests and parishioners who began and carried through this process, and I look forward to the fruit of their efforts,” he said. “It is a glorious addition to our parish.”


The sanctuary of Bloomfield Presbyterian Church on the Green has since been deemed safe for occupancy, according to Rev. Ruth Boling, pastor. “We are reopening it in ‘as is’ condition for church use and as a performing arts venue,” she said. “Funds from the sale of the organ will help pay for highest priority strategic alterations and upgrades. And we are delighted that this magnificent instrument is going to a new and vibrant church home, where it will be used to the glory of God in worship on a regular basis.”


The installation of the organ is essentially complete, with final adjustments currently underway. The dedication Mass is scheduled for Sept. 27 at 5 p.m.


Murphy is a parishioner of St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Clifton.


Find out more


The dedication Mass for the new organ will be celebrated at St. Andrew the Apostle Church, 6720 Union Mill Rd., Clifton, Sept. 27, at 5 p.m. Call 703/817-1770 or email parish.office@st-andrew.org. 


To watch the livestream, go to st-andrew.org


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020