A group of volunteers from the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas, under the guidance of Richmond, Virginia organ builder John DeMajo, recently descended on Blessed Seelos Catholic Church in New Orleans to assist the parish in keeping it's pipe organ playing.

The organ, which was given to and installed in the church as a donation by a Seattle based volunteer group following Hurricane Katrina, had fallen into disrepair. Organist Ellyn Orth-Meier, who regularly fills in as organist at the church, asked the acting pastor if she could solicit the services of DeMajo's company. He agreed, and after some negotiations, DeMajo decided to make the project a volunteer effort using local talent.

The concept is nothing new to DeMajo. His firm has assisted the Organ Historical Society and the American Theatre Organ Society in the past with such projects. Locally, volunteer groups headed by DeMajo have brought back to life the organs at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Ponchatoula, LA., St. Mary's Assumption Church in Raceland, Our Lady of Prompt Succor in Westwego, and an historic Wurlitzer theater organ in Jackson, La.

In the Seelos project, he was assisted by John Couvillon, a retired engineer from Baton Rouge, Joey Kelly, a computer engineer from Metairie, and Ms. Orth-Meier. The repairs consisted mainly of correcting damage that occurred as a result of roof leaks sustained during Hurricane Isaac and other recent storms.

The group spent several days at the facility, donating their time and labor, with the church parish only being asked to contribute the cost of material and travel expenses. According to DeMajo, this concept is something unpopular with for-profit commercial organ companies, because it deprives them of revenue, but in many cases, it is the only means by which struggling churches can keep their historic pipe organs playing. An added advantage to the program is that local volunteers from the church congregations can get an opportunity to work on pipe organs, under the direction of a skilled technician, which serves to create a future pool of organ repair technicians within the churches. In several cases, persons who worked on these projects under DeMajo's guidance, have taken on the task of continuing to keep their church's organs tuned and performing minor repairs which the churches may otherwise not be able to afford.

Wind driven water entered the organ from the church bell tower by way of this light fixture
In the organ pipe chambers, high above the church floor, electrical engineer John Couvillon (left) and DeMajo inspect the organ's internal components from the tight crawl space below the massive chests which hold the organ's hundreds of pipes.
Metairie based computer network engineer Joey Kelly solders new wire leads onto replacement organ wind valves which were then installed in the instrument to replace water damaged valves.
Well known to New Orleans church organ circles, organist Ellyn Orth-Meier assists in voicing pipes as the organ is tuned and adjusted following water damage repairs.
Upon completion of the work, the organ's many pipes again sing out in joyful song.