MANKATO, Minn. (WCCO) — The holiday season is a time for miracles, and every year, the School Sisters of Notre Dame celebrate a handmade miracle.

In a chapel bigger than most churches is an organ bigger than most chapels.

The pipe organ itself is nothing new — it’s 142 years old to be exact — but the School Sisters of Notre Dame are always ready for a new take on its unlikely journey.

“From what I know, it does not happen very often. And, like I said, it was just like the moons got together to make this happen,” said Sister Lucille Matousek.

As Sister Lucille puts it, their old organ was a piece of junk. So when they got wind that St. Mary’s Church in Boston was going to be demolished and along with it, its Johnson and Son’s pipe organ, they pounced, sending a team of experts across the country to check it out.

“They came back and said, we have got to get this organ,” said Sister Lucille.

It took weeks to dismantle piece by piece, pipe by pipe. There are nearly 3,000 pipes in all. Its total weight is about 2 tons, and all of that was hauled 1,500 miles to Good Counsel Hill in Mankato, where manpower turned into sister power.

Sister Mary Kay Ash was part of a team, young and old, that spent weeks cleaning and polishing. A true “Sister Act” if there ever was one. The organ arrived in pieces in July of 1975 — nine months later, it was finally ready.

“Those who love music and understand it will definitely have an appreciation for a pipe organ like this,” said Sister Mary Kay.

Sister Lucille is the regular organist and she pulls out all the stops — 45 of them in all.

“I want just a clarinet sound, flute sound, even string instruments,” said Sister Lucille.

Using her feet and fingers, what follows is sheer musical power. Up in the loft, seemingly endless rows of pipes release the sounds of music. Enough instruments can be heard to match a symphony.

“You know when you open it up, the organ bench vibrates and so do the pews,” Sister Lucille said.

You won’t hear Bruno Mars or Taylor Swift here, rather, it’s what Lucille calls sacred music. And there’s a song for every season.

During a time when more and more churches are going electronic, this organ continues to strike a chord with its biggest fans.

“It’s my idea of a miracle, right? And a labor of love for sure,” said Sister Lucille. “You just hope it will continue on and that there are people that will care for it and maintain the beauty of it.”

The School Sisters of Notre Dame paid $15,000 for the organ in 1975.

Today, it’s estimated to be worth nearly $2 million dollars.

John Lauritsen


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