In 2005, as most of Louisiana was reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the congregation of St. Mary's, a closely knit Catholic parish set deep in Louisiana Bayou country, became aware that their pipe organ needed some improvements. While the organ still functioned as well as it did when it was installed in the 1960's, its position buried in a small room behind the altar in the parish's present church, made it weak and unimpressive. When parishioner Eric Ordoyne, who is a student at Nichols State University in Thibodaux, LA, took over the volunteer position of music coordinator at St. Mary's, it immediately became his mission to improve the little Wicks organ to give it a proper place in the church and in worship.

Faced with no budget, and having to raise his own funding for any work on the organ, Ordoyne came up with a plan that involved tapping the talented resources of this agricultural and fishing community, to perform the organ renovation and expansion with the help of volunteers from the parish. He first sought the help of New Orleans organ builder and professor of music Dr. James Hammann of the University of New Orleans, who provided Ordoyne with a basic plan of action and some extra parts from old organs in his shop to work with. Along with Dr. Hammann, Ordoyne also called upon former New Orleans native and organ builder John DeMajo, who is now retired and living in Virginia, to provide technical help with the physical reassembly of the instrument. Demajo along with Baton Rouge electrical engineer John Couvillon, assisted the parish volunteer crew.

Parish volunteer workers prepare the existing choir area as organ project takes shape

Ordoyne and his volunteer crew began the task of removing the four rank instrument from its almost soundproof room, and placing it into a new case within the seating area of the main sanctuary. As work progressed over the last year, the organ has begun to seriously take shape, and the parish looks forward to placing it into service in the next few months.

St.Mary's organ project is a testimonial to the newly evolving philosophy of organ construction in churches. Where pipe organ projects have recently escalated in cost, and turn-key renovations and expansions are often costing upwards of a million dollars or more, performing the project with skilled volunteer workers from the congregation, under the supervision of a knowledgeable expert, cuts the project costs to manageable amounts even for churches with little or no budget for organ upkeep. This project is a prime example of what can be done by dedicated people in the church community.

Above, console is disassembled for move to new location at right of choir area. Below, the organ's winding system is disassembled and prepared for installation in a case to be constructed by volunteer carpenters. Below, new console is made ready for installation.
Electrical engineer John Couvillon instructs parish volunteers as wiring is traced from the console.
The old winding system is removed for the upgrade
As the project takes shape, organ components and pipes are moved to the new location of the organ case. New chests and regulator arrive from DeMajo Organ Works shops in Richmond.
A funeral casket carrier becomes a dolly to move the organ's pipework.
The seating area is used to lay out many of the components being removed from the original chamber.
Valves which control speech of the organ's pipes are lined up awaiting reinstallation. Below, electrical engineer John Couvillon rewires chest magnets.
With the help of the parish's talented carpenters, the new organ case takes shape. The case shown above is an expansion of an existing pipe organ case that was discarded by a Katrina damaged Catholic parish (Saint Matthias) in New Orleans. The organ was rescued from disposal by Dr. Hammann and former New Orleans resident John DeMajo. Workers on the St. Mary's Nativity crew expanded the case and added parts donated from the old St. Matthias organ to double the organ's abilities.
No, it isn't preparation for the Christmas Manger scene! You are looking at a view of the inside of the organ case and pipe chests as construction progresses.
Above, workers reinforce the structure as they prepare to place the second division of the organ above the case.
Antique spires added to case top will frame the exposed Great division soon to be installed. Below is the completed case with offset pipes and new speaking facade principal installed.
The new organ begins to take shape
Above, organ builder John DeMajo lays out wring for the organ's new computerized control system.
An important part of the plan for St. Mary's Nativity organ involves installation of a computerized control system to replace the outdated mechanical switching system.
A trumpet rank was added to the organ. The trumpet, which Ordoyne located from a seller on the Internet, is installed on a new chest built in DeMajo's Richmond organ shop.
By late April, 2009, construction was progressing and pipes were reinstalled on the chests.
The organ's winding system was also redesigned and a new blower was installed. The regulator at right was also produced by the DeMajo Organ shop in Virginia.

On the sunday preceeding Christmas 2009, the new instrument was dedicated in a joint concert by organists Dr. James Hammann and Dr. Carol Britt. See the blessing ceremony here.