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Owens Hall organ donated to area church

Employees from Wicks Organ Company tearing down the organ in Saint Joseph Chapel.

Employees from Wicks Organ Company tearing down the organ in Saint Joseph Chapel.

Walking through the hallowed halls of Owens Hall nowadays has a much different feel from when I first started working for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

In fact, until recently, I had few reasons to go back to the building.

But in late February, Providence called and I was drawn back to the hall.

Few people enter the hall now, but when they do, they have reason.

And Providence Associate Amy Inserra had a reason.

Amy and her family had purchased an item during the sisters’ 2015 October auction. And that item still stood in Owens Hall.

Until recently.

During the auction, Amy and Donald Wilson volunteered as security. She said Donald was on the second floor and as the auction began, he started bidding against another person for the Saint Joseph Chapel organ.

“He was worried that it would be scrapped out,” Amy said. “It is such a beautiful instrument. We had thoughts of bringing it home.”

After they secured the organ through the auction, they started examining their home to see if they had room for the musical instrument.

The organ wouldn’t fit in their garage because of the 10-foot pipes. They would also need additional storage space.

“Reality set in,” Amy said.

She said her son Tobias – who will attend Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in the fall, and is also an organ player – would be living on campus for the “next four years.” With this in mind, Amy and Donald started looking for a new home for the organ.

“We began putting out feelers,” she said.

They asked the college, the Vigo County Historical Society, the Vigo County School Corporation and others if they might be interested in the organ.

Amy said Terre Haute South High School music teacher Paul Ellison expressed interest, but later found that the school did not have enough room for the organ.

However, he said his church might be interested.

Paul attended Unity Presbyterian Church, 1207 E. Springhill Dr., Terre Haute. As it turns out, the church was in need.

“Unity Presbyterian is the perfect new home,” Amy said. “They have gone through changes too, leaving old buildings and starting over in a new location.”

Wicks Organ Company, based in Highland, Illinois, arrived at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in late February to begin the process of tearing down the organ in anticipation of its move to Unity Presbyterian.

As it turns out, Wicks Organ Company built the organ for the Sisters of Providence.

According to archives, the two-manual Wicks pipe organ was installed in Saint Joseph Chapel in December 1960. Initially, it was in the gallery of the chapel. However, in 1986, the organ was disassembled and moved to the sanctuary.

According to information provided by Wicks, the instrument was a stock model Forward Four Organ. It was the 4,090th organ built by Wicks.
Owens Hall was built in the 1950s and opened in 1959 as the Novitiate for approximately 150 novices and postulants. Later, it was converted to private rooms for sisters.

The novice sisters attended Mass every day at Saint Joseph Chapel, and that organ was played by many sisters, including Sister Camille Neubauer.

Sister Camille Neubauer

Sister Camille Neubauer

Sister Camille was taught how to play the organ by Sister Cecilia Clare Bocard – who also taught at the college. But the organ in Saint Joseph Chapel was quite different from the organ in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, as Sister Camille said the organ in Owens Hall was a direct electric action organ.

“It had a different feel,” Sister Camille said. “The sound was different.”

Sister Camille added the organ was used for daily Liturgy at Saint Joseph Chapel from 2009-11 during the renovation of Providence Hall.

Coincidentally, Sister Camille has been to the Wicks Organ Company. She said that during her time as a Parish Director of Music Ministries in Silver Springs, Maryland, she and the pastor of the parish traveled to Wicks and purchased a Wicks organ for that church.

She’s not sure if that organ is still in use or not.

View photos of the organ (then & now) on Flickr.

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Jason Moon

Jason Moon serves as media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence. Previously, he spent more than 16 years in the newspaper industry.

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