March 19, 2014

The Restoration and Re-dedication of the Telford Organ

The organ located in the gallery of the chapel at Mercy International Centre dates back to 1844. It was built by William Telford (1809-85) the leading Irish nineteenth century organ builder. Among the other instruments he built are the Trinity College Dublin Chapel, (1838) and Dining Hall (1839) organs, and the Christ Church Cathedral organ, (1832).

Seated l-r: Nancy Whitley rsm Trevor Crowe,
Canice Hanrahan rsm, Patricia March rsm
Standing: Mary Hanrahan rsm

Many changes were made to the Baggot Street instrument over the years, including a decision around 1970 to discard the old mechanical action and to provide an electric action operated by a new remote console downstairs. This proved to be unfortunate as about one third of the original pipes were lost. However, the original console built in 1844 had miraculously been left untouched.

By 1994, the Convent of Mercy on Baggot Street was completely renovated and re-dedicated as Mercy International Centre. The organ was looked upon as a priceless treasure to be preserved, but the question was how to find the necessary money as the organ was the most expensive item on the wish list.

In 1996, the Director of Mercy International Center, Patricia Ryan rsm from Burlingame, California, asked Staff member, Nancy Whitley rsm from Rochester, New York, if she could raise the necessary funds to restore the organ. This request was taken as an act of obedience, a huge challenge and an exciting goal. The memory of Catherine McAuley’s “charity sermons” in the Chapel and the receipt of a check for $100 to be used for whatever was the greatest need proved to be an answer to prayer.

Immediately plans were made to ask Gerard Gillen, an internationally known organ recitalist and then head of the Music Department at the National University of Ireland in Maynooth, to serve as advisor. His positive response to the value of the organ led to an extensive search for a builder. Five companies (three from Ireland, one from the United States and one from England) examined the organ and presented proposals regarding the extent of the work and the cost. With Gillen’s enthusiastic approval, well known Trevor Crowe from Ireland was hired to begin the meticulous work of restoration.

By the grace of God and with much hard work in seeking grants, begging for donations, organizing fund raisers and seeking the support of Dublin’s business organizations, the goal of £175,000 was reached. The entire amount of money needed for the restoration of the organ along with new chairs for the Chapel plus a £5,000 contingency fund was fully realized by the day before the formal re-dedication.

On 7 September 1999, all the Sisters of Mercy from Ireland along with the Members’ Association—leaders of the Sisters of Mercy from around the world—were invited to the first concert. Then on 8 September, the feast of Our Lady's Birthday, the formal dedication took place. Among the invited guests were the American Ambassador to Ireland, dignitaries of the city of Dublin, local clergy, musicians, family members, and friends.

The program included Kevin Conners (nephew of Sister Nancy ) from the Bavarian State Opera in Munich as the tenor soloist accompanied by Gerard Gillen, the Titular Organist of Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral and violinist Agnes Gleeson rsm, a Staff member from Melbourne, Australia.

The concert ended with all standing and joining Kevin in a rousing rendition of “Sing a New Song” by Dan Schutte, SJ. The whole of Mercy International Centre was alive with the words of this song:

“Yahweh’s people dance for joy.
Oh, come before the Lord
And play for Him on glad tambourines
And let your trumpet sound.”

Indeed, people’s hearts jumped for joy and the great trumpet sounded as we all stood and faced the organ gallery. It seemed as if the gold organ pipes were bursting with new life!

In the re-dedication of the organ, the Prayer of Blessing was read by Father Jack Whitley, Sister Nancy’s brother. This was not in the original plan but the priest invited to do the blessing suffered a death in his family.

The words of blessing finished with the following:
'We your people,
joyously gathered in this Mercy international Chapel,
wish to join our voices to the universal hymn of praise.
So that our song
May rise more worthily to your majesty,
we present this organ for your blessing
Grant that its music
May lead us to express our prayer and praise
In melodies that are pleasing to you...'

Doris Gottemoeller rsm, President of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, shared that the evening provided both a sacred concert and a retreat. Professor Gillen stated: “This was truly a night of rebirth and resurrection because something that was dead has been reborn and come to life.”

After the concert on both nights 'a comfortable cup of tea' was served in the dining room. The tables were beautifully decorated with flowers and delicacies prepared by the Sisters.

Three years of fund-raising, planning, encouraging, hard work and praying was brought to a very happy musical conclusion. It was truly a time of celebration!

Daren Magee Organist with Counter-Tenor Christopher Murphy

To ensure the use and care of the Organ, an Organ committee was established. In order to honour Catherine and to promote Organ music, in 2009 the Committee members decided to offer a Perpetual trophy and annual cash prize of €500 in the Dublin Feis Ceoil (Festival of Music) competition. This is a prestigious competition which attracts competitors of a high calibre.

The organ continues to be played often and played well, bringing pleasure to those who hear it. The most recent performance was by Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) Conservatory of Music and Drama students on 13 March 2014. Organist Daren Magee was joined by Counter-Tenor Christopher Murphy at the recital, where pieces by Bach, Handel, Hindemith and Dururfle were performed to warm applause.

Nancy Whitley rsm with plaque listing names of donors

Mercy Communities and Sisters from around the world; Irish and American businesses; visitors to the Centre; individual donors, Irish Banks and the Irish Heritage Council generously contributed to the Organ Restoration Fund, ensuring the project would not be in debt and that visitors to MIC would be able to enjoy the beauty of the music that could be created on this remarkable instrument.Our continued thanks go to:
• Sisters of Mercy from Ireland and from around the world
• Arnotts
• Bausch & Lomb Ireland
• Connelly Foundation of Philadelphia
• Dailey Family
• Mr and Mrs David De Vito
• E.S.B.
• Friends from the United States
• Interactive Project Managers Ltd
• Michael Punch
• Oracle
• Ross McParland Agents
• Tolmac
• Visitors to MIC from Ireland and from around the world
• Bank of Ireland
• Mr & Mrs Collins
• Connoes Family
• Delap and Waller
• EDS Ireland Ltd
• Equity Bank of Ireland
• Heritage Council of Ireland
• Irish Life
• Opel Ireland
• Oscar Wyatt JR
• Whitely Family
• Ulster Bank of Ireland

Messages to:
Nancy Whitley rsm
Mary Reynolds rsm - Executive Director MIA

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