Pipe Organs of La Grange, Illinois, and the Architectural Edifices That House Them Part 4, Convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph

January 30, 2018

Stephen Schnurr is editor and publisher of The Diapason and director of music for St. Paul Catholic Church, Valparaiso, Indiana. His most recent book, Organs of Oberlin, was published in 2013 by Chauncey Park Press (www.organsofoberlin.com). He has authored several other books and journal articles, principally on pipe organ history in the Great Lakes region.

This article is a continuation of a feature in the August 2015, June 2016, and July 2017 issues of The Diapason. This essay was delivered as a lecture for the Midwinter Pipe Organ Conclave on January 19, 2015, in La Grange, Illinois. The research for this project provides a history of a number of pipe organs in the village, but not all. For instance, organs in residences and theaters are not surveyed.


The Convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph in La Grange Park, Illinois, is the home of the Sisters of St. Joseph, established on this site on October 9, 1899, by Mother Stanislaus Leary. Mother Leary had been superior of her order in Kansas and came to Chicago to seek medical help as her health was failing. She was accompanied by others of the order. The pastor of nearby St. Francis Xavier Church, La Grange, invited the sisters to settle in the relatively new suburb.

The sisters opened a school for girls in September 1900. Some of the students were boarders. Soon, the sisters would open another school for boys. Nazareth Academy, now co-educational, is still located on the La Grange Park motherhouse campus.

On July 14, 1900, the cornerstone of a motherhouse and chapel was laid. The chapel contained an organ built in 1929 by M. P. Möller of Hagerstown, Maryland, Opus 5555, a two-manual, eight-rank instrument. The contract was dated March 20 of that year, with a projected completion date of June 1. Cost was $3,200.00, with one-third due upon completion, one-third in two equal payments at four and eight months thereafter, without interest. The electro-pneumatic action organ had a detached console of walnut, with “Gold Bronze” façade pipes and grille. Stop control was by tablets above the upper manual. Wind pressure was 5 inches. Pitch was specified at A=440 Hz. The Chicago agent for Möller, and the installer of the organ, was Ford & Reynolds.


1929 M. P. MЪller Opus 5555

GREAT (Manual I)

8 Open Diapason (scale 44, wood 

    basses, 73 pipes) 

8 Dulciana (scale 56, metal, 73 pipes)

8 Melodia (wood, 73 pipes) 

4 Flute (ext, 8 Melodia)

Chimes (prepared)

SWELL (Manual II, enclosed)

16 Bourdon (wood and metal, 97 pipes)

8 Stopped Diapason (ext, 16


8 Salicional (scale 60, metal, 73 pipes)

8 Dolce (fr Great, 8 Dulciana) 

8 Voix Celeste (TC, scale 62, metal, 61 


4 Flute d’Amour (ext, 16 Bourdon)

223 Nazard (ext, 16 Bourdon)

2 Flautino (ext, 16 Bourdon)

8 Oboe Horn (metal, 73 pipes)

1 blank tablet


16 Sub Bass (“big scale”, stopped wood, 

    32 pipes)

16 Lieblich Gedeckt (fr Swell, 16




Great to Pedal

Swell to Pedal

Great to Great 16

Great Unison Off

Great to Great 4

Swell to Great 16

Swell to Great 8

Swell to Great 4

Swell to Swell 16

Swell Unison Off

Swell to Swell 4




Crescendo Indicator by light


Adjustable combinations

3 Great and Pedal

3 Swell and Pedal


Pedal movements

Great to Pedal Reversible

Balanced Swell Pedal

Grand Crescendo Pedal


The present chapel of strikingly modern design was built in 1967 and 1968 to the designs of John Voosen of Chicago. The motherhouse and chapel were dedicated on Sunday, September 29, 1968. Sister Mary Victoria Rokos, SSJ (later known as Sister Emily), convent organist, was charged with developing plans for a new organ. She sought the advice of persons at Northwestern University of Evanston. The Möller organ was sold and removed.

The result was a recommendation of the Noack Organ Company of Georgetown, Massachusetts, to build a new two-manual, 20-stop, 31-rank organ of mechanical key and stop action in a free-standing case in an elevated balcony at the rear of the nave. A landmark design for the neo-classical organ revival movement in the Chicago metropolitan area, the organ was to cost what was then a large sum of money, $40,000.

The convent purchased a smaller Noack organ as a temporary instrument until the larger organ was completed, at which time the smaller organ was removed to the Academy on the campus. This organ has since been relocated elsewhere. Opus 42 was inaugurated in recital by James Leland on July 14, 1968. The one-manual, mechanical-action organ was provided with a pull-down pedal. 


1968 Noack Organ Company
Opus 42


8 Gedackt (4 stopped wood basses, 

    remainder metal, 56 pipes)

4 Stopped Flute (12 open trebles, 

    metal, 56 pipes)

2 Principal (metal, 56 pipes)


In the summer of 1969, Noack installed its Opus 44, blessed on August 15. The Positive is in Brustwerk position, with Great above and Pedal to the sides. A dedication recital was presented by Benn Gibson on November 9.


1969 Noack Organ Company
Opus 44

GREAT (Manual I)

8 Principal (in façade, 56 pipes)

8 Chimney Flute (56 pipes)

4 Octave (56 pipes)

4 Spielflöte (56 pipes)

2 Nachthorn (56 pipes)

V–VI Mixture (113, 312 pipes)

8 Trumpet (56 pipes)


8 Gedackt (56 pipes)

4 Koppelflöte (56 pipes)

2 Principal (in façade, 56 pipes)

113 Quinte (56 pipes)

II Sesquialtera (122 pipes)

III Cymbal (12, 168 pipes)

8 Krummhorn (56 pipes)


16 Subbass (32 pipes)

8 Principal (in façade, 32 pipes)

8 Gedackt (32 pipes)

4 Choral Bass (32 pipes)

IV Mixture (223, 128 pipes)

16 Bassoon (32 pipes)


Couplers (toe lever, hitch-down)

Great to Pedal

Positive to Pedal

Positive to Great


Tremulant (toe lever, hitch-down)


Opus 44 was the first permanent installation of a modern tracker organ in a Catholic institution in the Archdiocese of Chicago. In its early years, it was a frequently used recital instrument. Performers have included Marie-Claire Alain, Christa Rakich, David Hurd, and Gustav Leonhardt.

Related Content

November 02, 2018
Editor’s note: Part 1 of this article was published in the August 2018 issue of The Diapason, pages 16–19. Part 2 was published in the September 2018…
October 02, 2018
Editor’s note: Part 1 of this article was published in the August 2018 issue of The Diapason, pages 16–19. Part 2 was published in the September 2018…
August 31, 2018
Editor’s note: Part 1 of this article was published in the August 2018 issue of The Diapason, pages 16–20.   The casework in pictures The entire…