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Historic Austin organ to St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church

April 24, 2015

St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church, Old Mill Creek, Illinois, has acquired the historic 1915 Austin Organ Company Opus 558, built in 1915 for the Medinah Temple of Chicago, Illinois, and housed there until the building was closed and repurposed in 2001. In storage for the past fourteen years, the organ will be revived and slightly expanded by the successor firm to its builder, Austin Organs, Inc., of Hartford, Connecticut. Once finished, the organ will be installed in St. Raphael’s newly constructed church edifice, designed acoustically to accommodate the large organ. It is intended to be put to church and concert use.

The new edifice has an interesting story in itself. The exterior of the long-shuttered St. John of God Catholic Church, which once faced Sherman Park on Chicago’s South Side, was salvaged for the exterior of the new St. Raphael. Even the church’s twin 140-foot steeples were removed stone by stone for the new installation. Built between 1918 and 1920 to the designs of Chicago’s famed Catholic architect, Henry J. Schlacks, St. John of God eventually housed 1937 M. P. Möller Opus 6317, a three-manual organ supervised through finishing by Richard O. Whitelegg. St. Raphael’s interior, including Italian marble altars and statuary, wood carvings, and stained glass, was salvaged from another church that closed in 2007, St. Peter Canisius Catholic Church, built in 1935 and 1936 on Chicago’s West Side to the designs of Meyer & Cook. St. Peter Canisius housed Möller Opus 5688, built in 1930 and apparently moved to the 1936 church from the original installation.

Austin Opus 558 was built for the mammoth auditorium of the Medinah Temple in downtown Chicago. The Moorish-styled edifice was dedicated in 1912, featuring an auditorium to seat 4,200 persons, designed by Harris W. Huehl and Richard G. Schmid, members of the temple. The auditorium’s acoustic was notable to the extent that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra often utilized the space for concerts and recordings. The design of Opus 558 was influenced by Chicago’s J. Lewis Browne, organist of Medinah and the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows (now a minor basilica). The 72-rank organ was among Chicago’s largest at the time of installation, controlled by a five-manual drawknob console in a gallery as well as a moveable four-manual, stop tablet console (which was replaced in 1931). When Medinah was repurposed for commercial use, the organ was safely removed to storage in April 2001, a project that received considerable regional television coverage. For information: newoldchurch.org.