As many historic New Orleans churches face hard times as the result of Hurricane Katrina and the decreased population of New Orleans, one church has made a remarkable recovery. Blessed Francis Seelos, parish that grew out of several former parishes in the historric Bywater area of New Orleans, faced a tragic fire in 2003 and then was sent reeling by Katrina in 2005. This is the story of a volunteer effort and a gift from the Seattle area, to provide a new pipe organ for a brave parish in a struggling city.

The following is taken directly from a message to New Orleans Churches.com from the representative of the donors.

The Blessed. Francis Seelos organ has as its basis the 1928 M.P. Möller, Opus 5451 - originally built for Bleitz Funeral Home in Seattle, WA. It was a 2-manual, 6-rank organ on an electro-pneumatic pitman chest with two primaries, except for the electro-pneumatic unit flute and the Pedal Bourdon. The six ranks were: Open Diapason, Stopped Flute, Salicional, Voix Celeste, Oboe, and Pedal Bourdon. It later years, a tenor C 8’ Aeoline was added to the Great on an electro-mechanical chest placed atop the upper Möller walkboard. An 8’ Vox Humana was also added. The additions made use of intra-manual coupler tablets, and one new tablet action was added.

The organ had been slowly decaying, and was in need of complete restoration. Further, the Bleitz parent company was essentially encouraging them to dispose of the organ to obtain additional space. And the Pipe Organ Foundation had seen the organ, and was in discussions with Bleitz about their donating the organ to the Foundation.

After Hurricane Katrina, members of the Bleitz staff volunteered their professional services in New Orleans to help find, gather, and properly handle New Orlean’s many citizens who were unable to leave the city and who perished in the hurricane’s wrath and subsequent levee breaks and flooding.

When the Bleitz personnel learned that the POF was looking for an instrument to rebuild as a gift for a church in New Orleans, they made the decision to make their old Möller available. It was removed from the funeral home by a crew of POF volunteers over three days in November of 2006.

The main Swell chest is the original Bleitz pitman chest, but with the primaries and pouches removed, and converted to electro-mechanical action. The elevated chest holding the Harmonic Flute and Nasard is a refurbished chest from a 1959 rebuild of a 1911 Austin at Seattle’s First Church of Christ, Scientist. The 16’ Bourdon/8’ Stopped Diapason is on its original Bleitz unit chests. The 8’ Salicional, 8’ Voix Celeste, and 8’ Oboe are also all original Bleitz ranks on their original chest. An Aeolian 8’ Trumpet replaced the Diapason on the original chest. The 4’ Harmonic Flute is pipework from the POF stock. And the 2-2/3’ Nasard is from the residence of Parkland (Tacoma) organ builder R. Byard Fritts - father of nationally recognized tracker organ builder Paul Fritts.

The Great chest is of unknown manufacture and provenance, but was donated to the POF from an intended residence organ. Its action was already electro-mechanical, so the chest just required basic refurbishing and adjustments of the magnet armatures to allow the greatest possible wind flow. The Great 8’ Open Diapason - which is partially visible in the speaking façade - is from another M.P. Möller, Opus 3342, built in 1922 as a 2-manual, 6-rank, tubular-pneumatic duplex organ. That organ was originally built for the First Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church in Moscow, ID. It was later relocated to St. Paul’s Lutheran in Spokane, WA. When that congregation dwindled and merged with another congregation at another building, the organ remained behind. The new owners did not wish to keep the Mö ller, so they tried to sell it on the internet, but to no avail. It was ultimately offered to Seattle organ builder Jim Stettner for free if he would simply come get it out of their way. Mr. Stettner, in turn, donated the organ to the POF for use with the Seelos organ. The organ was removed by three members of the POF staff in February 2007, along with help from church volunteers. The 8’ Melodia is pipework of unknown provenance from the POF stock. The 4’ Octave and 2’ Fifteenth are both from Estey, Opus 447, 1907 - originally built for First Methodist Episcopal Church in Winfield, KS. That organ was electrified and rebuilt by the Austin Organ Co. in 1949 as their opus 2083. It was replaced there in 2002, and was purchased by the McCollum family of North Bend, WA. who had intended to install it in their home. In 2007, they donated it to the POF, who took 4 selected ranks. The 4’ Octave is the original Estey 8’ Open Diapason, and the 2’ Fifteenth is the original Estey 4’ Octave. The chimes are from the Bleitz Möller and on their original action.

The Pedal 16’ Bourdon is original Bleitz Möller pipework on its original chest. The Pedal 8’ Open Diapason is the original Bleitz Möller 8’ Open Diapason on a chest in POF stock, and modified by foundation volunteers to be two separate, diatonic chests.

The console is the original 1928 Bleitz Möller console. This includes the manuals, bench and pedalboard. But the stoprail is new, and all of the action parts, combination action, and motherboard are new Syndyne™ components. The same is true of the relay inside the organ chamber.

Stoplist of the 'new' Blessed Seelos organ:

Pipe Organ Foundation

Mercer Island, WA.

Opus 4            2007-08

“Original Specifications”


16’    Lieblich Gedeckt    (Sw)  --                Swell to Pedal                 8,4
8’     Open Diapason             61                Great to Pedal                 8,4
8’     Melodia                   61
8’     Harmonic Flute      (Sw)  --                Swell to Great              16,8,4
8’     Salicional          (Sw)  --
4’     Octave                    61
4’     Flute                     12
2’     Fifteenth                 61                Finger Pistons
8’     Trumpet             (Sw)  --                General                     1 - 10
4’     Clarion             (Sw)  --                Swell                        1 - 5
       Chimes                   (20)               Great                        1 - 5
                                                     Gt to Ped                  (rev)
Great to Great 16’                                 Auto Pedal                   (rev)
Great Unison Off                                   SFZ                          (rev)
Great to Great 4’                                  Set
                                                   Gen Cancel
Swell (Expressive)
16’    Contra Salicional   (tc)  --                Foot Levers
8’     Stopped Diapason          61                Gt. to Ped.                  (rev)
8’     Salicional                61
8’     Voix Celeste        (tc)  61
4’     Harmonic Flute            61
4’     Salicet                   12                Pedal Movements
2-2/3’ Nasard                    61                Swell Expression            (bal.)
2’     Harmonic Piccolo          12                Crescendo                   (bal.)
1-3/5’ Tierce                    12
8’     Trumpet                   73
8’     Oboe                      73
       Tremolo                                     Transposer
                                                   -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5
Swell to Swell 16’
Swell Unison Off
Swell to Swell 4’
                                                   Single Memory, 12-levels    1 - 12
32’    Resultant                 --
16’    Subbass                   32                Action: E-M & E-P unit
16’    Lieblich Gedeckt    (Sw)  12
8’     Open Diapason             32                Voices: 13
8’     Major Flute               12
4’     Choral Bass               12                Stops: 31; inc. chimes
4’     Flute               (Gt)  --
       blank                                       Ranks: 13
8’     Trumpet             (Sw)  --
4’     Clarion             (Sw)  --                Pipes: 831

Above, new organ and installation volunteers from Washington State arrive at church on June 2, 2008
Organ components fill the sanctuary.
Spencer blower ready to be lifted into choir loft.