On Saturday evening, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ commemorated the completion of the Taylor and Boody Opus 83 pipe organ at Ancilla Domini Chapel with a blessing service and dedication recital performed by renowned organist Dr. Benjamin A. Stone.
A project four years in the making, Opus 83 is a handcrafted one-of-a-kind piece made specifically for the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ and the Ancilla Domini Chapel. The design matches the chapel interior, with floret carvings matching the balcony upon which the organ sits, cherub heads that recall those in the gallery, and top decorations that complement the building’s high altar.
“Architecturally, it works with the room and was inspired directly by the decorations of the building, and the tower here. It was all incorporated into the design, as were the linden leaves,” said Aaron Reichert, vice president, and tonal director at Taylor and Boody Organ Builders. “It’s wonderful to be able to build something that’s not just a musical instrument, but building a bridge between people, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, and the culture here. It’s unique to this space, in service of something bigger than itself.”
The commitment to making the organ a part of the Chapel went beyond the visual design – parts of the organ itself were made from a linden tree that had to be removed from the Sisters’ property. These trees play a key role within the Sisters’ history as Saint Katharina Kasper, founder of the congregation, frequently traveled to pray in the Heilborn Chapel in Germany, where a linden tree had grown through the roof. The chapel, and tree, can still be visited today.
“It’s a very important symbol to the community,” said Andrew Jennings, director of liturgy and music for the Poor Handmaids. “Many of the carvings are made from an American linden tree, or basswood, from our property. Even on those carvings, you can see heart shaped leaves carved into them. It’s a reminder that even the creation here on the ground is singing with us.”
The Poor Handmaids decided to commission Opus 83 as their old organ’s sound quality started rapidly changing and declining. It was essential, Jennings said, that the successor had a sound that supported congregational singing, with an ability to accompany vocal ensembles of all sizes including solos. With Opus 83, Taylor and Boody delivered just that.
“It almost breathes with you as it plays,” Jennings said. “That’s the significance of a pipe organ in a space like this. You think back to the creation story of the breath of God, the organ in some way represents that symbolically. It encourages us to enter into that co-creative process as we sing along with it, remembering the creativity of God all around us.”
The Sisters were thrilled to welcome visitors to the blessing and recital and invited people from all denominations to take part in the ceremony. Sister Margaret Anne Henss, who has been with the congregation for 55 years, was particularly moved.
“I’m brought to tears because I was on the leadership team when Andrew first brought this idea to us, that we needed a new organ,” she said. “We see this chapel as a center for worship and prayer for the civic community around here, we have many people who come to pray with us.”
She stressed the role music plays in worship, and the transformational impact Opus 83 will bring.
“Music is inspiring, and with the old organ we couldn’t get the sounds that we wanted,” she said. “We felt it was necessary to make this investment so that we can praise and worship. I’m excited it’s finally finished; it’s been a long time coming. We’re so blessed that God’s given us this opportunity and gave Andrew the insight to say that we need something new to give good worship to our God.”
To learn more about the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, visit poorhandmaids.org.