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Fundraiser to repair century-old church organ

Nanor Froundjian The Eastern Door

Since 1898, the pipe organ at St. Francis Xavier Mission Catholic Church has been an integral element of the church’s history in bringing together the community.

But it holds a particularly special meaning to the Mohawk choir, which many joined as a way of learning Kanien’kéha.

“I want to learn our language very well,” said Vera Goodleaf, who joined the choir over 40 years ago. “Singing is the best way to practice the language. It’s just a wonderful feeling to be able to sing in your language,” she said.

She sang soprano for a number of years, but as the choir fluctuated in size over the years and some sections fell short in numbers, she moved to singing alto. 

The organ was refurbished in 1970 but was once again “in dire need of repairs” which are estimated to cost in the neighbourhood of $6,000, said Beverly Delormier, who’s on the church’s administration finance committee.

In the meantime, for the past couple of months, the choir has been accompanied by a piano, but Goodleaf says it isn’t quite the same. “It’s very precious to us, that organ. We only like to sing with the organ,” she said.

Much of its history ties back to Bernadin Houle, she said, who was the organist for the choir for close to 70 years, until he passed away in 2020.

“He did so much work on our music … so (the organ is) really precious to us, because of this man.”

Casavant Freres, the company that built the organ, made the repairs on Tuesday to have the organ up and running in time for Saturday’s benefit concert.

Attendees will be treated to a performance by husband-wife duo, opera singer Ian Spencer of the Dutch National Opera, and flautist and pianist Carole Spencer, who teaches music at the British School of Amsterdam.

This was coordinated with the help of father Michel Meunier, who’s been the priest at the church for just under a year and is a long-time friend of the Spencers, even officiating their wedding in England years back. 

“We were trying to get somebody to put on a show, and so they volunteered. They said they had never been to Canada,” said Delormier.

The choir will also be performing two songs: Hymn to Kateri and Ave verum corpus, one before and the other after the intermission. 

As of Thursday morning, they were halfway through their goal of selling 300 tickets. Tickets will also be available at the door on Saturday for the concert, which will start at 2 p.m.

All attendees will get a complimentary glass of wine at the end of the concert.

“I would just like to see everyone there on Saturday. It’s a big day for us,” said Goodleaf. She hopes the concert might also prompt youth in the community to join the choir, which currently has 16 members. 

“They can learn the language by singing it. What better way?”

This article was originally published in print on Friday, September 22, in issue 32.38 of The Eastern Door.

Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.