I first went into St. John Cantius Church almost 20 years ago when the church was in dire need of renovation. Seeing these old, beautiful churches in decay is heartbreaking but in the case of St. John Cantius, the story has a happy ending.
Founded by Polish immigrants and dedicated in 1898, St. John Cantius had at its peak about 23,000 parishioners, but as is so common with many inner city parishes, it went into decline. After Father Frank Phillips C.R. became pastor, he went about the task of renovating and preserving its architectural splendor. Equally important, he introduced reverent liturgies and sacred music as part of parish life. As young men became interested in this revival of traditional Catholic culture, he received approval in 1998 to found the Society of St. John Cantius, a community of religious brothers and priests who strive to restore the sacred in parochial life.
The interior restoration work in the Church was completed in 2012 but an important piece was yet to come – a top quality organ. It so happened that a Church on the south side of Chicago was closing and their organ needed a home. This wasn’t just any organ. It was built by the Casavant Freres Organ Company of Quebec, Canada, for St. James Methodist-Episcopal in 1926 under the guidance of Miss Tina Mae Haines, a concert organist. Dedicated to the memory of Gustavus F. Swift, founder of the Swift Meat-Processing Company, it was used not only for Church music but also became a premier concert organ for recitals in the city.
In 2011, St. James was closing and the organ, perilously housed under a leaky roof, needed a home in a hurry. Stephen Schnurr of the Organ Historical Society and Jeff Weiler, of J.L. Weiler, Inc., a Chicago based Organ Restorer and Conservator, asked Saint John Cantius Church if they were interested in acquiring it. Thanks to the Patrons of Sacred Music who raised the funds and relying on the assistance of the Blessed Virgin Mary to see to the details, the organ restoration project was completed.
The organ, now named “Tina Mae” (Christina Mary), will be blessed and dedicated on October 20, 2013, the Solemn Feast of St. John Cantius (1962 Missale Romanum) by Cardinal Francis George, OMI. A Pontifical High Mass (Extraordinary Form) will be celebrated by Bishop Joseph Perry (All are welcome). There will also be a dinner at 6:00 p.m. and an organ recital at 7:00 p.m. in the Church (Tickets required).