Soaring Sounds

Chapel of St. Ignatius home to new organ

Written by Tina Potterf
Photography by Chris Joseph Taylor
September 23, 2011

The mellifluous musical sounds emanating from the Chapel of St. Ignatius during a concert or Mass are now enhanced with the addition of a new instrument in the music arsenal.

In late spring the chapel received an Opus 5 organ, a distinctive and handcrafted work of beauty constructed by David Petty and Christopher Fralick at Petty’s shop in Eugene, Ore. It took roughly 1,100 hours to build the organ, which has a 51-note transporting keyboard and ornate carvings designed and completed by artist Mark Andrew. Banish from your mind the mammoth baroque-style pipe organs of popularized as symbols of a bygone era—and in spooky movies.
Sure, this organ has its share of bells and whistles—and pipes, naturally—but there is an understated quality packed into a relatively compact and wholly portable instrument.

But how does it play. Quite well, thank you very much, says Bill McNamara, campus minister of liturgical music and the person behind the keys of the chapel’s Steinway piano and now, the organ. It will be played at weddings, SU Choir concerts and occasionally at Masses, McNamara says.

Listen to a clip of Bill playing the new organ here.

“While the organ will connect us with the great tradition of liturgical music in a new way and open up some new possibilities for solo works and instrumental ensemble, I'm most looking forward to hearing how it supports the sung prayer of the people gathered for worship in the chapel,” he says.

The move to land an organ for the chapel was initiated by several SU folks including Jerry Cobb, S.J., McNamara, choral music director Joy Sherman and former College of Science and Engineering Dean George Simmons. The group looked at organs throughout the region in search of the perfect instrument for the chapel. They knew the instrument needed to be fairly compact in size to fit the space and be portable so it could be moved around with ease. After seeing the work of David Petty and company, they commissioned the custom-built continuo organ. The finished piece, with its intricate design and immense detail, is a sight to behold and generates sounds that “brighten the whole chapel,” McNamara says. Visitors to the chapel will likely notice the distinctive carvings on the cabinet of the organ. McNamara says they were created with St. Ignatius in mind.

Funding for the organ was contributed by members of the Krsak family, which has a long legacy at Seattle University beginning with George and Rita Krsak who attended the university in the 1940s. Rita, who passed away in 2003, was a music major. She and George, who is still living, were involved with musical productions while students at SU. Their passion for music has been passed down through the generations.

The organ’s builder, Petty, said of his work, “This is the nicest thing I’ve ever built. …The greatest joy was having it come together and be playable.”

“Organs connect with a sound that says ‘church’ to a lot of people,” McNamara says. “There’s something about organs that is a connection to the past, to tradition and history.”

Mike Thee contributed to this story.

Bill McNamara, campus minister of liturgical music, sits besides the new organ at the Chapel of St. Ignatius.
A detail shot of the organ, which is a gift of the Krsak family honoring George and Rita Krsak.