Church needs donations to save famous organ

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Talk about an organ donation!

A Flatbush church needs $65,000 to get its famous pipe organ playing again so it can rouse its congregants into song the old-fashioned way, instead of using a pedestrian piano, as it has had to do for 15 years.

Our Lady of Refuge on Foster Avenue between Ocean Avenue and East 21st Street has been without a musical heart since water damage wrecked its Kilgen organ, one of among only a few left in the world.

“We couldn’t even play ‘Here Comes the Bride’,” said Father Michael Perry. “Little by little the organ became unusable.”

Joe Vitacco, a former churchgoer and pipe organ enthusiast who runs a record label that specializes in recording the sounds of famous organs, took up the charge to refurbish the organ in 2006, sinking several thousand dollars of his own cash into the project before realizing that the instrument needed a massive — and much more expensive — overhaul.

“The action that actually opens the valves under the pipes are over 70 years old and had deteriorat­ed,” said Vitacco. “And because of electrical code, the whole organ had to be rewired.”

The nearly 80-year-old Kilgen Organ is now in pieces and being tuned and polished by experts thanks to a major fundraising drive spurred by Vitacco, who said he has made the organ’s resuscitation his personal mission.

“I grew up in that church,” he said. “That was the first pipe organ that I heard.”

The church has raised $150,000 so far and still needs about $65,000 to get it playing again, but a concert on Nov. 18 where donors get to request songs for world-famous organist Stephen Tharp to play is expected to put a dent in the bill.

Benefit for the Reinstallation of the Kilgen Pipe Organ, Nov. 18 at Grace Church [254 Hicks St. between Joralemon Street and Grace Court in Brooklyn Heights]. For info, visit

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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