International PayPal Donations Help Repair Pipe Organ At Our Lady of Refuge Church

Piper paid! Restoration of 80-year-old organ underway

Brooklyn Daily
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This is no pipe dream!

Pipe organ aficionados from across the globe are refusing to let the music die at Our Lady of Refuge Church in Flatbush.

Midwood native Joe Vitacco is spearheading an international effort to restore the parish’s 80-year-old pipe organ, keeping the “king of instruments” alive in the County of Kings. Vitacco said he fell in love with the magisterial tones of the instrument when he first attended services at Our Lady of Refuge as a boy.

“I heard the pipe organ there when I was a kid, two or maybe three years old, and I thought it was the most incredible thing in the world,” said Vitacco.

That passion led Vitacco to establish his own company, JAV Recordings, and to travel the planet taping master organists practicing their craft. But when Vitacco returned home in 2006, he despaired to discover his first love in disrepair. Water had seeped in through the church’s time-worn mortar and infiltrated the organ loft, damaging the pipes and wood, along with the leather ligaments that held much of the instrument together. Vitacco made some temporary repairs, but it was not long before the organ was completely unplayable. Given the pipe organ’s rich history at Our Lady of Refuge, and its importance to the congregation, Vitacco said he could not let it remain in such a dilapidated state.

“It’s an active church, there are lots of people who go there, and I realized we had to fix it,” Vitacco recalled.

But it was equally clear that the parish could not afford to finance the repairs itself, given the high costs of repairing the church building and running its generous food bank. So Vitacco helped create a Facebook page and Paypal account to raise the money to set the pipes humming once more.

Vitacco also used his mucis-industry connections to spread the word throughout the worldwide pipe organ-listening community. Soon the donations were pouring — some from Brooklyn, but many from as far away as New Zealand and Great Britain. A French donor gave $1,000 on two separate occasions.

“It’s amazing so many people from all around the world have seen that we’re trying to do something good, and wanted to be a part of it. It’s like they’re voting ‘yes’ for pipe organs,” Vitacco said.

Nearly six years and 1,400 donations later, the campaign raised the roughly $250,000 necessary to fix the instrument, and work began. The church called in companies from Missouri and Ohio to repair and retune the huge musical tubes, replace the leather straps, and rebuild the console. Vitacco said the work is scheduled to wrap up this fall, and Our Lady of Refuge plans to rededicate the instrument in October. The celebration will feature not just a prayer from one of the Brooklyn diocese’s bishops, but a performance from world-renowned French organist Olivier Latry.

Vitacco said the instrument’s rebirth is a blessing not just for pipe organs or for Our Lady of Refuge, but for the borough of churches itself. He noted that Brooklyn once boasted some 900 pipe organs, some in churches, others in movie theaters. But today, just 70 remain, with at most 30 in good condition. But Our Lady of Refuge intends to share its gift with the rest of the borough, with regular organ recitals and an open-door policy that will allow visitors to come in and play a few magestic chords themselves.

“We’re just trying to do something beautiful for Brooklyn,” Vitacco said.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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