Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me – Part II — An Organ Harvest?

March 26th, 2011, Promulgated by Diane Harris

One would think it wouldn’t be necessary to defend the presence of a beautiful, donated pipe organ in a Catholic Church. There is a quote in the documents from Vatican II that “…the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things.” What a shock it was, then, for the parishioners of St. Januarius to learn that the pastor, Fr. Robert Ring, was giving serious consideration to selling their cherished instrument, and eliminating the beauty the pipes add as a backdrop to the Sanctuary.

Parishioners had no inkling any changes were threatening until late September, 2009, when Fr. Ring introduced an anonymous “offer” to buy the St. Jan’s pipe organ for $3,000. He made it seem unsolicited but refused to identify the buyer, and said the offer had to be accepted by the end of October 2009 or it would be withdrawn. Clearly there was pressure put on the parishioners, who reacted admirably in defense of their church. They researched that the pipe organ was actually worth $70,000 to $100,000 and that it had been a gift from a former, beloved pastor, Fr. Robert Smith, and that maintenance expense was far less than what Fr. Ring had implied. Further, the 7 Rank Wicks had once graced the Cathedral for a short time. Understandable resistance to such a sale began to emerge.

There were several attempts to get to the truth of parishioner perceptions and opinions regarding the threatened sale of their pipe organ. At the time most parishioners thought this was an isolated threat, and did not know such a sale was just a small part of an intended but undisclosed Sanctuary demolition project. Serious objections to the sale of the pipe organ were voiced several times:

1. Show of Hands: At an after Mass gathering on October 4, 2009, an overwhelming majority of attending parishioners, in a show of hands, voted NOT to sell the pipe organ. (It was said at the time to be about 30 against, and 2 in favor of the sale). This meeting was apparently also the first time that many parishioners began to hear rumors of other intended Sanctuary renovations, although they were assured by JL, who favored the sale, that the two issues were unrelated.

2. Pastor’s Pew Survey: In early October 2009, Fr. Ring did a pew survey on what parishioners saw as the highest priority in 2010 for St. Jan’s. The most votes concerned Mass times and not losing the Saturday night Mass. In second place were 56 votes to replace the pastor and/or faith formation director, Cris Wensel, (more on the connection between Cris, Fr. Ring and St. Louis in a future posting.) The votes in Fr. Ring’s pew poll were 40 to keep the organ, and 8 to sell it. The organ issue had only come to light part way through the voting.

3. A Care of the Community meeting was scheduled for October 28, 2009 and 40 people (10x the usual turnout) showed up, on the opening night of the World Series, but were forbidden by Fr. Ring from discussing the pipe organ, or other subjects parishioners themselves had designated as major priority, such as: Mass Times, Sanctuary ‘Renovation’, improved communications, and removing the pastor and/or faith formation director. In stark contrast, parishioners WERE allowed to speak about whether or not the “ugly bushes” should be trimmed, but not about the issues of most interest to them. Some people walked out in disgust. To avoid such discussion, Fr. Ring said the matters had to be taken to the 6-church clustered OLOL Council instead, without even first hearing St. Jan’s parishioners’ input. (This is a great flaw of clustering. People with no interest at all in another church, or who are competing for the survival of their own church, begin voting about the future of someone else’s church. It is compounded by the council members often being the pastor’s personal appointees.)

4. A poll by the Newsletter “It Really Matters” then did a survey by mail for more detail and for validation on the issues about which Fr. Ring had forbidden open parishioner discussion. The results showed a groundswell of opposition to selling the organ, and to renovating the sanctuary (which at that time was only known to involve lowering the altar significantly from four steps to two, but was expected to block the vision of children and smaller adults). There were 42 surveys received from 33 households. One of the key survey results (more in next issue) was that, regarding the organ, 82% disagreed with accepting $3,000 for an organ worth $70,000-100,000; 70% said it shouldn’t even be sold at fair market value; 71% said the organ is important to St. Jan’s.

October 31, 2009 had come and gone without the pipe organ disappearing, so most people believed the matter was resolved. They did not know that nearly eight months earlier, in early 2009 (perhaps even earlier), Fr. Ring had been consulting, unknown to parishioners, on radical renovations he wanted to implement at St. Jan’s before he left. The architectural consultation was with LaBella (yes, it is the same LaBella who “renovated” the Cathedral and in the process became good at ignoring protests of ordinary people in the pew. They have also ignored parishioner input on the St. Jan’s matters.) St. Jan’s parishioners would not know until February 2011, that there were LaBella drawings already marked as a final presentation dated March 6, 2009 (a time when St. Jan’s parishioners didn’t even know Sanctuary modifications were being considered). These “final presentation” (“finalpres”) drawings were done nearly 7 months before Fr. Ring mentioned selling the organ at the outlandish price of $3000. When the March 2009 drawings finally were shown on-line, the shocking revelation was that those “finalpres” drawings showed NO ORGAN and NO PIPES in a remodeled Sanctuary, just the little keyboard which has sometimes been used at services.

Thus, Fr. Ring had been entertaining a sale of the pipe organ at a seriously distressed, apparently unfair price, under the guise of an unsolicited offer, knowing full well that the then 7-month old secret LaBella “final pres” drawings had no plans for a pipe organ to be included in the future Sanctuary.

Use the link and click on “Proposed Renovation Design”. It takes time to load. The banner heading on the pdf will say “finalpres.” There you will see the March 6, 2009 drawings, with NO pipe organ, and there are even foreboding margin notes against St. Jan’s pipe organ.

Future “Zeal” installments will review the Sanctuary renovation/demolition plans and current threats and impending jack-hammers. To whet the appetite, consider the following color picture of St. Jan’s Sanctuary today (the one on line is old). Contrast it to La Bella’s “finalpres” drawing. In the color picture, the pipes can be seen behind the center Tabernacle. In the architectural drawing, the Tabernacle has been moved to a lowly spot near the exit door, and the pipes have disappeared. The presider’s chair has been raised to the prominent place vacated by the Tabernacle and a “royal” backdrop added to the presider’s seating area. No wonder people are upset…to be continued….

When Christ was asked by his disciples for signs of the end-times, He said in Mark 13:14: “….when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be…:”

Please remember, corrections are always welcome.

Your sister in Christ, Diane Harris

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12 Responses to “Zeal for Thy House Will Consume Me – Part II — An Organ Harvest?”

  1. avatar Dr. K says:

    A priest wanting to sit in the center of the sanctuary while pushing the Lord to the side tells you plenty about that priest.

  2. avatar Ink says:

    Glad you mentioned that LaBella architects are the same who consulted on the Cathedral. Methinks someone really Catholic needs to get in there before they take more “renovation” consultation jobs.

  3. avatar militia says:

    I wonder if they give much business to Catholics. I have heard that all the properties being sold (closed churches, rectories, schools, etc.) are being sold by a real estate person who isn’t Catholic. Does anyone have more detail? What are we, chopped liver?

  4. avatar Raymond Rice says:

    While the sex abuse crisis was and is being lamented by Roman Catholics, it has not occured to Catholics that their rights as Catholics are being violated by many of the clergy from lay ministers on up to cardinals.
    Father Ring has never had an original idea in his life and is merely copying what the diocese did with the original cathedral organ which was only about 40 years old. He has certainly not absorbed the legitimate ideas of Vatican 2. One of the big problems we Catholics have is that we do not realize when we are being spiritually, financialy, and psychologically violated by the diocesan powers that be. We are almost at the point where we should “march” on Buffalo Road and demand an accounting of the Clark administration’s stewardship and refusing to be victims no more. The Vandals are truly ransacking Rome!!!!

  5. avatar Mike says:


    The only property I know anything about is the now-closed Our Lady of Mercy Parish at the corner of Denise and Armstrong Roads in Greece. According to a sign on the property, the agent is Moore Corporate Real Estate.

    Moore’s web site shows a listing for the OLM property here. A friend in the real estate business told me last fall that the asking price was $1.2 million.

    FWIW, I did not notice any other listings for former DOR church properties on their site. Also, I have no idea whether any of the principals in that firm are Catholic.

  6. avatar Mike says:


    I just read the letter on the St. Jan site.

    Do you have any idea how the Wegman family got talked into donating $270,000?

    Do they know how much opposition there is to the “renovation” in the parish?

  7. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Funny you should ask; I do plan to cover this in a future posting. For now, let me say that I saw Mr. Wegman on March 5 at Wegmans Pittsford. He told me that he had been asked for $300,000 but was aware of the controversy and was only giving $50,000. And he said he had NOT asked for the parish to raise $30,000 but only wanted to be sure people were behind the project (they are not). And he said it was NOT a memorial to his father. So the fundraising letter you are referring to from Fr. Ring to parishioners which is on the OLOL website was wrong on all three counts. Folks have been sending Thank You letters to Mr. Wegman for his careful stewardship and responsivenss to their issues. He has been very generous to St. Jan’s for many years, and we feel, in this situation, that his generosity was misused.

    As best we know, Fr. Ring has STILL not made a public announcement of the Wegmans’ funding decision; only the people who received the Special Edition Newsletter know the story. And now, those who are reading this on Cleansing Fire know it too. However, Fr. Ring has also told some individuals that he found another donor to give the funds. An “all of a sudden” out of left field donor with that kind of money seems unlikely, but the project is still moving ahead. We are worried about where the money is coming from and hoping it isn’t a loan (which would cripple the parish.) Much more on one of the upcoming Zeal posts. Diane

  8. One of Providence Housing Development Corporation’s board members is Sister St. Luke Hardy, SSJ of Sheila Walsh Realty in Rochester:

    Not sure if any Diocesan properties have been sold through this connection, but it is intriguing and worth checking into for any parishes who have properties that PH is or may be interested in.

  9. avatar Snowshoes says:


    I didn’t see where a decision has been made on the organ, but, and I’ll guess there have already been counter offers, (and if it hasn’t been sent to the landfill yet) I’ll put in an offer for three times the amount Fr. Ring wants to sell it for… (I have a place to store it and you can have it back at the appropriate time, after the flight into Egypt…) God bless.

  10. avatar Bro. AJK says:

    Dear Diane,

    I viewed the LABella schematics. I do agree that the sanctuary is too cluttered. The eyes need to stop at the tabernacle, not the organ. Perhaps some sort of scrim (like that pointy wall in the schematics) would allow the eye to stop at the tabernacle, while maintaining the organ behind it. Also, the choir really should not be there, but then, where does that office go? Perhaps a better (more simply noble?) setup (better stands and chairs) would work.

    Also, is there question regarding the movememnt of the baptismal font?

    Also, would the concrete/glass exterior walls be kept?

    Likewise, where is the shrine going? (What shrine is this?)

    It seems some of the points LaBella has are truly needed. A better separation from the parish hall and the nave is needed. That glass wall seems to do so. Yet, I disagree with others, like the need for face-to-face confession.

    So, what I am asking is, is it only the sanctuary that is causing distress?

  11. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Hi Bro,
    Good observations and good questions too. In the next few days I will post a Part III to walk everyone through where the objections are specifically. But it would be fair to say that the Sanctuary, particularly jackhammering the steps, losing the organ and especially displacing the Tabernacle so the Presider can take that spot are prime issues. Blocking the aisle with a huge immersion baptismal font is a biggie too. In the pictures you saw on line, it may not be clear that there is an accordian divider wall between the church and parish hall (it isn’t open as it was made to look in the pictures), but opens as needed. More soon. Thank you so much for your interest. Diane

  12. avatar Bro. AJK says:

    Dear Diane,

    When I worked at Camp Cutler, I would come to St. Januarius every so often. (St. Mary’s was the parish I assisted regularly when there.) That divider is ugly and needs to be replaced for the sake of the nobility of the Mass. It seemed like it was falling apart. The glass wall with noble doors will look better and enhance the nobility of the space.

    I look forward to your next post.

    P.S. The liturgical documents call for a noble simplicity, hence my use of the word nobility.

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