Sunday Afternoon Organ Concert

Guest artists perform on the newly restored 1932 organ at Saint Marys Chapel

Monthly, 3 p.m. Saint Marys Chapel, Mayo Clinic Hospital-Rochester

Sponsored by the Mayo Clinic Dolores Jean Lavins Center for Humanities in Medicine with generous support from Gerald and Henrietta Rauenhorst and special thanks to the Sisters of St. Francis.

Future dates to be announced.

Parking is available in the Generose Parking Ramp, east of the Generose Building, on the south side of the hospital.

There are many instruments at Mayo Clinic Hospital. They range from tools for microsurgery to the Mayo One helicopter that is virtually an airborne emergency department.

Among the hospital’s most remarkable instruments is the organ in Saint Marys Chapel, which evokes the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.” As Dr. Will Mayo said, “There is a spiritual as well as a material quality to the care of sick people.”

Work of Faith

The organ is a work of faith in many respects. It was installed on Dec. 5, 1932, shortly before the first services were held in the newly expanded chapel in January 1933 – during the depths of the Great Depression.

The Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company of Boston, one of the leading firms in the industry, built the organ. Most of the company’s products were for East Coast customers, making the instrument distinctive in the Midwest. And while pipe organs were a fixture in churches, universities, movie theaters and private homes, it was rare for a hospital to have an instrument of this quality.

Sister Joseph Dempsey, the superintendent of Saint Marys Hospital, had long wanted an organ for the chapel. As contributions came in and plans moved forward, Emil Oberhoffer, founder and maestro of the Minneapolis Orchestra (today, the Minnesota Orchestra) was a patient at Saint Marys. His advice helped the Sisters of St. Francis realize their dream.

For many years, the organ played a vital role at Saint Marys with Sister Antoine Murphy and others at the keyboard. On one memorable occasion, the service of thanksgiving to mark the end of World War II, a stop on the organ went out, creating a deafening noise. But the congregation was so relieved about the end of hostilities that no one seemed to mind.


Restoration and Renewal

With changes in liturgy and musical taste after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the organ was used less frequently and began to show its age. The Aeolian-Skinner Company went out of business in 1972.

In 2014, as part of the Mayo Clinic Sesquicentennial and the 125th anniversary of Saint Marys, the organ was restored by the Schantz Organ Company. The project’s goals were to respect the organ’s integrity while enhancing it for present-day worship and performance. Through careful research, the hand-drawn plans for the Saint Marys Chapel Organ, Aeolian-Skinner Opus 894, were discovered, ensuring the historical accuracy of the restoration.

Just as the contributions of many long-ago patients and friends enabled the Franciscan Sisters to acquire the organ, this project was possible through the generosity of benefactors to the Mayo Clinic Department of Chaplain Services, the Saint Marys Campus Volunteers and Gerald and Henrietta Rauenhorst.

Jeff Daehn, Mayo Clinic carillonneur, served as music director of the project, working closely with the Sisters of St. Francis, colleagues throughout Mayo Clinic and extramural specialists. Just as Sister Joseph collaborated with Emil Oberhoffer, Daehn consulted with a Mayo Clinic patient, James Hammann, DMA, an accomplished organist and educator, and past vice-president of the Organ Historical Society, who played at one of the first concerts in this series.

Today, the organ is once again a source of comfort to Mayo Clinic patients, staff and visitors, as seen in these comments from audience members at the Sunday Afternoon Organ Concert Series:


“What a beautiful place for beautiful music.”

“Thank you for assisting to make melody in my heart – life is more than cancer.”

“Thank you for a joyous and blessed afternoon.”

“My last three days have been spent praying for my 30 year old son to recover from open heart repair. You have rejuvenated my body and soul. Thank you.”