Palm Sunday Concert/Meditation: To Be At St. Mary-St. Catherine

To mark the last concert on its historic Woodberry and Harris organ before it is silenced for a multi-month restoration, its first in 123 years of supporting worship, St. Mary-St. Catherine of Siena Parish has arranged to showcase the instrument in an unusual concert themed to the spirit of Holy Week.

Three distinguished organists, Jonathan Wessler, Tom Sheehan, and Peter Sykes, will offer music from Bach’s and Widor’s organ meditations on texts from the Palm Sunday and Ester liturgies.  Unusually, the concerts will include African-American Spirituals echoing the Palm Sunday sentiments from one of Boston most beloved baritones, Robert Honeysucker. The grand finale will combine two organs, piano and voice in Arthur Sullivan’s affecting, “The Lost Chord,” which we rename for this occasion, “The Last Chord.” The concert is free and all are welcome.

The program:


Fantasy on “All Glory, Laud & Honor”

“I Call To Thee Lord Jesus Christ”

“Here Is The True Easter Lamb” (from

Christ Lies in Death’s Bonds, BWV 4)

Widor: Finale from St. Matthew Passion

Four African-American Spirituals

Mendelssohn: Sonata No. 1 in f minor

Sullivan: “The Lost Chord”

The Woodberry and Harris organ has been in place since St. Mary’s consecration in 1892. The firm’s opus 100 has 3 manuals, 37 stops and 41 ranks of pipes (2501 pipes). The pipework ranges from tiny tin pipes half the size of a pencil to 18 feet long wooden giants 12 x 18 inches in section. Originally the wind was supplied by a bellows (still existent) driven by a piston actuated by municipal water pressure from a 4” water main. It was one of the most advanced musical machines of its day. In order not to obscure the stained glass window at the back of the church the organ was divided into two sections. Furthermore the console was detached from the instrument and reversed so that it could face the front of the church. All this would have become much easier in 20 years later with the advent of electric actions key actions, but in 1892 such an arrangement required an extremely complex arrangement of wooden connectors called trackers to transfer the movements of the keys to the valves under the pipes. Because of its size and complexity the Woodberry also required a mechanical helper called a Barker machine which in essence amplified the motions of the organist. That all of this machinery still works 122 years after its construction without a major overhaul is a tribute to the abilities of its builder.

Having survived un-altered for so long, the organ has weathered many changes in philosophy of organ design which for many years changed almost as often as the length of lady’s hemlines. Many fine instruments were discarded due to such changes in fashion. But because St. Mary’s was blessed

About the Church

Saint Mary-Saint Catherine of Siena is an urban, Roman Catholic Parish formed in 2006 from two historic Charlestown parishes. We are an intentionally inclusive community welcoming all of the many people who make up our diverse neighborhood. Because our lives are nourished by the Eucharist, we strive to build a vibrant Parish that develops and strengthens our faith and worship. With a goal of being community-oriented in the Spirit of the Gospel, we are involved in the local and global issues of our times. We are therefore dedicated to service, action, and compassion.

Some may recognize this as our Mission Statement. It is more than that. It is who we are. It is Our Parish.

St. Mary’s Parish was formed in 1828 to serve the burgeoning Irish Population of Charlestown. At the time, Bishop Fenwick noticed that his Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the center of Boston could not serve the needs of the growing Catholic Population of Charlestown and adjoining towns. By establishing a Parish near the center of the town with reasonable access to the bridge to Cambridge he could bring religious services to Medford and Malden. The new parish would be dedicated to Mary, Mother of Jesus. In 1828, land was purchased at the corner of Austin and Richmond Street (now Rutherford Ave.). The Bishop presided at the dedication on May 10, 1829. During the time of Rev. John McMahon, St. Francis de Sales was established in 1859 and St. Catherine of Siena was established in 1887.

Later that year in 1887, work began on the present magnificent structure which we enjoy today. The 1200 seat Church was built by and is a design of P.C. Keely of Brooklyn, in what is known as the Tudor-Gothic style and was dedicated in 1892. The distinctive ceiling is of a hammerbeam design; above it, massive timber trusses obviate the need for columns and allow an unobstructed views. The brass light fixtures are from the 1890’s and were originally designed to be used for gas or electricity because electric lighting was considered experimental at that time. Perhaps the most striking features of St. Mary’s are the stained glass windows that line the Church. Because the colors are part of the glass, they never fade, only mellow with age. The Mayer of Munich who manufactured the windows is still in operation today and run by the fifth generation of the family.

Monsignor McMahon was the brother of the Bishop of Hartford, Connecticut. It is no coincidence that both St. Mary’s in Charlestown and St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hartford had many of the same architects, including Keely.

Our exceptional Stations of the Cross were constructed by the great ecclesiastical sculptor, Joseph Sibbel (1850-1907). Sibbel sculpted many important works, including the famous statue of St. Patrick at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Sibbel designed two identical sets of Stations:  one went to St. Mary’s, the other to the Cathedral in Hartford, which unfortunately was destroyed by fire in 1956. Sibbel made a similar, slightly larger set of Stations, still in existence at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock, Arkansas (another church built by Keely, with Mayer windows!).

Resulting from changing demographics in the town, on April 18 2006, St. Catherine’s and St. Mary’s combined to form our present Parish. On February 10 2008, the last Mass was held in the St. Catherine building, which is now closed. On December 10, 2011, a Chapel named for St. Catherine of Siena was inaugurated by Cardinal Sean O’Malley. Incorporating architectural elements from its namesake, this holy space in the lower level of St. Mary’s Church reflects the Romanesque architectural style, character, and feel of the original church.

St. Mary-St. Catherine of Siena Parish is a growing parish, “an intentionally inclusive community welcoming all of the many people who make up our diverse neighborhood.”

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