Saint Cecilia Parish was established in 1888. In 1902 the Hutchings-Votey Organ Company of Boston installed a three-manual organ in St. Cecilia Church, opus 1465. The instrument of twenty-four speaking stops had electric action, and stood in the very center of the rear gallery in one case. The organ builders were George S. Hutchings (1835-1913), who started business in 1869, and Edwin Scott Votey (1856-1931), pioneer in the perfection of the player piano, who was Hutchings’ partner from 1901 to 1907. In 1902, the factory was on 23-37 Irvington Street in Boston (and in 1905-1908 at Albany Street in Cambridge near Massachusetts Avenue, before moving to Waltham, MA.)
St. Cecilia Church was first renovated in 1954. Part of the project included installation of the Assumption window in the rear gallery, right behind the Hutchings organ. In order to accommodate the window, and to overcome growing mechanical difficulties with the organ, Rostron Kershaw of Lowell was hired to construct a new three manual organ. Roy Carlson of Magnolia, Massachusetts developed the tonal design for the new thirty-two stop instrument. About half of the organ’s pipework was recycled from the Hutchings, but redistributed to conform to the new scheme. By 1995 the Kershaw organ’s mechanical reliability was in question. The Kershaw installation left various components inaccessible for maintenance. Also, the tonal design had proved to limit the organist’s flexibility in playing a smooth service or in faithfully rendering various styles of organ literature. In addition, the organ’s pitch was A=427, not the standard A=440 set in the 1920’s for orchestral instruments.
Work began in January of 1998. All pipes were removed, cleaned, cut to pitch, and put back on speech. Most of the organ’s 2,300 pipes were found to be unmusical in tone. Theodore Gilbert, organ builder from Wilbraham, Massachusetts with fifty years of organ building experience as a voicer and finisher for the Austin, Casavant, and Aeolian-Skinner Organ Companies, gave a heart and soul to the new organ. He was brought into the project to reconstruct and re-scale these pipes. This painstaking process was done with the unified whole in mind, to produce a new organ of variety, color and expressive quality. A. R. Schopp’s Sons of Alliance, Ohio, restored the reed stops, completing sets that had been changed by Carlson in 1954. The Kershaw console was replaced with a four-manual Austin console from Cleveland, Ohio, solidly reliable and complete with ivory keys. Every effort was made to improve the organ’s layout for maximum tonal effects and ease of maintenance.
Allan Taylor of Feeding Hills, Massachusetts, completely rewired the entire organ, designing a new solid state switching relay to control the organ’s electrical connections. New D.C.-servo motors were installed for the expression shades. Andrew Smith of Cornish, N. H., rebuilt off-set windchests and created racking for the restored reed stops. Jonathan Moretz of Boston Building Doctors supervised the reconstruction of the expression chambers and the new decking above each chamber to Timothy E. Smith’s specifications. Southfield Organ Builders of Springfield, Massachusetts, constructed a new unit windchest. The site work, requiring hundreds of hours of cleaning, rebuilding, relocating, and on-site fabricating, was completed by a team including Gabriel Cantor, Gregory Dixon, Christian Grove, Gregory Hyde, Peter Hyde, Benjamin Little, Adam Mittleman, Nathan Schreiber, Gregory Serapiglia, Helen and Carlyle Smith, David Steakley, and Eric Weisman. Most are residents of Framingham, Massachusetts, and a neighborhood in that town is call Nobscot. Without their effort, the project could not have succeeded.
On Sunday, November 21, 1999 the gallery organ was blessed during the parish liturgy by Msgr. Michael F. Groden, Pastor of St. Cecilia Parish. It was dedicated in concert by organist Richard J. Clark on November 22, 1999, the Feast of Saint Cecilia.
Soon to follow was the installation of an antiphonal division of seven ranks, located near the front of the church, underneath the Saint Cecilia Window. Built in the 1960’s by Robert Noehren, it was removed from St. Ignatius Episcopal Church in Antioch, Illinois. Reconstruction began in July 2000 by Adam Mittleman and Timothy Smith. Its inaugural liturgy was on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 2000. Soon after, Smith and Gilbert began reshaping its tonal design to tailor the organ to St. Cecilia Parish’s very specific liturgical needs. Furthermore, part of this retailoring included extensive wiring by Allen Taylor making the organ playable from both its own 2 manual console, and from the 4 manual console in the gallery. An 1850 W. B. D. Simmons case was refurbished by Andrew Smith of Cornish, New Hampshire and was installed in October of 2001. The completed Antiphonal Organ was dedicated in concert by organists Timothy E. Smith and Richard J. Clark on November 18, 2001.
In 2012 the four-manual Austin Console was replaced by the Aeolian Skinner console from St. Phillip Cathedral in Atlanta, Georgia. Modified to the Specifications of the St. Cecilia Organs, it features 64 levels of memory making it a far more versatile instrument than ever before in its history.
The most recent additions to the organ include two significant ranks: a 32’ Contra Bourdon and a 32’ Contra Bombarde bringing this formidable instrument to fifty-two ranks and 2,950 pipes.
In June of 2014, the St. Cecilia pipe organs were featured for several events at the American Guild of Organists National Convention.