The Timeline of the Basilica Organ Project

The Murdy Family Organ will be the fifth to accompany prayer inside Notre Dame’s main church, a story nearly as old as the University itself. The need for a larger and better instrument to keep up with the school’s growth and ambitions has driven each move for a new instrument.

  • First Sacred Heart Church and Second Main Building exterior, c1860s.


    The University's original Sacred Heart Church receives a small reed organ.

  • Portrait of Rev. Edward Sorin, CSC, c1870s.


    Father Edward Sorin, CSC, approves the replacement of the first instrument with a hand-pumped organ of 1,500 pipes.

  • Basilica of the Sacred Heart interior, looking toward the organ and choir loft, 1928.


    Derrick and Felgemeker of Erie, Pennsylvania, installs a 2,000 pipe organ inside the new but still incomplete Sacred Heart Church.

  • Professor Daniel H. Pedtke playing the organ in Sacred Heart Church Basilica, c1950s.


    University President Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, approves a minor renovation that adds 300 pipes to the basilica organ.

  • Basilica of the Sacred Heart Interior - Installation of Holtkamp Organ, 1978.

    April 2, 1978

    Marjorie O'Malley donates an organ built by the Holtkamp Organ Company of Cleveland, Ohio. It debuts at a dedication Mass celebrated by Father Hesburgh and a recital performed by Professor Michael Schneider of Cologne, Germany.

  • Craig J. Cramer, Department of Music, circa 1980s.

    Fall 1981

    Professor Craig Cramer joins Notre Dame’s Department of Music and takes up department chair Calvin Bower’s charge to build the organ performance program.

  • Graduate student Leora Nauta practices with professor Craig Cramer in the Reyes Organ and Choral Hall.


    Paul Fritts and Company Organ Builders of Tacoma, Washington, finishes a 35-stop organ, another O’Malley gift, designed in the northern German tradition, for the Reyes Organ and Choral Hall of the new DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

  • Dr. Gail Walton

    Late 2006

    Campus Ministry forms a committee to explore replacement of the basilica organ. Dr. Gail Walton, the basilica’s director of music since 1988, leads the effort.

  • Fritts organ in Saint Joseph Cathedral

    December 2006

    Amidst a nationwide organ crawl, the committee travels to Columbus, Ohio, for the dedication of the new Fritts organ in Saint Joseph Cathedral — the one that “seals the deal” for Notre Dame’s second Fritts commission.

  • Pipe organ in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.


    The Great Recession hits university endowments and benefactions across the country, taking a toll on capital projects. The idea of replacing the basilica organ is tabled indefinitely.

  • ACE Commencement Mass 2008, Folk Choir

    February 2010

    Gail Walton dies after a long illness, leaving the project without its foremost champion.

  • Basilica interior

    Fall 2010

    University administration approves a plan to commission a new organ for the basilica and the search begins for a donor.

  • Fritts adjusts the tuning wire on a Cromorne pipe, a French variety of reed pipe, in his voicing room.


    Paul Fritts begins to design and authorizes pipe making before signing the Notre Dame contract. Plans eventually call for a four-manual instrument with 70 stops, 5,164 pipes and a case inspired by Dutch masterpieces. It is to be Fritts’ magnum opus.

  • Andreas Schonger shapes one of the rising, curved toeboards that will showcase the Murdy’s façade pipes.

    December 2013

    Work on the case begins in Tacoma.

  • Work in progress on replacing the floor in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

    Christmas 2013

    The basilica closes to prepare for the first phase of the organ project, the replacement of the building’s carpeting with 25,000 slate-colored porcelain tiles that improve the church’s acoustics. The renovation takes 44 days.

  • Studio organ he designed for a choir rehearsal room in Campus Ministry’s Coleman-Morse Hall


    Denis ’67 and Susan McCusker donate a studio organ that Fritts designed for the Walton Choir Rehearsal Hall in Campus Ministry’s Coleman-Morse Center.

  • Fritts loans Notre Dame a fourth organ for use in the basilica once the Holtkamp is removed.

    October 2015

    Fritts loans Notre Dame a fourth organ for use in the basilica once the Holtkamp is removed. Workers reinforce the basilica loft’s concrete and steel support structure down to the foundation.

  • The organ in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

    December 28, 2015

    After a Mass celebrating the Holy Family, the Holtkamp plays its last song, “Silent Night.” Work begins the next morning to remove it. Basilica choirs will sing from risers next to the interim organ in the basilica’s west transept.

  • Members of Paul Fritts' crew and Notre Dame volunteers carry parts for the Murdy Family Organ into the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

    July 2016

    Loaded onto a pair of tractor-trailers, the organ now named for benefactors Wayne and Diana Murdy arrives at Notre Dame early on Sunday July 31. The work of reassembling it in its new home begins.

  • The Murdy Family Organ installation in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

    August 2016

    Students returning to campus see the organ’s completed façade for the first time as Fritts and Co. begins tuning and voicing the pipes and connecting the organ’s key action, stop action, windworks and electrical wiring.

  • The Murdy Family Organ installation in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

    October 2016

    The organ passes its first full performance test during the annual Blue Mass honoring police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel on October 6. The last rank of pipes is tuned and voiced two weeks later.

  • The Murdy Family Organ in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

    January 20, 2017

    Professor Cramer performs an evening dedication recital on the Feast of Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross.