Heart of Louisiana: The organ at St. Michael's

Convent -- For the past 175 years, St. Michael the Archangel Church has been the center of this community along the east bank of the Mississippi River. And what's most remarkable is that a mass today may sound the same as one prior to the Civil War.

That's because this church has the oldest working pipe organ in the state of Louisiana.

Carol Ladek is the organist at St. Michael. She likes the simplicity of the old organ.

"It was very easy for me because i grew up playing piano and i'm more pianist than an organist," says Ladek. "It's very easy to do different things on it without being so complicated of an instrument."

The organ has a single keyboard, and only ten stops that brighten or soften the sound by changing the flow of air over the pipes. It was built in 1857 by the famous organ maker Henry Erben of New York. In the 1940's, an electric motor was added. But if they lose power, they can still hand pump the air over the pipes, just like they did when this organ was built more than 150 years ago.

The organ is a perfect fit for a church that looks like a beautiful antique. Old pictures from about 1900 were used as a guide in a total restoration of the sanctuary. There are stories behind many of the unique fixtures. The hand-carved altar even has a slight connection to the Eiffel Tower.

"Our altar came from Paris, France, it was on display at the World's Fair in Paris, France in 1889," says parishioner Carol Rome.

And behind the altar is a replica of the grotto at Lourdes, France. This one was built in 1876, only 18 years after the apparition of Mary on a mountain side in Lourdes. The rock came from the charred rock-like remnants of burning sugarcane. The altar is decorated with clam shells from the Mississippi River.

"It's a tourist attraction," says Rome. "People from all over the world come to visit. You'd be surprised how they hear about it."

And there is a lot to see in this historic building – the painted columns, the giant crucifix, the original stained glass windows and religious statues.

"A lot of comments I get from people who do come in say they found a sense of peace, happiness, you know, quietness, they enjoy just coming to sit and be quiet," Rome tells us.

And that sense of peace keeps drawing Catholics to worship here, just as they have done for nearly two centuries.

St. Michael the Archangel Church underwent a major restoration in the year 2000, and the work was finished in time for the church's 175th anniversary in 2008.