Since 1917 the church bells of our parish have been calling the faithful of our community to worship. They have announced both happy occasions, such as Christmas, Easter, weddings, the election of new Popes and the end of wars, as well as sadder times like funerals, deaths of Popes and the assassination of a president. As we complete their restoration, we thought it would be nice to pass on some interesting information about them to you.
After talking with as many older parishioners as possible, the early history of the bells remains, to say the least, sketchy. There are not too many people around who remember the old church, not to mention the bells. From what we can determine, the old church had only one small bell. This bell, which we call Ann, weighs 150 pounds and was made in Boston in 1914. Since the parish was not founded until 1917, it would seem that this bell was purchased from another church rather than being made specifically for St. Francis. All bells made for Catholic Churches were actually Baptized and given names. The name from this bell is taken from the inscription which reads Donated by St. Anns Society.
When the new church was built, the bell from the old church along with three other bells were placed in the new tower. These were still rung by hand by pulling ropes. These ropes came down to the first floor of the tower. (one flight up from the Church) Again, one of these seems to be purchased from another church. It is one of the larger bells and was made in 1903 by the McShane Foundry of Boston. We are told by the company that did the restoration, that this bell is very rare. It weighs 450 pounds and would take even the largest of altar boys or priests for a nice ride. It is inscribed with the names of three societies, which have no historical evidence of being in our parish. This was the bell used to peal the Angelus, and so we have come to call it Michael, because this was the only Angels name on the bell.
The last two bells, the largest and the smallest, were made in Baltimore in 1940. We are not positive that these bells were made for our church specifically, but two signs point in that direction. First of all, 1940 is close enough to the construction of the church, and one of the bells is named St. Francis of Assisi. This bell, Francis, the largest of the four weighing 800 pounds, has a full picture of St. Francis molded in on one side. It is struck with the toller hammer as a well as being swung. The smallest bell, called Mary, weighing 125 pounds, is really named for the Immaculate Conception, and also bears her picture on the side.
It seems the automatic ringers were first installed in the mid to late 40s. Todays restoration contains a completely computerized program with a capability of running several schedules as well as manual (push button) ringing. The bells have been fitted with ball bearing bushings, stainless steel chains, new clapper springs and new motors. They are virtually maintenance free. The largest can now be moved with a push from only one finger. They have been raised higher in the tower and their frames have been fortified.
The restoration company, Elderhorst Bells of Pennsylvania, has put the value of the bells alone at $80,000. Anyone with any additional information please contact Joe Sortino or the Rectory.
(Published in the parish bulletin on the occasion of the rededication of the bells on April 1, 2001)