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“Great Bells as they were; melodious, deep-mouthed, noble Bells; cast in no common metal; made by no common founder ...”
— Charles Dickens, “The Chimes”
Wide-eyed reflections of third-graders peered back from a shiny bell that’s nearly as tall as they are.
It’s the largest of five new bells that will ring out from two new bell towers as part of the soon-to-be completed renovation and renewal of the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
“I hope that whenever they drive by or come to church here and then when they’re grown up, they’ll remember that they got to see the blessing of these bells,” said St. Joseph Cathedral School third-grade teacher Molly Prenger.
The small group of schoolchildren joined Bishop W. Shawn McKnight; Father Louis Nelen, rector of the Cathedral and pastor of Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish; Father Brad Berhorst, associate pastor of St. Peter Parish in Jefferson City and Head Master of Ceremonies; Deacon John Schwartze, who assists the pastor; and sundry Chancery and Cathedral Parish employees and members of the local media on March 21 for the Blessing of the Bells.
“Bells,” said Fr. Nelen, “are an important part of what we do in terms of calling the community together for prayer, and they give voice to the Cathedral, which it hasn’t had until now.”
Bishop McKnight noted that Bishop Joseph M. Marling C.PP.S., founding bishop of the diocese, dreamed of having a bell tower to go with the 1968-vintage Cathedral he commissioned.
“Today, we get to fulfill that dream with the blessing of these bells and their installation later today in this renovated Cathedral,” said Bishop McKnight.
He called to mind that the Cathedral soon will be used again for Liturgies, prayer and the devotional life of the local Church.
“It is a reminder of God’s presence to us here and now,” the bishop stated. “And with these bells, we get to extend that manifestation of God’s presence, not only in sight but also with sound.”
The largest of the new bells is 45 inches in diameter and weighs 1,800 pounds. This bell, which will chime an F note, is named St. Joseph in honor of the patron of the Cathedral. It includes the inscription “Holy to the Lord,” from the Bible verse Zechariah 14:20.
The other four bells have diameters of 30 inches, 23 inches, 20 inches and 19 inches. They are named in honor of the writers of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They are tuned to C, F, G and A.
Each of these bells is also marked with an inscription:
The bells were produced by McShane Bell Company, a Missouri-based company that has been in operation since 1856. They were cast in Europe in the traditional method, using sweeps and molds from the McShane Bell Company.
Following the blessing by Bishop McKnight, the bells were installed in two belfries that are attached to a newly expanded narthex, which was constructed during the ongoing renovation of the Cathedral.
“This is an important milestone for our diocese and our parish,” said Fr. Nelen. “As we approach the completion of construction, these bells will help us welcome everyone back home for Mass at our Cathedral of St. Joseph.”
“It will be a historic moment for our current parishioners to be the first to hear this call to prayer, knowing that these bells will be calling out to our faithful for generations to come,” he said.
“In joy and sorrow”
The sweet smell of incense mixed with the aroma of freshly sawed wood from the beams of the new portico and the dampness of gentle rain.
“Dear brothers and sisters, today is a joyous and happy day for all of us, as the new bells are installed in our Cathedral, and we have the opportunity in this celebration to praise God’s name,” said Bishop McKnight.
Following the Order for the Blessing of Bells, he prayed: “By this blessing, accept these bells into your service. May their voice direct our hearts toward you and prompt us to come gladly to this Cathedral, there to experience the presence of Christ, listen to your word, offer you our prayers, and both in joy and sorrow be friends to one another.”
Fr. Nelen announced the names of the bells and proclaimed the Scripture verse on each.
The bishop sprinkled holy water onto the bells, then burned incense over them.
In imparting a blessing to all present, he prayed, “In his mercy, may God grant that when he calls you to this Cathedral through the clear voice of these bells, you will listen attentively to his word.”
A nice ring
“When we’re finished today, they’re going to lift them up into these towers,” Mrs. Prenger told her students. “You can look up and see where they’re going to lift the bells.”
Cathedral Parish employee Colette Tellman recalled that when she was a student at the school, the bell would ring at noon at the nearby Carmelite Monastery, and the children at recess would stop and pray the “Angelus” together.
“Church bells are an ancient part of our Catholic tradition,” Bishop McKnight noted, “and here at our Cathedral of St. Joseph, the ringing of bells will be an exciting new tradition. Let the pure sound of these bells signify a time of rebirth, renewal and rededication to our Church and faith.”
Father Stephen Jones, diocesan director of stewardship, said there’s something “medieval — ancient, really” about the building or renovation of a Cathedral.
“The cadres of craftspeople working with stone and marble, the artists who design and make mosaics, statuary and painting,” he said. “All of this is happening to create a building which is intended to lift the human soul to the highest heavens and inspire those same souls to live lives of charity and mercy toward their neighbors here on earth.”
Seen and heard
The Cathedral of St. Joseph is the spiritual home for the more than 75,000 Catholics who reside in the Diocese of Jefferson City, which covers 38 counties in central and northeastern Missouri.
The addition of the bells is part of a major renovation and expansion of the Cathedral that addresses numerous mechanical and accessibility issues within the structure while greatly enhancing the Cathedral’s hospitality and spiritual functionality.
“I pray that these new bells will provide a daily reminder of our need as Catholics to proudly proclaim God’s word and live out his mercy as we go about our lives,” said Bishop McKnight.
Work on the Cathedral renovation is reaching its final stages and Bishop McKnight has scheduled a Mass of Rededication for May 5. Due to limited space, attendance at the rededication is by invitation only and will be livestreamed online.
Everyone is welcome to view the renovations during an open house on Sunday, May 7. The bells will ring to welcome everyone to the Cathedral from 1-4 p.m. that afternoon.