Tag: bells

The View from the Belltower

SFDS Belltower

One afternoon a few weeks ago, the perilous hatch up into the belfry creaked open and the pigeons were astonished by a rare human visitor. Who was it? Not Quasimodo the Hunchback, but Tim Verdin, President of the Verdin Company of Cincinnati OH – the sixth-generation family-owned company that inherited the mantle – and the records — of the Old Meneely Bell Foundry of West Troy, NY, which made our bells back in 1916 (not to be confused with the Meneely Bell Company of Troy, NY – a different family branch and a separate competing company. Verdin notes that the Meneely vs Meneely trademark case of 1875 actually set a precedent, establishing “the legal right to use one’s surname commercially, even if a business using the same name already existed”).

In any case, Verdin, who was in town to work on the 58-bell Meneely carillon at Valley Forge (one of the world’s largest carillons), was especially interested in seeing our bells because he knew that there was something special about them: “Starting just before 1900, Meneely began experimenting with tuning their bells. What they do is cast the bells slightly thicker than they thought they should be and then they would remove metal from the outside of the bell to flatten the tone. Meneely is the only bell company to have tuned their bells on the outside; in Europe at the time all bell foundries tuned their bells by removing metal from the inside of the bell. Meneely would put the bell on a large metal lathe and then use a cutting tool to remove the appropriate bronze.” Eventually, the firm developed a new method of tuning to all “five different partials or frequencies that make up the note the bell is perceived to be” rather than just the middle three, and bell shaving became obsolete.

 Verdin observed that “Meneely cast some of the finest bells of any of the early American bell founders.” Our “chime consists of a total of (11) bronze bells..The largest bell weighs about 2,300 Lbs. and rings the note E1 in the middle octave. All of the bells except the largest are stationary which means they hang from the wooden frame…and don’t move.” Verdin notes that   they are “cast of bronze which is a mixture of approx. 80% copper and 20% tin. They are showing a nice greenish/blue patina which is perfectly normal for this age of bell in the environment they are in…These bells were not tuned before they were installed, but sound very nice. This is very typical of early American bell founders…The largest bell which sit on top of the wooden frame is designed to be a swinging bell, although it looks like it’s been a long time since it actually did swing.” He further notes that “The chime is a wonderful example of preserved history. It is still very much original and is basically using all of the same components as it did one the first day it was installed 104 years ago,.” which is, apparently, unusual!

Verdin located the original 1916 records for our bells in his archive. In addition to the technical specifications, labor costs, and stated fifteen-year warranty(!), there is an historic notation that “the bells to be arranged for blessing ceremonies after which they are to be placed in chiming order in the tower…Less allowance towards installation concert programs. Mr. C. to receive gratis about 250 copies.” That’s a lot of copies of our 1916 Parish Bell-Blessing ceremony program potentially floating around. What was the first music played on our bells? Can we dare hope that one of those programs may someday turn up in somebody’s attic?!

Incidentally…

Tim Verdin commented: “My Great-Great-Great Grandfather was Francis de Sales Verdin. He and several of his brothers are the ones that brought their families to America, from Marlenhiem, France, in the early 1830’s (and started the company). I am unsure…how he came to be named Francis de Sales. We actually have a Francis de Sales Catholic Church here in Cincinnati which I always thought was kind of cool because of his name. in fact, the Francis de Sales Catholic Church here in Cincinnati has the largest bell that has ever been cast in America in the tower. The bell was cast right here in Cincinnati in 1896 by the Buckeye Bell Foundry. It weighs almost 35,000 Lbs. and is called ‘Big Joe.’

Here is a picture of my Great-Great-Great Grandfather Francis de Sales Verdin; and here’s ‘Big Joe’ – Largest bell ever cast in America.

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A Bell Named Edmond

St. Edmund of Abington shown in the Nuremberg Chronicle,

Who was Saint Edmund of Abington and why is one of our bells named after him, but with a different spelling?

Edmund was a 13th century British teacher of Mathematics and Dialectics (similar to Debate), who studied Theology, was ordained, and became celebrated for his integrity. Pope Gregory IX appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury, but he came into conflict with King and Pope over politics. He died while traveling in Poitingy, France, was buried there, and canonized in 1246 after miracles were reported at his grave. St. Edmund’s Hall Oxford, and St. Edmund’s College Cambridge in England were both named for him. Closer to home, the Society of St. Edmund, a religious order established in his name in France in 1843, moved to the U.S.in 1889, and became active in Alabama in the 1930s, supporting African Americans through the Civil Rights era. Today, the saint’s right arm relic is in a shrine near Mystic, CT – at St. Edmund’s Retreat, a house for all, including “those whose life experiences have alienated them from God and the Church.”

Philadelphia Archbishop
Edmond Francis Prendergast

Philadelphia’s Edmond name connection dates back to Archbishop Edmond Prendergast (Auxiliary Bishop 1897-1911; Archbishop 1911-1918), whose patron saint and inspiration was “St. Edmond of Abington” (which he spelled with an o) and who named a number of local institutions in the saint’s honor. Our Faith-Filled Heritage states that “in 1912 the archbishop founded Saint Edmond Parish in South Philadelphia and in 1914, a new residence building for students at Saint Charles Seminary was named Saint Edmond’s Hall. He also saw to the founding of Saint Edmond’s Home for Children, at 44th Street and Haverford Avenue. This home…was the first Catholic school in the United States to provide educational opportunities for severely handicapped youth.”

Bishop Prendergast was a fairly busy guy. According to Encyclopedia.com, in addition to his various Saint Edmond projects, “During his episcopate he increased the number of parishes from 297 to 327, provided parochial schools for 23,000 more children, erected the free West Catholic High School for boys, and opened the free Hallahan High School for girls… He opened the Archbishop Ryan Memorial for the Training of Deaf Mutes, the Madonna House for Italian immigrants, a similar home for the Spanish-speaking immigrants, St. Francis Country Home for Convalescents… a boarding home for working girls, and three new orphanages… He established the Catholic Home Bureau, sponsored the erection of the Misericordia Hospital, and provided a Catholic hospital for Allentown.. Under his direction the forerunner of the Newman Club was established at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Reverend Michael Crane – our Second Pastor – knew the Archbishop well, having been his Assistant at St. Malachy’s Church from 1889 to 1903 – through the period when Reverend Prendergast was appointed the first Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia in 1897. When Reverend Crane, himself, became an Auxiliary Bishop at SFDS in 1921, the Catholic Standard reported that he paid homage: Bishop Crane’s chosen motto “‘Ut Sim Fidelis’ – ‘That I may be faithful’ – is the same as that of the Most Rev. Edmond F. Prendergast, D.D., the late, lamented Archbishop who departed this life on February 26, 1918.

Our church tower bells, installed in 1916, were called Adolph, Michael, Elizabeth, Anthony, Cecilia, Theresa, Edmond, John, Thomas, Maurice and Gervase. They were ostensibly named after saints, but the names also had other associations. Adolph probably referenced sculptor Adolfo de Nesti, who went missing that year; Michael would have been the pastor, Rev. Michael Crane; Elizabeth likely honored Elizabeth Lippe, donor of the bells; Gervase probably honored the pastor’s sibling, Mother Mary Gervase, IHM; and the bell named Edmond almost certainly honored the Archbishop.

Today, there’s another Edmond of note, perched in the choir loft by the bell tower: look up and wave to Edmond Collins after Mass, who manages our parish livestream video and Youtube channel along with Susanna Collins!

Find it here and please help by subscribing:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkJF5ohnZQGikuhxV6OJV5w

A Bell Named Maurice

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Rev. Maurice Cowl

The Catholic Standard and Times reported on the elaborate October 22, 1916 ceremony for the “Christening” of our St. Francis de Sales Church tower bells named Adolph, Michael, Elizabeth, Anthony, Cecilia, Theresa, Edmond, John, Thomas, Maurice and Gervase, noting: “after each bell had been blessed it was rung by the Rev. Maurice F. Cowl…” Did Reverend Cowl register a special sense of Catholic belonging when his own named bell rang out?

The story of the bell named Maurice is a complicated Philadelphia tale, starting, surprisingly, with the  Episcopal Church – which has always had to balance tensions between those who favor a “High Church” (run by clergy with a focus on sense-oriented Catholic-style “smells and bells” incense and ritual), versus “Low Church” (with more lay administration and a more pared-down Calvinist Protestant austerity), with many gradations in between.

In the ornate late Victorian era, the more intricate “High Church” tendencies prevailed; as the century changed, the balance suddenly shifted in the opposite direction, leaving some Episcopalians behind – something like the changes in the Catholic Church, decades later, with the New Mass and Vatican II.

A rift occurred right here in Philadelphia, with “The Open Pulpit Controversy.” Simply put, compromises were made in order to move closer to other Protestant denominations, and Episcopal bishops agreed that a minister’s education and training would no longer be required in order to teach from the pulpit; any Christian man could be allowed to speak. Those with “High Church” leanings felt that inviting unqualified people to preach could open the Episcopal church to heresy. They were overruled. It was the “last straw” for some of those who wanted to keep a complex ceremony with a strong clerical structure. In 1908, a group of seven local Episcopal priests officially resigned and entered the Catholic seminary under Bishop Ryan. Reverend Maurice Cowl was among them. He was ordained as a Catholic priest on December 17, 1910.

Reverend Cowl assisted at our parish from 1910 to 1917. Our new church, with its symbol-rich medieval-guild-style stained glass, hand-carved statues, and hand-set mosaics, likely appealed to his sense of mystery and ritual, and he became “Master of Ceremonies” for various parish events. He may have had an authoritarian streak: the 1940 Parish Jubilee Book reports that “In December 1916, Reverend Maurice Cowl decided that the time was opportune to form an organization for the boys of the parish…It was decided to form a strictly military organization, to be called the “St. Francis de Sales Boys’ Battalion…” He kept busy: while Reverend Cowl assisted at de Sales, starting in January 1911, he was appointed Chaplain of St. Leonard’s Academy for girls at 38th and Chestnut (today St. Leonard’s Court at Penn), which would have given him some good walking exercise through the neighborhood!

Reverend Cowl went on to become the founding Pastor of Saint Laurence Church on Westchester Pike in Highland Park/Upper Darby, and the St. Francis de Sales Choir traveled to sing at the first Mass there on June 17. 1917. He retired, due to ill-health, in 1932, died at Misericordia Hospital in 1934, and is buried on the St. Laurence Church lawn, at the foot of a statue of the Sacred Heart. Several other de Sales priests have since gone on to serve at that church, including our eighth Pastor, Monsignor Francis Fitzmaurice.

The Bellringers

bells 1965It takes one to ring one! Donald McDermott was “keeper of the keys” back in the 1950s and 1960s, in charge of Bellringers, CYO, and various other organizations at SFDS, and he writes about the experience:

From about 1958 to 1967, I selected (high school and older) boys to ‘ring the bells’ with strict guidelines. Before 6:45 PM, they used the Rectory side door, went into the back office to the key cabinet, took the sacristy and the choir- loft gate keys. They opened the sacristy door and went through the church to the vestibule stairs, unlocked the gate, went up to the bell console, and reconnected the rod on #1 bell ‘Adolph.’ At exactly 6:45 PM they played the ‘De Profundis’ actually the ‘Out of the Depths’ a musical Psalm 130 by Scott Soper. It is the last of the seven canonical hours – the last of the day, just after Vespers – often called Evening or Night Prayers.

Usually the choir loft room was crowded with the Bellringers and friends. Cards had the hymns on them written using numbers in place of notes. The ringer had to know the melody, otherwise whatever he played would just be discordant notes. Jim Slavin (one of the students) could transpose any music into numbers, so the boys played ‘Happy Birthday,’ ‘We Shall Overcome,’ the Mickey Mouse theme, etc. They were usually disguised by additional notes, adjusting the tempo, etc. Often, Bishop McShea, the priests, and the Sisters would laughingly ask ‘Was that the Mickey Mouse song that I heard?’ My response was ‘If that’s what you thought you heard…’

The Bellringers did a tremendous amount of work/jobs around the parish. Mother Boniface and Mother Rose Anita often requested their services – to whitewash the walls in the convent basement, clean-up the garden at the convent, decorate the Community Room for a party, etc.

One of the strangest things was when Jack Niehenke, Bill McLaughlin, Jim Slavin, etc. wanted to carry a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the May Procession. I asked Mother Rose Anita, and looking at me over her glasses, she laughingly asked ‘Are we now an Italian Parish?’ I took a table from my bedroom, disassembled it, using the four spindles as handles, to make a platform for the statue to be carried. Jim Slavin painted the platform powder blue. The boys, wearing suits and ties, carried the statue after the May Queen’s Court in front of the Bishop and priests. Nothing but compliments that Mother Anita and I always laughed about.”

Fran Byers notes that Jim Slavin sang in our choir for many years until his death in the late 1990s!

A Bell Named Gervase

p1911-061Saint Gervase was an obscure early Roman martyr. Gervase of Canterbury was a 12th century British monk. So why does St. Francis de Sales Church in Philadelphia have a tower bell named after St. Gervase?

Perhaps the answer lies a little closer to the heart of Second Pastor Bishop Crane, whose sister Bridget became Mother Mary Gervase, IHM.

The third of four children, Bridget was born to Irish immigrant parents Michael and Anne Crane in Ashland, PA coal country on September 8, 1861. Her little brother Michael – our future Bishop — was born two years later in 1863 and their father died soon after. Their mother eventually went to work in a “Dry Goods and Grocer” shop, according to census data, and the two older girls became seamstresses. Bridget started public school at age 8 and finished at age 18, in ninth grade: the late start and incomplete schooling were not unusual for the times.

In 1890, when she was 29, Bridget entered the IHM convent and received the name Sister Mary Gervase. She taught grades 1-4 in several schools from 1894 to 1906. (in those days secondary education was not required for elementary teaching).  Meanwhile, she attended classes and finished high school at Villa Maria in 1906. Later, she became Superior and Principal at St. Francis Xavier, St. Monica, then St. Rose of Lima in Philadelphia, while working towards her teaching certificate, which she obtained at Immaculata in 1926. In 1928, she was “missioned” to St. Aloysius Academy, in a wing of the Motherhouse. She died in 1944.

Referring to 12th century Gervase of Canterbury, the British Dictionary of National Biography notes “Gervase is not one of the great historians of his age, but he illustrates with fidelity the tone and temper of his monastic world.” That, perhaps, is also a fitting memorial for Mother Mary Gervase Crane, whose simple story of convent life has in it only one remembered drama, relating to a mysteriously disappearing and reappearing bedspread.

We do know that Mother Gervase was devoted to her little brother. One of the IHM sisters recalled that “each night, she made a pilgrimage to the picture of the bishop, her brother, Bishop Crane. Daily she bid him ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Good Night.’” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that she and her married sister were at his bedside when he died in our Rectory in 1928.  It seems fitting that our church bells named Michael and Gervase continue to peal together, in lasting memory of their family’s contribution to the religious life.

 

Baptism of the Bells

p1911-061

Ring out the Birthday song! One hundred years ago, on October 22, 1916, our brand-new church bells were blessed in a special ceremony before installation in our bell tower.

The Catholic Standard reported:

For the ceremony of the “baptism,” they were arranged along the left side of the church, where they rested on temporary trestles which were covered with Autumn leaves and chrysanthemums. The Services began at 3:30 o’clock with a procession from the sacristy to the main entrance of the church on Springfield Avenue and down the middle aisle to the altar. The Rev. William J. Casey, of the Church of the Ascension, was cross-bearer. He was followed by the acolytes, the sponsors of the bells, the clergy, prelates, the officers of the ceremonies, and the Right Reverend Bishop McCort.

Each bell had a parishioner acting as its “sponsor;” with church architect Henry D. Dagit  among the eleven. The bells were named after the following saints: Adolph, Michael, Elizabeth, Anthony, Cecilia, Theresa, Edmond, John, Thomas, Maurice, and Gervase. After each bell was blessed, it was rung by Reverend Maurice Cowl, Assistant to Pastor Monsignor Crane. The chime rang out from the tower for the first time a month later, at the Fifth Anniversary of the Dedication of the Church.

An article in the 1925 Parish Bulletin described a traditional bell blessing ritual, which, it reported, dates back to the tenth century:

The bell is washed with holy water (whence people speak of the baptism of a bell); it is signed with holy oils, and the thurible with fuming incense is held beneath it….The washing of the bell inside and out signifies the purity of life and the soundness of doctrine which should be found in both priest and people…The sign of the cross is made seven times, to represent the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, and also the seven Sacraments of Christ; and again four times to signify the four quarters of the universe…the burning perfumes indicate the prayers of the faithful…

After Psalms, Sermon, and  Gospel, a closing prayer asks that

the ringing of the now consecrated bells may summon the faithful to prayer, may excite their devotion, may disperse the storm clouds and drive away the dangers of the air, may terrify evil spirits, and may assure us health and happiness and peace.

Those sound like good prayer requests. Let’s hope that blessing still works!

A Bell Named Adolph

meneely

 

Our church bells don’t ring out as often as they did in times past, but they’re still an important part of our church. Did you know that the largest bell weighs in at 2,500 pounds, which makes it bigger than the Liberty Bell (which is a mere 2,080 pounds, and cracked)!

According to the 1940 Parish Jubilee volume, the eleven bells up in the tower were “named after the following saints: Adolph, Michael, Elizabeth, Anthony, Cecilia, Theresa, Edmond, John, Thomas, Maurice, and Gervase.”

It’s an odd list. Among other things, one might wonder: why Adolph?

When the bells were consecrated in 1916, that was still a fairly common name. Several Saints are named Adolph: Saint Adolph of Osnabruck lived in Germany in the 1100s and was known as the “Almoner of the Poor;” there was also a 9th century Spanish martyr named Adolph; and Saint Adolph Ludigo-Mkasa, who was martyred in Uganda in the 1800s.

The name could be there for another reason, as well. The bells were bequeathed to the church by Mrs. Elizabeth Lippe, in honor of her late husband, William. A little research reveals that William’s Dad emigrated from Germany. His name was Dr. med. Adolph Graf zur Lippe Biesterfeld Weissenfeld, shortened to Dr. Adolph Lippe, and he was an important figure in the history of homeopathic medicine, holding the chair of “Materia Medica” at the Homeopathic College of Philadelphia (the origins of Hahnemann University Hospital) from 1863-1868.

The name could also be intended to honour Adolfo de Nesti, the Italian sculptor who created many of the statues in our church. (It may be additionally significant that Monsignor Michael J. Crane’s sister was a nun named Sister Mary Gervase; and his Assistant was the formerly-Anglican Reverend Maurice Cowl).

So, in the story of one church bell, we have represented Germany; Spain; Italy; England; Uganda; care for the poor; immigration; higher education; alternative medicine; Catholic history; Philadelphia landmarks; American history; fine art; and church music – an emblem of the rich tapestry of our Parish heritage!