Personal stories from bell and chimes ringers
Sister Ann Casper
“One summer repairs were needed to the church [Church of the Immaculate Conception] tower bells. Bell ringers were told to have a second bell ringer accompany them because the pulley allowing the bells to easily swing in place was not operating correctly. The two of us novices made our way to the area behind the church organ and at precisely 6:25 p.m. began to pull the bell rope with all our might, summoning the community to prayer. While in the upswing of our pull, somehow the rope dislodged from the bell and the two of us ended up on the floor with hundreds of feet of rope coiling down on top of us. It was all we could do to contain our snorts and laughter so as not to be heard in the church.”
Sister Lucille Lechner, bell ringer
“I was a bell ringer in 1952-’53. Each evening we placed the bell ringer watch at Sister Marie Ambrose’s [McKenna, RIP, novice mistress] place at the table to be wound. One evening she was not there. I presumed Sister Mary Roberta [Young, RIP] wound the watch. However, the watch stopped, and I became a nervous wreck!
“We also rang the bell at 8:30 p.m. In the winter, the church gallery [in the Church of the Immaculate Conception] was dark. Often an older sister would be making a nightly visit in the church gallery and materialize out of the dark as I stood pulling the rope.
“We enjoyed the job [of ringing the bell] because it made me feel special.”
Sister Marianne Mader, bell ringer
“I was a bell ringer as a canonical novice from 1967-’68. People always told me that the bats, which were much in abundance in Providence [Hall] and the big church [Church of the Immaculate Conception], would never hit you because they had radar and knew you were there. One night I went to Tile Hall [in Providence Hall] to ring [toll] the bells for a sister who died. There you actually pulled on a rope. I was in the midst of ringing them when a bat took a nose dive into my stomach. The bells stopped abruptly, and I screamed. Sister Mary Pius [Regnier, general superior at the time] immediately came out of her room to see what was going on. I saw all kinds of other sisters, too! I don’t remember if I started over or not. I hope the poor deceased sister understood!
“Another time after I had already rung the bells successfully, two bats came toward me. I fell down the steps getting out of there! I am still scared of bats!”
Sister Carol Nolan, chimes ringer
“I was a chimes ringer as a novice, 1951-’53. I remember that I loved to do it. You pushed the handles down like pump handles. I believe another novice had to push down the G#, or help you do it, because that was the swinging bell. The others were stationary.
“We did it [played the chimes] on Sundays and feast days. The big day was Homecoming Day. The Chicago train used to come in to the station at the end of the avenue. We waited for a signal from the avenue that the sisters were on their way up to the fountain [in front of Providence Center]. Then we began playing, and we played for a very long time as they were walking up.”
Sister Ann Kevin O’Connor
“I entered the novitiate on July 22, 1943. Apparently it was the custom for one person in each band to ask to be a bell ringer. I don’t think our band was told of the custom, at least I never heard it, and we were only six members. Sister Rose Berchmans [Patterson, RIP, novice mistress] sent for me and told me I was to be the newest bell ringer, and I was still a postulant.
“We had a very large brass [hand] bell similar to those used in most schools at recess which the bell ringer rang five minutes before prayers. She began in the East Hall at the Statue of Our Lady of Victory and circled all of Providence [Hall] first hall, returning the bell to the statue when the circuit was completed.
“One evening, while I was still a postulant, I went upstairs [in the Church of the Immaculate Conception] to ring the [tower] bell. The organ was being repaired at that time. To protect the pipes there was a huge wooden frame screwed into the wall and attached to the frame was a large roll of chicken wire. I presume I knew the organ was being worked on, but since it was late, I did not realize that the workers had left the frame unattached to the wooden base. The first time I pulled the massive rope down the knot at the end of the rope got caught in the chicken wire so that every time I let the rope up it took the entire frame and chicken wire with it!
“In the meantime, Sister Mary Rose, [Cummings, RIP] one of the general councilors, came running up the stairs to see what was happening. We novices were not permitted to have watches so when it was our week to ring the bells we carried a Baby Ben around with us. I had placed the clock, as I always did, on the balustrade at the top of the stairs and in her hurry, Sister Mary Rose knocked the clock off its perch! That too crashed to the floor making another clattering sound. When she found out I was alive and well, we both went downstairs to join in the evening prayers. Someone told Sister Rose Berchmans that I was swinging on the rope which upset her quite a bit. From then on, a new rule was made. No postulant could go to the choir loft alone to ring the bells.”
Sister Alexa Suelzer, bell ringer
“There were numerous ‘hand bells’ usually rung five minutes before the ‘big bell’ to give fair warning. The toll was rung from Tile Hall [in Providence Hall].
“I recall that in the case of a sister dying away from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, a ‘lookout’ novice watched from an attic window and sent a signal to the novice waiting to ring the toll as the retinue advanced up the road from the foot of the hill.
“My worst experience was forgetting a bell completely. The novice passed me the alarm clock at 4:30, and I promptly became engrossed in what I was doing until ‘the powers that be’ [found out]. Yes, I heard about it!”