Our Lady of Perpetual Help dusts off church bells after a 13-year hiatus
By Bill Brewer
Parishioners and neighbors alike now know when Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Chattanooga is celebrating Mass.
Just listen for the bells.
The parish has renewed its long-dormant electronic bell system, and the chimes now sound when parochial administrator Father Arthur Torres and associate pastor Father Zachary Griffith begin daily and weekend Masses.
It’s been a labor of love of Church tradition for Father Torres, who grew to appreciate church bells in his native Colombia, especially when he was attending seminary. That appreciation continued when he was serving as an associate pastor at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, whose pealing bells are an integral part of the daily liturgy of the cathedral and can be heard in the surrounding Bearden community.
Father Torres wants the same for the East Ridge community surrounding Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
“Since I came from the cathedral, and the cathedral has beautiful bells with those chimes, I decided to restore the bells here,” Father Torres said. “I was missing that part because when I was in a religious order, we had the bells ringing and chiming every hour on the clock.”
Father Torres especially likes what the bells symbolize to a parish community and even a community at large.
“The bells call us to worship. The bells are called the voice of God, so it’s God calling his people to say, ‘Hey, come to worship me. It’s time to come as a community to gather together and celebrate the holy mysteries.’ That’s why I decided to restore the bells,” Father Torres added.
“So far, no complaints; no complaints at all. People have received them well. Actually, some neighbors have asked us to raise the volume of the bells because they were used to them. They help remind them what time it is, time to go to work or time to pray. So they asked us to raise the volume,” he said.
Father Torres isn’t exactly sure why the bells were discontinued 13 years ago, but he noted that some of the equipment had rusted. The parish was able to use the same sound system board with pre-recorded music that was ready to be played.
As part of the parish’s $5,500 equipment investment from its building community fund, new speakers were placed atop the adjacent Our Lady of Perpetual Help School that allow the electronic bells to resume ringing. They rang for the first time on Jan. 15.
Robert Jones, the business manager at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, is a 12-year member of the parish who had never heard Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s bells until they were restored.
“It was beautiful, a lovely sound. I think it is so needed. I have to admit, I was a little bit worried about how some of the neighbors would react if they haven’t heard them in so long. The reception we got was fantastic inside and outside the church. It was like we rolled out the red carpet. It was a tremendous reaction and we were just overjoyed by it,” Mr. Jones said.
Mr. Jones explained that Our Lady of Perpetual Help had an older operating unit that still worked, but all the other components needed to be replaced, including the outdoor speakers, wiring, and an exterior amplifier.
The original manufacturer of the bells, Verdin Co. of Cincinnati, restored Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s system, which was made in 2004. The company has been making bells, clocks, and organs since 1842.
Mr. Jones pointed out that the existing operating unit contains all the music played by the bells, but lacks new “bells and whistles” like Bluetooth and Internet capability.
He and Father Torres are gratified by the “overwhelming” warm welcome the refurbished bells have received.
“I thought people would notice. I thought our parishioners would notice, especially our parishioners who have been here a long time and had once heard them. Bringing them back meant a lot to our older parishioners and the community,” Mr. Jones said.
The bells chime each hour from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. And each day at noon and 6 p.m., the bells play the Angelus, the prayer recognizing when the angel of the Lord visited Mary signaling the Incarnation.
The digital system plays some 2,000 different sounds and can be programmed to play specific music related to the liturgical year. Father Torres changed the bells to be in sync with Lent leading to Easter.