The Alumni Hall bellsThe bells are the musical voice of the college, and have been for every Anselmian since its founding.

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A Familiar Ring: Saint Anselm's Bells Are Musical Voice of the College

By Laurie D. Morrissey
Originally published in Portraits Fall/Winter 2006

It's a funny thing about the bells. There they are, tolling the hour 24 times a day, seven days a week from the top of Alumni Hall. But their loud, steady peal sometimes goes unheard. We're lost in conversation, lost in thought,
lost in a book, lost in the music on our iPods.

Inside the Alumni Hall belltowerThen we're hurrying across campus or sitting near an open window and suddenly hear the sound as clear as... well...

The bells are the musical voice of the college, and have been for every Anselmian since its founding. They toll the hour, ring before Mass, and peal after Abbey Church weddings and outdoor commencement exercises. The bells announce the death of a monk, tolling once for each year of his life. When Fr. Michael Custer, O.S.B., died last May at 95, the tolling lasted more than 45 minutes.

"We live our lives by them," says Fr. Daniel Dempski, O.S.B., who arrived at Saint Anselm as a student in 1969 and is now one of the college's resident bell experts, along with college treasurer Fr. Mark Cooper, O.S.B. It is through their efforts that the tower contains not one, but three bells.

The bells atop Alumni Hall have marked civic occasions and national events such as the end of WWII and the release of the hostages in Iran. On September 11, 2001, they marked a tragedy that few can forget.

Jennifer McCann '05 had only been on campus a few weeks. "As I walked to my third class, the bells began ringing and didn't stop," she recalls. "When I got to class, I found out there had been a terrorist attack of some sort, and that classes were canceled and everyone was gathering at the church. As I walked up the hill from the NHIOP, all I could hear was the bells, and the whole campus was filing into the church, unsure of what was happening. It was comforting that we were coming together as a community to pray, everyone, every religion, practicing or not. And the bells were what drew us to the heart of campus: the church."

-Blessing for the bells

On the five-year anniversary of the attacks, the bells rang to commemorate the moment of each of the tower crashes. Even for those who could not join the group standing at the Veterans' Memorial on the quad, the sound was a call to remember the families who lost loved ones.

The bells also united the campus in April 2005, when they tolled 84 times to commemorate the life of Pope John Paul II-and again 17 days later upon the election of a new pontiff.

Inside the Alumni Hall belltower"In a time that's so media crazy, it was the ancient system of the tolling of the bells that let everyone know what had happened," remarks Sue Gabert, director of Campus Ministry. (It was an ancient system with a modern twist: it was activated by a remote control in the hand
of Br. Bernard Disco, O.S.B.)

It isn't only the students and monastic community that live by the bell. The neighbors hear them, too. Joseph Faltin, who worked in the
Manchester mills as a boy and started a successful freight trucking business in 1920, told Fr. Jonathan DeFelice, O.S.B., he enjoyed the sound of the bells calling the monks to prayer and ringing in times of sadness and joy. The bells made such an impression on him that upon his death, he left a trust for the college containing a bequest for $1 million.

Joseph Jean '52, who also grew up nearby, says, "You could hear those bells as far away as two miles on certain days. I liked hearing them
because it meant it was time to quit for lunch. I'd hear the bells and say, 'someday I have to look into this and see what's going on.'" Jean's relationship with the college continues today. His philanthropy is noted on a plaque on the bell tower.

If These Bells Could Talk

The bells are so much a part of Saint Anselm College that it seems like they've always been there. But each bell has its own tale to tell. Each of the three suspended in Alumni Hall's tower was cast at a different foundry and started out on a different building. Of the two housed in the Abbey, one originally rang on a locomotive, and the other on a Catholic grammar school.

The college's original bell hung in the building's central cupola (now empty), and was rung by a bell rope on the first floor. The monks too turns, but as Fr. Cecil Donahue, O.S.B., recalls, "every once in a while a student would go by and give it a tug."

Bells have their own names (traditionally bestowed at a baptism ceremony), and this one's name is Mary. However, it is referred to either as the Meneely bell for the foundry where it was cast, or the Lamour bell for its donor, Rev. Lawrence Lamour, pastor of St. Raphael's Parish in Manchester from 1897-1902.

A single bell can strike the hour and toll for funerals, but it takes a group to form a peal. In the late 1970s, Fr. Mark and Fr. Daniel  proposed buying a set of bells to hang in the tower, which was then empty. When they received a quote of more than $20,000 to cast three bells, Abbot Joseph informed them that if they could get some bells donated, the monastic community would pay to mechanize
and install them.

Word spread throughout the parishes and local communities. Then-Executive Vice President Bob Collins '37 contacted local officials,
including alumnus Henry McLaughlin, Manchester's superintendent of schools.

Fr. Daniel, O.S.B. and Fr. Mark, O.S.B.When Fr. Mark and Fr. Daniel heard of a bell that might be available, they climbed up to it and taped its sound for Mary Bagnell, music director for the Diocese of Manchester. "You can't just throw three bells together. They have to be in harmony," says Fr. Mark.

One was found at Lincoln Street School in Manchester, which was about to be torn down. In August, 1979, the 1,600-pound bronze bell was transferred to the college on a permanent loan basis. Another was donated by Mrs. Benjamin Lambert, who had heard of the college's search from her parish priest. Resting on a wall on her riverfront property was a 550-pound bronze bell formerly owned by Notre Dame de Lourdes Hospital. Worried that the river would erode the bank, Mrs. Lambert offered the bell to the college.

A 900-pound bell that originally rang at St. Joseph's School in Amesbury, Mass., was donated by the family of alumnus James Bartley, who had been a classmate of Fr. Daniel. Fr. John Fortin, O.S.B. and Fr. Daniel drove a dump truck to Amesbury to get the bell, which replaced the monastery's small train bell and now rings the Angelus three times a day.

The monks' three-year search had come to an end. The three bells destined for the tower were sent to McShane Foundry in Baltimore to be refurbished and mechanized, and the tower was made ready to house them.

In December, 1980, the newly polished bells returned to campus. Eighty-year-old Fr. Francis Steinmetz, O.S.B., was so excited to see the Meneely bell up close that he jumped into the bed of the truck to inspect it. Fr. Lawrence Lamour, who donated the bell in 1898, had baptized Fr. Francis in 1902. The young man, working at the Coolidge Mill in Manchester, heard the bells ringing every day and
decided to pursue a vocation. He enrolled at the college, entered the novitiate, and eventually was ordained to the priesthood as a Benedictine.

A small crowd gathered in front of Alumni Hall in the falling snow to watch Abbot Joseph perform the blessing. The bells were lifted by crane into the tower, and that night they rang for Mass for the first time-just in time for the Christmas season.

Three years later, the entire country heard Saint Anselm's bells when ABC News broadcast Christmas midnight Mass from the college.

The bells are automated now, but their sound is as powerful and moving as it has ever been. "It's a very primitive, beautiful music that has always fascinated me," says Fr. Daniel. "To think that nearly two tons of metal are up there swinging freely so high up and producing such a sound."

As pleased as he is with the pealing bells, though, he wouldn't turn down the chance to add to them. "We'd like to put a few more up there," he says. "I was happy when I heard three bells up there. Now, I'll be happier if I ever hear six. The more the merrier."

The Bells of Alumni Hall

  • Lambert Bell: 550 pounds; 30 in. diameter. Inscription: "Dionysius Petrus Franciscus Isaia. Ex Dono Cius Parochiae. McShane Bell Foundry, Baltimore, Md., 1894."
  • Meneely Bell (Lamour bell): 526 pounds; 29 in. diameter. Inscription: "Mary is my name. In memory of Francis and Elizabeth Lamour, the gift of their son, Rev. Lawrence Lamour, O.S.B. Meneely Bell Co., Troy, N.Y., AD 1898."
  • Lincoln Street Bell: 1,600 pounds; 43 in. diameter. Inscription: "Cast by William Blake and Co., formerly H.N. Hooper and Co., Boston., Mass., AD 1871."
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