The sound of bells are once again echoing from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Ferguson. And it’s due in large part to the efforts of eighth-graders at the Ferguson school.
Each year, eighth-graders choose their legacy to the school. Students in the past have raised money for needed supplies or equipment. But this year, they wanted to raise money to help restore the bell system, an electric carillon that dates back to the parish’s founding in 1954. The system has been out of operation since the 1980s.
Pastoral associate Sister Cathy Doherty, SSND, approached the four Student Council officers with several suggestions for their legacy project. Restoring the electric carillon system would cost about $3,000. Sister Cathy found a local company that could make the repairs; it would just be up to the students to raise the money.
They were up for the challenge; first, they needed to check in with their pastor, Father Eric Olsen. He was impressed with their idea, but hesitated: “Girls, that’s a lot of money,” he told them.
That didn’t faze Evelin Miranda, Student Council secretary. “Father, have faith in us,” she told him. “We have faith in you, have faith in us. We can do this.”
To start, students had about $1,000 left over from a recent 25th anniversary celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe becoming a bilingual parish, plus another $500 from an individual donor. Students spoke at Masses over two weekends with their pitch to restore the bells, and that brought in another $650. Some quick math shows they still needed to come up with about $850. From January through mid-March, Student Council members walked the halls, collecting change in a container made out of PVC pipes. Donations also were collected through out-of-uniform days, bake sales and other activities.
“I like the sound of bells,” said Student Council treasurer Cayla Huffman. “They make me happy. So I decided that I wanted that here at our school to make other people happy.”
Student Council president Sydnee Jackson said, “I wanted to make this our legacy. I feel like we do a lot of things for the school … and I wanted it to be like — these four girls, they did that.”
Evelin said that the bells will serve as a reminder to parishioners of their culture and where they’ve come from. Many families at Our Lady of Guadalupe are from Latin American countries, “at the churches they went to, they heard the bells, and that just reminds them of the joy when they were back in their country,” she said.
With other legacy projects, students may remember something they’ve received, such as supplies or special activities, “but it’s not long lasting,” said vice president Ka’Mya Carothers. “The bells will work a long time.”
Principal Peggy O’Brien said she was proud of the students’ hard work and persistence. Now years later when the bells ring, they’ll think back about what they did. “They’re showing the love they have for their school and one another,” she said.
Carillon system goes digital
The old carillon system, manufactured by the I.T. Verdin Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, was replaced by a 100-watt digital system that runs from a computer. Matthew Stanley of North District Security, who was contracted to do the work, said the speakers and old foam wiring also needed to be replaced.
Stanley pulled out one of several oversized eight-track cassettes that were collecting dust inside the old carillon system in the sacristy of the church. He twirled the hands on the old clock that kept time for the bell sounds. “Those little dials would turn and when you wanted the bells to ring, you’d put these clips on there, and it would trigger the amplifier to come on,” he said.
The old carillons were popular in churches established primarily in the 1950s-70s. It was part of a modernization at that time in which electrification was being introduced to installations that were once manually operated, and an affordable option for churches that didn’t have the space or resources for a real bell tower.
The new system syncs time with the computer, meaning adjustments won’t have to be made in case of a power outage or Daylight Saving Time. With the old system, “if the power went out, you’d have to come in here and set the time to the correct time,” Stanley said.
The sound of Westminster bells now chime at the top and bottom of every hour. Several hymns also are played at 8 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. Depending on the wind and how loud the volume is, “you could probably hear it from Downtown Ferguson,” he said. “But since this is new and the bells have not rang in this neighborhood for years, they key is to start at a low volume and gradually turn it up to the volume that you want, so people get used to it.”