By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
— The Ascension Parish bell has rung thousands of times since its dedication in 1912, calling residents of North Tonawanda to worship at the church for 95 years before the church closed in 2007.
Now the bell will ring again — at its new home at Mount Olivet Cemetery in the Town of Tonawanda.
A special Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday at the cemetery, 4000 Elmwood Ave., to mark the re-dedication and blessing of the bell. Bishop Edward Grosz, auxiliary bishop of Buffalo, will be the celebrant. The event will take place exactly 100 years after the day the bell was originally
dedicated by Bishop Charles Colton, fourth bishop of Buffalo.
In a way, the bell’s journey has come full circle with its new home, said Chip Mussen, director of marketing for Catholic Cemeteries. The Rev. Francis Kelly, pastor of Ascension at the time, was looking for land for a Catholic cemetery in the area and bought the original 50 acres of land (and subsequent additions) that became Mount Olivet Cemetery.
“He’s the one who named it, and he’s actually buried there,” Mussen said. “There’s really a full circle with the relationship to the bell, the parish community and the cemetery, Mount Olivet. His name is on the bell, as well as Bishop Colton’s ... and now the bell is at the cemetery that Kelly started and Colton consecrated.”
The bell has been at the cemetery for a little more than a year, while the diocese was in the process of auctioning off the parish buildings. Mussen said
“We were trying to save something that had significance to the Ascension community,” he said. “There weren’t a lot of things that could be used at the cemetery. I thought of the bell; I thought it would be a unique feature. We couldn’t take the stained glass and stuff because of historical preservation reasons, but the bell was something we were allowed to touch.”
The company that originally made the bell is no longer in existence, so it was sent to Verdin Bell & Clocks in Cincinnati, which cleaned the bell and brought it back to its original condition. They also installed a electronic clapper.
“It no longer has the hanging pendulum part of the bell,” Mussen said. “There’s a piston up inside the bell; you can kind of see there’s a little cable running up the bell into it. It powers the piston that drives this hammer that strikes the bell. It’s really a neat gizmo and it’s wirelessly activated. We have kind of like a garage-door opener that we use.”
To some extent, the bell is already in use. Everyday at noon, the bell plays the “Angelus,” Mussen said, and after the dedication it will be offered to families to ring during funeral processions at the site.
“To me, to be able to ring it like on Veteran’s Day ... to be able to do stuff like that ... it will add some real significance to the event,” Mussen said. “It lends some weight to a very important part of a very difficult situation.”
The history of the bell will be on display at a monument at the site, and people are able to buy paving stones around the area and have them engraved. Mussen said there’s also been an increased interest in the new section of Mount Olivet around the bell.
When Ascension and St. Albert the Great parishes merged into the new St. Jude the Apostle Parish and the Ascension buildings were sold, many parishioners had a difficult time with the loss, Mussen said.
“Hopefully this will help the healing process,” he said. “This bell is going to be there forever. I’m very hopeful that it helps.”
Those who were involved with Ascension Parish say that it does.
“I think it’s a wonderful part of the heritage of North Tonawanda that will be living on in a certain way,” said Sister Joanne Suranni, a member of the Felician Sisters whose ministry is at St. Jude Parish. “There’s been a lot of letting go in terms of the merging and closing of parishes.
“Bells call people to prayer. This bell will still call people to prayer, just in a different way. That’s the purpose of a bell in church, to stop and call people to God. I think it’s a beautiful way that this heritage will live on.”
Suranni said she worshipped many times at Ascension Parish, and taught at the school until it closed.
“I think it’s a very healing thing for the parishioners and church,” she said. “There’s a feeling that everything is not gone, that there is a piece of our heritage that is still a part of us, something that we didn’t need to let go forever. I think that’s comforting for people.”
Steve Ash, a member of Ascension Parish since 1973, spoke fondly of the “wonderful, close-knit, active” parish and memories of the bell.
“It’s going to be wonderful, it’s going to bring pride and joy and satisfaction, not only to the former parishioners of Ascension church, but the whole Western New York community. That a bell that old ... will be ringing again,” he said. “It’s going to be a little Ascension Parish community anchored by the bell. That will be the focal point of that little section of Mount Olivet. It’s going to be a sense of pride for those people who were affiliated with Ascension Parish.
“They will be very proud to see this bell not only be an integral part of Mount Olivet Cemetery, but being used ... not just mothballed, but used.”
Angelo DiFrancesco of North Tonawanda was a member of Ascension Parish for 70 years before the merger. He was baptized there and attended the school, and spoke fondly of how the bell used to be rung during the litergy of the mass.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “It’s a tribute to the community and people. I’m looking forward to seeing what impression it puts on people. I think it’s going to rather well received.”
IF YOU GO
• WHAT: A special Mass to mark the rededication and blessing of the Ascension Parish bell at its new home. Bishop Edward Grosz, auxiliary bishop of Buffalo, will be the celebrant.
• WHEN: 10 a.m. Saturday
• WHERE: Mount Olivet Cemetery, 4000 Elmwood Ave., Kenmore