By Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Silent due to lightning strikes for more than 30 years, the three bells of Savior Pastoral Center have returned to their soaring tower to broadcast their tones to the countryside again.
On Oct. 16, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann blessed the recently returned bells, which were resting on wooden shipping platforms at the base of the 85-foot tower.
He also led archdiocesan chancery employees in praying the Angelus.
“Today is a joyous day for all of us as these newly refurbished bells of Savior Pastoral Center, not having been rung for over 30 years, are to be reinstalled and put back into daily use,” said Archbishop Naumann. “We rejoice in the opportunity to give God thanks and praise his name.”
The scene was very familiar to David Nivens, a member of Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe. Nivens, a member of the first graduating class of Savior of the World Seminary in 1968, remembered a similar scene exactly 53 years ago.
It was on Sept. 25, 1965, that archdiocesan vicar general Msgr. Alexander Harvey blessed the bells of the new seminary. He was standing in for Archbishop Edward J. Hunkeler, who sent greetings from Rome, where he was attending the Second Vatican Council.
Nivens and 94 other freshmen and sophomores were the first students to begin studies at the seminary, which still had not been finished.
“I’ll never forget driving down Parallel Parkway, which was two lanes [then], and first seeing that tall, white bell tower,” he said. “[Savior] was sleek and modern — like a Star Trek fortress.”
He heard them regularly for the next three years.
“I remember them ringing,” said Niven. “It was beautiful. You could hear them forever, all over the landscape.”
Also present at the first, and now this second blessing of the bells, was Msgr. Michael Mullen. He had only been ordained three years when he was appointed vice rector and dean of students.
But why did the seminary have bells?
“The chapel is front and center of [Savior’s] design,” he said. “It’s the first thing you see when you walk in the door. So, while it was not a parish church, it is a spiritual center. Bells are associated with announcing Masses and other special ceremonies.”
Tim Chik, director of Savior Pastoral Center, remembered how impressed he was when he saw the bells and the tower when he arrived in 2010.
But he learned that the bells had become only symbolic.
Unlike traditional bells that are swung by a rope causing the bell to collide with a clapper, the Savior bells are immobile and rung by an electronically activated internal clapper.
And they worked great — until they were struck by lightning. In fact, the tower had experienced at least five powerful strikes during its 50-year history.
The most powerful of these strikes fried the electronic controls. They’d been repaired two, or maybe three times, but it became prohibitively expensive to continually repair the bells.
So, they just hung there, silent, frequently visited by birds.
“Early on in my time here, I asked about their history,” said Chik. “I got more information and talked about the costs involved. It was clearly too expensive of a project to do on a whim. But even back then, I had a plan to raise the funds and get all the right parties interested.”
It took a decade of careful saving, but he finally collected the funds. The total cost of taking the bells down, transporting them, refurbishing them, rewiring and lightning-proofing them, and reinstalling them came out to the bargain price of $58,000 — about half of original estimates.
And after this fix, the bells are very, very well protected from lightning. It’s inevitable that the tower will be struck again, but Chik is confident in the robust protective measures that have been installed.
The three bronze bells were cast at the Royal Eijsbouts bell foundry in Asten, Netherlands. Each bell is dedicated to someone and has a quote from the Scriptures: the St. Joseph bell, Matt. 1:24, at 2,000 pounds; the St. Gabriel bell, Luke 2:11, at 1,000 pounds; and the St. Mary bell, Luke 1:38, at 600 pounds.
The Verdin Company of Cincinnati, which refurbished the bells, had bought and merged with the original company that transported and installed the bells in 1965. The total value of the bells is about $80,000.
The bells will probably be rung to mark the hours between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. They can also be programmed to ring certain patterns (such as the Westminster chimes) and for specific occasions.
Chik is seeking a way to coordinate with Catholic Cemeteries to play funeral tolls during burials at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, located north across Parallel Parkway.