Mundelein church restores 19th-century bell
BY KATLYN SMITH firstname.lastname@example.org | @Katlyn_eSmith October 1, 2013 6:56PM
St. Mary's of the Annunciation Church near Mundelein has restored a 19th-century bell and moved the antique to the new church along Erhart Road. The prize previously sat in a belfry near an old white church on the parish's grounds. | Sun-Times Media file
Updated: December 2, 2013 3:40PM
A nearly 150-year-old bell will finally toll after decades of silence at St. Mary of the Annunciation Church near Mundelein.
One of the oldest parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago is celebrating the bell’s restoration with a blessing and dedication Saturday, Oct. 12.
Since the 1980s, the antique was tucked underneath a wooden belfry in front of a quaint white church. Before that, a family stored it in a barn.
The bell has sat dormant for so long that church officials can’t pinpoint the last time it chimed.
A trip to one of the few bell makers in the country prepared the bell for its long-awaited debut.
Miraculously, the acoustics needed little tinkering.
“It’s a glorious sound,” said the Rev. Ronald Lewinski, pastor of the church along Erhart Road.
The bell is a treasured piece of the parish’s beginnings (the earliest records go back to 1864). It also has the distinction of ringing in a year of festivities marking a major milestone: St. Mary’s sesquicentennial.
A community of German immigrants started the parish in what remains a rural area dotted with barns and silos. Just a short time later, the bell was forged from bronze in 1867.
“It had to cost them at that time a significant amount for a small immigrant community,” Lewinski said. “It was a great investment on their part.”
In the late 19th century, the then-pastor picked up the parish and cemetery from a property between what is now Route 176 and Fremont Center Road for a move to the current site, where the white church was built.
Considered a landmark, the humble structure is a stark contrast from a modern-looking church unveiled down the road in 2002. Lewinski thinks the bell was taken from a tower on the old church, still used for special events.
Budget cuts quashed “the dream” to move the bell to the new building during construction, Lewinski said. But a donor, who wants to keep a low profile, stepped forward to fund the restoration of the bell and bring three others. The heaviest weighs 900 — yes, 900 — pounds. The pastor called it one of the most substantial gifts in recent years, but declined to say the amount.
“The intention is to bring the old and new together,” Lewinski said, “... a harmonious blend as we look forward with great hope to the years ahead.”
The original made its way to Cincinnati for a high-tech makeover.
The Verdin Company synced the bell to a computer system that allows Lewinski to control it remotely.
Except for a few repairs to the yoke and some polishing, not much refurbishing was done.
“That’s why it was such a shame in a sense to have it sitting out there for so long and really not doing the job it was intended to do,” Lewinski said.
Every day, the bells will ring from a standalone tower at noon and 6 p.m. for the angelus prayer and at 9 p.m. to honor the dead. They also will announce masses, weddings and funerals.
Catholic tradition calls for naming church bells after saints. The top is Gabriel, the archangel who announced to Mary she would give birth to the Son of God, according to the story of the Annunciation.
They have not officially rung yet, except for a few dress rehearsals before their dedication, set for 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12. The Rev. George Rassas, the auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese, will lead the blessing.
The anniversary tributes continue until October 2014, with plans for a trip to the Holy Land and displays of old letters and photos at St. Mary’s.
Lewinski often ties the church’s past to his sermons. He called the founders a hardworking community who embraced change.
When a group of youngsters decided to break with their rural roots, the parish set up a business school.
“That’s part of what I think the sesquicentennial is all about,” he said. “Not just to look to the past like a dry history, but to really be inspired by some of these courageous people who did some great things.”