By Tony DeGol
Some people have filed away their memories of elementary school or recall them with little sentimentality.
Tracy Yoder is not one of those individuals.
“My fondest memories are recesses outside where we were playing and then once the bells started to ring we would stop and we would pray the Angelus during the ringing of the bells and at the end of the bells, that’s how we knew to go back inside from recess,” she related of her time as a student at Saint Andrew School in Johnstown.
Sadly, the three massive bells that Yoder remembers so fondly – housed at the adjacent Saint Andrew Parish – have been silent for about the past decade because of their age and condition.
Still a dedicated member of the parish faith community, Yoder is chairing a campaign to raise the money needed to restore the bells to working order.
“We called the bell company that installed them to give us a quote of how much it’s going to be to fix them,” explained Father Peter Crowe, Pastor of Saint Andrew Parish. “The biggest one is 1,300 pounds, and part of the work that we’re going to do is to fix any components that have started to rust with age, and then the control equipment is original to the ‘60s, and we know how quickly things like that can go out of working order.”
The parish needs to raise $50,000 to get the bells up and running, and Yoder is determined to succeed.
“I would really like to gather some of our current parishioners, but I would also like to reach out to some of my friends,” she said. “One thing about Saint Andrew School is you never, ever lose those friends from school. You have them forever. I’m going to reach out to them and see what they can help me with and pull together ideas for fundraisers.”
The three bells – installed and blessed in 1961 – are named Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in honor of the Holy Family.
According to Father Crowe, church bells have historically served as great reminders to stay on time or to come and pray.
“Everybody gets to hear the bells that live in the area, not just the parishioners,” he reminded. “It’s a beautiful, uniting thing. With this virus, a lot of people are very concerned and staying at home. When they hear the bells, they can be reminded that the parish is still there. We’re still united in prayer, and let’s continue to pray. It’s a comfort to people.”
Father Crowe hopes to have the bells ringing again by Easter, which means Yoder has her work cut out for her.
More information is available on a special section of the Saint Andrew website. Those interested in donating can do so on the site, or they may contact the parish.
Yoder is especially encouraging contributions in honor of or in memory of a loved one.
“Every time you hear the bells, you’re thinking of them and you’re honoring them with the bells,” she suggested. “Any amount is fantastic. We appreciate anything. There’s going to be nothing better than the first time we hear the bells ring again.”
Editor’s Note: See more of the effort to restore the bells at Saint Andrew Parish on the November 29 edition of Proclaim! TV at 10:30 a.m. on WATM ABC 23.
[Photos: (Top and First Inset) Photos of the existing bells in the tower at Saint Andrew Parish. (Second Inset) A newspaper photo from the original blessing and installation in 1961.]