Bell from closed Shawano county church moved to diocesan chapel in Allouez

Century-old bell, named William, rings again in a new county

ALLOUEZ — There’s a new-old sound around the office complex of the Diocese of Green Bay.

It’s the sound of a chapel bell ringing each day.

The refurbished bell from St. William Church in Eland sits ready to be placed in the tower of St. Joseph Chapel on the grounds of the diocesan complex. The bell, which was named “William” by Bishop David Ricken, was blessed at a Mass on Dec. 19. (Mike Gerrits, Diocese of Green Bay | Special to The Compass)

St. Joseph Chapel on the campus was built in 1953, complete with a bell tower. At that time, the grounds were part of St. Joseph Orphanage.

By the 1980s, the orphanage had been closed and various diocesan offices were consolidated at the Allouez site. The chapel, while used for daily Mass for the employees, no longer rang its bell. Around the beginning of this century, the unused chapel bell was moved to Camp Tekakwitha, the diocesan camp in Shawano County.

However, the empty chapel tower attracted attention.

“Bishop Ricken had us looking for a bell for some time,” explained Michael Poradek, Divine Worship Director for the diocese. “Since (the bishop) came here (in 2008), he had always wondered why there wasn’t a bell in the tower, and he thought it would be a nice addition to the chapel. And, with 2018 being the jubilee year, we thought it would be a good reason to find a bell for the tower.”

The Diocese of Green Bay was founded 150 years ago, on March 3, 1868.

With Poradek spearheading the project, the diocese began searching for a bell, but avoided casting a new one because of the expense. Instead, they tried to find a used bell.

They found one, also in Shawano County.

St. William Parish in Eland had closed in January 2017. The process of selling the 1913 church building is underway, and its bell was offered to the diocese.

Inspections and comparison between the Eland tower dimensions and that of the Allouez chapel followed. It was determined the Eland bell would fit.

Abe Ploeger rings the church bell at St. William Church in Eland Jan. 8, 2017, at the church’s closing Mass. The bell from Eland rings again at St. Joseph Chapel on the diocesan grounds. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Diocesan staff, aided by Verdin Bells and Clocks from Cincinnati, removed the bell by cutting it from Eland’s church tower in late summer 2017. Verdin had previously worked with the diocese on the bells in St. Francis Xavier Cathedral’s towers.

No major repair issues were found, so Verdin stripped and resurfaced the brass bell. It was also fitted with a new yoke so it could be struck rather than swung to make it chime. The update’s costs are being funded by donors through the Catholic Foundation of the diocese.

Meanwhile, Poradek worked with the Village of Allouez to make certain the bell’s use wouldn’t violate any noise ordinances.

The restored bell was placed in the chapel tower in November and dedicated by Bishop Ricken at a Mass on Dec. 19. At that time, the bell also received a name: William. (There was no name on record for the bell while it was at Eland.)

It is traditional to name church bells, placing them under that patronage of a specific saint. The name “William” was chosen from suggestions made by members of the diocesan curia. “William” was selected in honor of the parish from which the bell came. The Eland parish had been named “St. William” in honor of an anonymous donor at its founding in 1912.

The bell now rings automatically just before daily Mass at 11:30 a.m. and at noon for the Angelus (a prayer honoring the Blessed Virgin and Christ’s Incarnation). It can also be rung for other prayer occasions, such as monthly Holy Hour, and any special occasions in the church’s life, such as the election of a pope or installation of a bishop.

Poradek also has a remote control that can ring the bell, using many styles. “I have lots of different codes and options,” he said with a grin.

At the dedication Mass, Bishop Ricken spoke of how bells call people to prayer and remind them of the universal nature of the church. Also, as Poradek noted, the curia has embarked on the new evangelization, part of which means offering welcome to all people, Catholic or not, who choose to visit and hear the good news of the Gospel. The bell’s call symbolizes that welcome.

Since it is open during office hours, Poradek added, the chapel offers a place of reflection to all during the day.

He said that dioceses around the country are experiencing renewed interest in bells, and that some are even asking parishes to add bells “to encourage the tradition of church bells and what it means for a community.”

Meanwhile, the repurposed “William” bell at St. Joseph Chapel serves as a reminder of the link between the community of the diocesan offices and the parish communities around the diocese’s 16 counties in northeast Wisconsin.