There was an air of joyful anticipation among the crowd of people who gathered in front of St. Lucy’s Church in Syracuse after the 9 a.m. Mass Nov. 10.
They were there to witness the dedication and blessing of the church’s nearly two-ton resurrected bell, which had plummeted through three stories into the church’s basement during the notorious 1998 Labor Day storm.
The bell was not damaged from the fall. After it was removed from the basement, it was placed in the courtyard near the school. On Oct. 7, the refinished brass bell was placed on a four-foot concrete pedestal beside the church’s entrance.
Father Jim Mathews, pastor at St. Lucy’s, remembers when he discovered the bell amidst the rubble after the storm. He noticed that the Latin phrase “Resurexit Alleluia” (resurrection, hallelujah) was inscribed on the bell. “That was significant,” said Father Mathews. The parish used the inspirational phrase as its guide as it planned to rebuild the church.
The church’s steeple, which had held the bell, fell and landed in Gifford St. during the storm. St. Lucy’s parishioners chose not to rebuild the steeple in the wake of the storm, feeling the cost of rebuilding it — $100,000 — could be put to better use.
St. Lucy’s sanctuary, however, had to be rebuilt due to the destruction caused by the falling bell. The altar was moved farther toward the center and the pews repositioned so that parishioners face each other; now the pastor stands in the middle of and on the same level as the parishioners.
Father Mathews said that the reconstruction process involved many of the parishioners, but that three individuals were especially instrumental in restoring the bell and the church — Al Cappuccilli, Craig Polhamus and Leigh Hunt.
Polhamus and Hunt, in addition to Meme Woolever and Maureen Drescher, led the dedication service. Each offered a reading.
Hunt read, “Let this beautiful bell be a testament to all those who struggled and labored in the name of our God for the growth of St. Lucy’s, and to the people who through the years have accepted the call to service and ministry in this church and neighborhood.”
Polhamus read, “As we dedicate this bell that still rings true and reminds us of all that has been and all that is and all that will be, we rededicate ourselves as individuals and as the people of God of St. Lucy’s Church to recall the promises of baptism that summon us to act with justice, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God.”
Woolever read from Psalm 127: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late toiling for food to eat — for He grants sleep to those he loves.”
Drescher concluded the readings by proclaiming, “We ask God’s blessing and grace upon this bell and all it stands for! Let us ring this bell with joy!”
At the end of each reading, those in attendance responded with a resounding “Resurexit Alleluia.”
After that, the presenters sprinkled holy water on the bell with a sprig of evergreen.
The program concluded with the singing of the song “City of God,” with the refrain, “Let us build the city of God. May our tears be turned into dancing! For the Lord, our Light and our Love, has turned the night into day!”
Two longtime parishioners, who had been standing next to the presenters throughout the celebration, were asked to ring the bell. Kate Paige and Lila Morton joyfully did so.
“The bell has rung for many generations,” said Father Mathews. “It holds a lot of sentimental value to a lot of people.”
Then, everyone was invited to ring the bell. Many did.
Ringing the bell was a moving experience for Carole Horan, a long-time parishioner at St. Lucy’s. She was delighted to ring the bell. “It was pretty amazing,” said Horan. “I rang it for my son, Mickey. He did it 35 years ago when he was going to confirmation. He started doing it as a server.”
Woolever remembers the way St. Lucy’s was devastated from the Labor Day storm. She believes that the parish has persevered because it is a resilient congregation. “It [the devastation] united them more than ever,” she said.
“Having the bell back is special because its presence is important,” she said. “We have a special connection to the bell. It represents awareness of the presence of God. It’s a sign of faith. When you don’t hear the bell, it makes you pause and think about your faith.”
Father Mathews was also happy to see the bell restored to its prominent position. “It’s a symbol of the whole church,” he said. “So many identify with it. It was quite a thrill to see the bell resurrected.”