Bells of St. Mary’s ready to toll again

Memorial to Lake Church parish in Town of Belgium erected in cemetery less than 13 months after launch of $250,000 fundraising campaign

The St. Mary’s Catholic Church bells were placed in a memorial at the cemetery next to the former church on Tuesday. A dedication and blessing of the bells by Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg is slated for 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, in Lake Church. Photos by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Less than 13 months after a campaign to raise $250,000 for a church bell memorial kicked off, the St. Mary’s icons were put in their final resting place.

C.D. Smith Construction crew members put the memorial in place at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Lake Church on Monday and added the three bells on Tuesday, beating downpours 24 hours later.

It was a poignant moment for Bob Hubing, who three years ago founded the Bells of St. Mary’s Committee that saved three of four bells from being sent to a new Catholic school in Tanzania.

“This is a wonderful day, not just for the Bells of St. Mary’s Committee members but also for our community of Lake Church with its rich history,” he said.

“It’s a wonderful day for St. Mary’s Parish and for all the souls that are buried in our beautiful cemetery.”

Belgium native Kevin Wester, who published a book on the history of Lake Church and helped lead the fundraising effort for the memorial, had a similar sentiment.

“It was so meaningful to see the bells of St. Mary’s back in Lake Church and placed in the bell memorial. So many people have worked so hard to bring this project to fruition,” he said.

“The refurbished bells, the bell memorial and all of the other improvements we are making to St. Mary’s Cemetery will help keep the legacy of faith of the former St. Mary’s Parish alive and well for generations to come.”

The bells were manufactured in the 1880s by the Henry McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore,  shipped by train to Belgium Station — the original name for the Village of Belgium — then put on wagons and hauled by horses to what was then a new church in Lake Church.

The bells were rung for daily Mass and funerals and rang the noon-time Angelus for 100 years. Silenced in 1985 when the parish bought an electronic carillon system, the bells will ring again through a new technology — an app.

The Ave Maria symbol, which translates to “Hail, Mary,” is at the top of the memorial. It’s a song often sung at funerals.

Electrification of the bells will be done in a matter of days, Wester said, and a concrete pad around the memorial will be poured.

A historic sign telling the story of St. Mary’s Parish, the bells of St. Mary’s and St. Mary’s School will be placed near the memorial in the next few weeks. The legs of the sign will match the legs of the bell memorial, Wester said.

Last May, Wester initiated a fundraising effort for the memorial and to refurbish and electrify the bells.

Donations have reached $365,000, which is $115,000 more than the goal.

“Because of this, we are putting a new road into the cemetery in the newest addition and all the roads will be blacktopped, plus our landscaping projects,” Wester said. “So all of our goals will be complete with any remaining funds going to the Perpetual Care Fund for St. Mary’s Cemetery in Lake Church.”

The bells became an issue for Divine Savior and Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Cluster in fall 2019 when members of the shuttered St. Mary’s Parish learned the bells might be sent to a new Salvatorian Catholic secondary school in Masasi, Tanzania, where missionary Father Jim Weyker spent decades.

Many parishioners didn’t think the process to close the church was done with enough reverence, and the bells were a few of the only relics for them to hold onto.

About 60 people attended a listening session at Divine Savior in Holy Cross in fall 2019 to voice concerns over the bells’ fate. The idea for a memorial was developed later.

At the campaign kickoff last May, a fourth bell, the 130-year-old, 120-pound one from St. Mary’s Catholic School, was presented to Weyker to be sent to Tanzania.

Aside from the memorial, Wester has led an effort to clean the 1,200 gravestones in St. Mary’s Cemetery. The last session starts at 8:45 a.m. Saturday, June 25. Volunteers are being sought.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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