A memorial that rings true

Group kicks off campaign to showcase bells from shuttered St. Mary’s Church of Lake Church in soaring structure that will grace cemetery, presents school bell to priest

Kevin Wester addressed a crowd of about 70 people at St. Mary’s Cemetery on Sunday during a presentation of the old school bell to Father Jim Weyker, who sat behind Wester and between Bob Hubing (left) and Father Gideon Buya of Divine Savior Parish. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

The future of the beloved Bells of St. Mary’s Catholic Church and school in Lake Church became official at a ceremony on Sunday in the adjacent cemetery that drew about 70 people.

The 130-year-old, 120-pound St. Mary’s Catholic School bell was presented to longtime missionary Father Jim Weyker to be used at a new Salvatorian Catholic secondary school in Masasi, Tanzania, and a capital campaign was kicked off to raise money to build a memorial  to house the three bronze church bells of similar age.

“It’s wonderful. It’s just wonderful. It’s something I dreamed about for a long time,” Bells of St. Mary’s President Bob Hubing said.

Hubing formed the Bells of St. Mary’s Committee to save the bells, which triggered a meeting held at Holy Cross Chapel in fall 2019 that drew about 60 people who emotionally pleaded to keep the bells.

The bells are considered precious momentos of St. Mary’s Church parish members who were upset by the decision to close the church to public worship in 2018 and angry about how it was done.

The mood was decidedly more upbeat on Sunday. Hubing introduced officials and longtime local residents as being from “downtown Lake Church” and “suburban Lake Church” to laughs from the audience.

“Ultimately, our goal is to honor and celebrate the rich tradition of faith of our beloved parish, St. Mary’s of Lake Church,” Hubing said.

Belgium native Kevin Wester, who last year published a book on the history of Lake Church and helped lead the effort to save the bells, provided some background of the church and school.

While the school closed in 2009 after 123 years and the church was shuttered in 2012 after 164 years, “The spirit of St. Mary’s and Lake Church lives on in all of us. The treasure of faith that all of us received here cannot be lost or diminished,” he said.

“The seeds of faith that God planted in us continue to take root in our families and in our daily lives.”

The bells, he said, are one of the parish’s most powerful symbols of faith.

The capital campaign seeks to raise $250,000 to refurbish and electrify the bells and for cemetery improvements.

“Yes, Luxembourgers, a quarter of a million dollars,” Wester joked.

More than $82,000 of donations have already been made, leaving $167,000 to raise.

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

Cemetery work includes resurfacing pavement and paving a new portion, resolving a drainage issue and replacing and adding new landscaping.

“As our ancestors rose to the occasion, I know all of us will rise to the occasion to leave a legacy for future generations,” Wester said.

Wester is also continuing to clean monuments. He led volunteers in two sessions that cleaned more than 160, but more than 1,000 are left to do, he said.

For more information on the capital campaign, visit thebellsofstmarys.org. For information on monument cleaning sessions, contact Wester at (262) 355-5758 or by email at kevin.wester14@gmail.com.

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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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