The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

100-year-old church bell calls Hot Springs to prayer

Ushers and lectors ring the bell before weekend Masses

Published: April 14, 2023   
Anthony Reiter
Joanne Rosenau, parishioner of St. Mary of the Springs Church in Hot Springs, pulls the rope to ring the church's century-old bell before the 4 p.m. Mass April 1.

HOT SPRINGS — “The Bells of St. Mary’s” is a 1945 movie classic telling a fictional story of a priest and nun trying to save a school, but Arkansas has its own Bell of St. Mary.

Anyone walking by St. Mary of the Springs Church in Hot Springs can hear the church’s bell ring before Masses and for special occasions. The St. Mary bell is unique compared to many others around the Diocese of Little Rock as it is hand-rung, not controlled by a computer.

One of the hallmarks of the Catholic faith is church bells ringing to invite Catholics to worship at Mass. According to New Advent’s Catholic Encyclopedia, the bell is one of the oldest and most popular instruments in the world, dating back to ancient Egypt and Babylonia. St. Paulinus of Nola, patron saint of bell makers, is traditionally credited with authorizing the use of bells in churches in the early fifth century during his time as bishop in the Diocese of Nola, Italy. By the end of the seventh century, bells rang in churches and monasteries throughout Europe. In the Middle Ages church bells began to serve a function similar to a lighthouse by alerting travelers between towns that civilization was near.

Father Ravi Gudipalli, pastor of St. Mary, said the parish “bought it when they fixed the church,” referring to the sanctuary that was rebuilt in 1923 after the parish community outgrew the older sanctuary.

The 100-year-old bell has not required any maintenance in recent years because it is protected from the elements in the church’s steeple. Parishioner John Steinhaus, a member of the parish’s building and grounds committee, said the bell’s “rope is getting pretty frayed” and will have to be replaced soon.

“But the bell itself, I know where it’s at and I’ve seen it up there, but we really haven’t done anything,” he said. “I don’t know that there is anything we need to do” to tend to it.

He said the building and grounds committee has not considered buying an electronic bell.

The bell’s ringing is typically heard five minutes before St. Mary’s weekend Masses.

Father Gudipalli said, “We ring the bell to remind the people that it is time for the celebration of the Mass.”

Bill Ables, usher at the 4 p.m. Mass on Saturdays, said, “Either one of the ushers or a lector will ring the bell. It depends if Joanne (Rosenau) makes it in time to ring it. She usually just makes it in time to do it.”

Rosenau is the wife of Father Alan Rosenau, a senior priest for the Diocese of Little Rock. and one of three married priests in the state.

Father Gudipalli said, “There are so many reasons (to ring the bell) in different churches. Some ring the bell in the morning, some ring the bell when people die (to celebrate their lives and remind the faithful to pray for them) … Some churches ring the bell at noon so we can say the Angelus.”

Steinhaus said he looks at the bell as “a call to worship” and as a symbol to show that something important has happened such as “occasions of jubilation, wedding anniversaries, weddings, that kind of stuff.”

“I personally have gone up when somebody gets married just on my own,” he said. “When the ceremony is done, and during the recessional I’ll just go and ring the heck out of those bells just as jubilation.”

When asked about what makes it special to hand-ring the bell, Father Gudipalli said, “There’s not much of a difference” in the theological experience between an automated or hand-rung bell, but “it means man is using his own energy (to ring the bell) and doing it with sacrifice and love.”

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