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The Story of the Bell

June 2, 2017 Tags: Alumni , University News

  Old Main Bell(1)

The bell, in its original tower on Old Main. 


When all seems lost, the smallest sign of hope can rally an entire community. Such was the case on October 30th, 1942 when a massive fire destroyed the core building on campus, “Old Main”. All was destroyed in the fire except the bell, which survived.

The bell was hung in a tower constructed from bricks found in the rubble of Old Main. The bell tower stands as a link back through the ages to the founding of the school and as a connection to the thousands of people who make up the Saint Francis University Community. The bell is rung twice a year during the Bell Tower Ceremony on move-in day and on graduation. This is a long-standing tradition at Saint Francis in which all students pay homage and respect to those who've come before them.

This summer, the physical plant workers have been working to restore the tower’s structural integrity. The new, restored tower will be completed by Alumni Weekend in late July and in time to be rung for the next Bell Tower Ceremony to welcome incoming freshmen.

An article from the 1947 “Loretto” student newspaper

Bell Tower in vinesOn the site of “Old Main,” not far from the Science Hall, stands the only remaining vestige of the old building. Hundreds of students pass this way almost every day on their way to and from class, yet probably not one in a hundred ever looks at the…brick remnant. It is quite natural to do this for this is not an imposing structure, merely the remains of another building.

The other day I strolled to the Science Hall past the old relic. It was rather stormy. The rain pelted the ground, the sky was overcast, and, in general, the day was not one to choose for a walk. Impelled by curiosity, I walked over to the stubby tower, climbed up the bricks, and read the inscription on the rusty iron bell. The raised letters read, “cast in the city of Pittsburgh in the year 1859.”

My imagination was excited. I thought how many years this old bell had hung here, how many boys it had summoned to prayer or class, how many times it may have tolled the requiem for the monks who sleep in these lovely hills, how many fires it might have called the citizens to fight, how now it stands as a gaunt and mute relic of that fire which seemed to end an era.

A century has passed since the bell was hung in that tower, buffeted since by time and the elements, a full century of peeling the joys and sorrows of this institution. What memories must hover around that spot. If the bell could speak to us, what a story it might tell. It no doubt would tell us of student pranks of another day, of bonfires lighted to celebrate victories. It might even tell us of the song of the pines or the shriek of a winter wind bending the mighty pines to earth.

As I walked on to the Science Hall I hoped that someday I might hear the chimes again, the voice of a new day for our college, a day when not only our material progress will be further advanced, but also those more important spiritual values.

- Loretto: January, 1947