Ringing In The Old

The 85-year-old Gasson Tower bells chime again thanks to modern electronics

By Reid Oslin
Staff Writer

The recent installation of an electronic timing device has restored one of Boston College's most storied and long-standing traditions: the ringing of the Gasson Tower bells.

The new mechanism, specially created for the 85-year-old bell tower by Schulmerich Carillons Inc. of Sellersville, Pa., replaced an electrical system which had been installed in 1975 and malfunctioned over the summer.

Since the device was installed by Buildings and Grounds Electrician Kevin Simard earlier this month, the Boston College community has been able to hear the familiar Westminster chime pattern signaling the hour and ensuing quarter-hour intervals from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. The sequence also includes the ringing of the Angelus bells at noon each day, a centuries-old invitation for those within earshot to pause in their day's work for a moment of prayer and reflection.

"Other than people, I consider the Gasson bells to be the most meaningful and important religious presence on this campus," said Senior Lect. John W. Howard, SJ, whose College of Arts and Sciences Honors Program office is located beneath the famed Gothic spire.

"The bells touch more people than anything I can think of," Fr. Howard said. "They're way ahead of any statue or symbol which points to something else. The bells are a reality."

The four bells, each named for a Jesuit saint, are mounted on a wooden frame in Gasson Tower. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
The bells themselves occupy a unique niche in the history and lore of the University. The four brass bells were ordered by then-President Thomas I. Gasson, SJ, in February 1913 and installed in the belfry of the school's "Recitation Building" - now Gasson Hall - in May of that year. Despite a lack of enthusiasm from his chief advisors, Fr. Gasson went ahead with the additional expenditure that was required to add the Angelus sequence, according to Fr. Howard, who has researched related archival material.

The four bells in the tower bear the Latin names of four Jesuit saints: The largest, Ignatius Loyola, is the do note (F); Franciscus Xavierius is fa (B-flat); Aloysius Gonzaga is sol (C); and Joannes Berchmans is la (D). The lead bell is inscribed with the Latin phrase Ego sum Ignatius (I am Ignatius), and each of the others bears a similar mark, reinforcing the chimes' concept of reaching out to the community below.

During the years the original clockwork mechanism controlled the bells, they rang 24 hours a day. When the first electrical controls were installed in 1975, night ringing was halted.

The recently installed computer control can operate the clock and bells on battery power in the event of a power failure, and may be programmed to ring single calls to worship, three-bell peals and controlled or continuous tolling. The device also automatically changes the clock and chime count to daylight or standard time on the appropriate dates of the year.

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