Podcast Transcript - April 27, 2017

The Bells of Saint Meinrad - Rebroadcast

BR. JOEL: I've been ringing the bells for over a whole year now.

BR. KOLBE: I've been ringing the bells just over 6 months.

BR. JOEL: I'm Br. Joel Blaize.

BR. KOLBE: I'm Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski.

BR. JOEL: And this is our podcast, Echoes from the Bell Tower.

BR. KOLBE: Stories of wit and wisdom from Benedictine monks who live, work and pray in southern Indiana.

BR. JOEL: This is a rebroadcast of an episode we ran during the first season of the podcast on the bells of Saint Meinrad.

BR. KOLBE: That opening is a little outdated. I've actually been ringing the bells now for a little over a year and a half.

BR. JOEL: And I've been ringing the bells for, I don't know, like two and a half years.

Recently, the bells of Saint Meinrad were silenced when we realized over 100-plus years of daily use had taken their toll.

BR. KOLBE: Pun intended.

BR. JOEL: Bell 6, the largest bell, began to sound weird, so we had The Verdin Company come out to inspect.

BR. KOLBE: Unfortunately, Bell 6 has a crack in it. The inspector also found that some of the components that make up the other five bells are worn out and need to be replaced.

BR. JOEL: At the beginning of February, Bell 6 was removed from the bell tower and sent to the Netherlands to be repaired. There's a story later in this episode about when Bell 6 was put in the bell tower, and I think they had just about as much trouble getting it out as they did getting it in.

BR. KOLBE: Well, it is the size of a Volkswagen and weighs 2 1/2 tons! Bell 6 is expected to return to the Hill in five to six months.

While patiently waiting for Bell 6 to return, The Verdin Company fabricated and replaced the components of the other five bells. Our hope was to have the five bells back in action by Easter. Thankfully on March 21, which is the Feast of St. Benedict, the bells called us to prayer.

BR. JOEL: The Verdin Company is also updating the tower clocks. The updates and repairs are estimated to cost $100,000 for the bells and $25,000 for the tower clocks. Saint Meinrad also plans to establish a $50,000 endowment for the annual maintenance and periodic repairs.

BR. KOLBE: The bells are such a huge part of our life here at Saint Meinrad. This episode is full of stories from different monks that explain what the bells mean to us. Br. Joel and I even talk about our own experience learning to ring the bells back when I was Novice Tony and Br. Joel was Novice Jonathan.

BR. JOEL: The bells and the bell towers are one of the first things that people notice when they come to see Saint Meinrad. No matter which direction you drive into town from, you can see the bell towers over the trees and they leave a lasting impression. They're sort of iconic of the place, like a symbol. They're even in our logo.

BR. KOLBE: The bell towers lead people into Saint Meinrad, where the bells call us to prayer. Here is Fr. Justin DuVall. He was archabbot when we first recorded and ran this episode. He retired last June as archabbot. The last two episodes of season one of this podcast were about his retirement and the election process of a new abbot.

FR. JUSTIN DUVALL:TheRulesays that the signal for the monks to come together to pray the divine office is the responsibility of the abbot or, it says in theRule, he may delegate that to another monk.

In our house, the bells have been traditionally the call to prayer and, when I came to the monastery in the '70s, it was the standard practice for the novices as part of their duties to be ringing the bells.

It's one of the many, many symbols in our life that carry a weight beyond just the actual thing itself. And so for us, the little quip used to be that the bell is the voice of God that calls us to prayer. So those novices are doing us a service, but they are also participating in yet another ritual that is part of the monastic life. And by that ritual participation, it ties them to the community's life as a whole.

BR. JOEL: Novice Tony and I have recently learned the ropes…

BR. KOLBE: Pun intended.

BR. JOEL:…of ringing the bells, and so here are some of our thoughts.

BR. KOLBE: My biggest anxiety was always: am I going to make the bells sound ok? Because you can get like a good rhythm or you can have a horrible rhythm.

BR. JOEL: Yea, some people have no rhythm at all.

BR. KOLBE: And so you just have noise.

BR. JOEL:The goal is you never really want to have two bells to sound at the exactly same time. We call that clanging. So you always want them to be alternating and

BR. KOLBE: So the bells won't clang against each other, the noise will like bounce, like sound as one and it isn't as pretty. You kind want this ding-dong, ding-dong.

BR. JOEL: Yeah, the philosophy is that the bells are really a musical instrument and so you're trying to perform them in a way. And when they're all going, it's not really possible. It's just kind of a big cacophony. When you're just ringing one or two…

BR. KOLBE: …by yourself it's easier because you kind of get the motion. I mean it feels like you're milking this giant cow.

FR. CHRISTIAN RAAB: One other thing that strikes me about the bells…

BR. KOLBE: This is Fr. Christian. He's been a monk here at Saint Meinrad for over 10 years.

FR. CHRISTIAN: …is the function that they play or the role that they play in your formation when you're a novice. Because it's a big part of your life at that time early on in the community and you're in charge of this, and it's something Saint Meinrad is really well known for, these bells.

And as a novice, you feel like, oh gosh, I'm in charge of something that's kind of important but they really teach you a lot, because there are six bells and you can't ring them all. When you're in charge, you have to go out and find people to help you and so they're really a lesson in learning to depend on the other monks.

FR. JUSTIN DUVALL: I will tell you a little story. One time, and I don't remember it's been a long time ago, one of the guests said to me "Are those bells automatic?" And I said, "Yes, they are. Whenever it's time to come to prayer, the novices automatically run in the bell tower and start ringing the bells."

I think that hands-on experience, there's simply no substitute for it. And it is again, I think, a ritual way that we can participate in the life. And so for the novices to do that or for any of us to do that, I think it is a way that we involve not just our minds, but also our hands and our bodies, in our prayer.

BR. JOEL: Every monk has stories from when they rang the bells and, as is only natural because monks are humans too, these stories include mishaps, times when bell ringing didn't go very smoothly. Like in 1985 when a prank was pulled on Fr. David Rabenecker. Fr. Jeremy relives the tale for us.

FR. JEREMY KING:Well, this was in the time we still had our college. And college students love to play pranks. And David had just graduated from the college, and he had some friends over the still that possibly could have tried to get even with him for some little trick that he may have played on them.

And so David went in and began to pull the rope for the bells, and the rope would move and he could feel the bell moving, but there was absolutely no sound coming out of the bell. So he tried other bells, and no bell in the south tower would ring. Everything was silent.

So he goes out into the church and Fr. Alaric was there, and Fr. Alaric said, "But why don't you go over there and use the bells in the other tower?" Well, the only bell that he could really use over there was the death bell.

BR. JOEL: So at 5:30 in the morning, the monks were awakened by the death bell…the bell we only ring by itself when a monk has died.

BR. KOLBE: I could not even imagine being woken up by the death bell.

FR. JEREMY:So afterwards the challenge was to figure out what was going on.

Br. Luke Hodde was the business manager and responsible for the physical facilities, and so they climbed the tower and found that the bells had been stuffed. The hammer of the bell had been covered in each bell by cushions and multiple layers of duct tape. It was from that day forward that the bell towers are locked. But to this day no one knows who did it.

BR. KOLBE: While we leave you with that unsolved mystery, let's listen to Br. James' bell mishap when he was ringing bells with Br. Peduru.

BR. JAMES JENSEN:Br. Peduru and I were in the bell tower for Vespers 1, and for I think it was Mass. So at Vespers 1, Br. Peduru said, "You know there's a bunch of rope dust coming down as you're ringing," like it was on my habit. He said, "You know that that usually doesn't happen." I said, "Oh, it's probably fine." I just kept ringing, and then the next day we noticed it again. The rope was kind of frayed and so I'm pulling the rope and all of a sudden it gets really light, and I look up and I don't know what's going on, and Br. Peduru said, "The rope broke!"

So instead of getting out of the way, I look straight up and I watched the rope come hit me in the face, and then I ducked and the rope like fell all on my back. And then we go to the statio line to get ready and my whole back is covered in rope dust, so people are like helping clean me off as we're starting to statio in.

BR. KOLBE: Statio is when the monks process into church in the order of seniority.

BR. JAMES:I couldn't see it, but I was like, ah well, no other option. But the funniest part of the story was instead of getting out of the way, I look straight up to watch it come down.

BR. KOLBE: Some of us monks, including myself, have fears of ringing the bells at the wrong time. Here's Fr. Christian again to tell us a story.

FR. CHRISTIAN:One time when I was a novice, I rang them all at the very wrong time. So they were supposed to ring at 7:25 and I rang them all at 7:05 in the morning. And you know, as a novice, you're worried about doing everything right and I did it at that time.

And of course, one of the other monks runs into the bell tower and says, "What are you doing?" And I was very embarrassed. But you know when you first enter, you think everything's perfect and nobody ever messes up and you're the only one who could mess up.

Of course, messing up the bells was something that it's not just one person's going to notice. Everybody knew that you had rang the bells way too early and so it was catastrophic in my mind. But most people were able to just laugh about it. And so it actually made me feel better and felt like, oh, this is a place I can kind of make a mistake and be alright afterwards. It turned out to be a good experience.

BR. JOEL: Fr. Justin tells us a story of when Bell 6, our largest bell, was replaced in 1997 because it was cracked.

FR. JUSTIN: Prior to 1997, even as a novice, for me that bell was already out of commission. For several years, we kept striking the hour with it. It became sort of a joke because when it would ring the quarters, they were very crystal clear. When it would strike the hour, they would call it the cosmic garbage can, because it sounded so empty when it would hit. The crack made such a difference.

In 1997, when we were getting ready to put it in place, the company that was charged with putting the bell in the tower had measured, and they took out the set of louvers that is at the very top of the tower and the little pillar in between them so there was a clear space which looked tight.

And several of the monks said, "That bell won't fit through there." And they said, "Oh yes, yes, it will. We've measured it; it will fit."

They put it on the crane, hoisted it up and it did not fit. They had to lower the bell, take out some of the stonework so that the bell can be tilted and the lip of the bell could then fit through where the stonework had been removed and then put in. So it is a true illustration of the old maxim "measure twice, cut once."

BR. JOEL: Some monks have had the experience of what we like to call flipping the bell.

BR. KOLBE: We are going to bet that you don't know what flipping the bell even means. It's not like flipping pancakes. There's no delicious treat at the end.

BR. JOEL: There sure isn't.

BR. KOLBE: No, but Br. James and Br. William are going to give you an idea of what flipping the bell is like.

BR. WILLIAM SPRAUER:I never had a panic attack before I came to the monastery, until I went up into the bell tower, because I'm extremely afraid of heights. That was really scary. It was Pope Francis had just been elected, it was on the day of his election, and we found out that there was a new pope. And so our tradition is to ring all six bells in both towers.

BR. JAMES:So typically you have one person ringing Bells 1 and 2 and you have one person ringing Bells 3 and 4. But because everyone was all excited, we had one person on Bell 1, one person on Bell 2, one person on Bell 3, one person on Bell 4. So the person ringing Bell 1 had too much strength and, at the end of the ringing, he pulled it too hard and the bell flipped over.

BR. WILLIAM:Ok, this is kind of hard to explain because the bell rope itself is on this big wheel that is adjacent to the bell itself. Now this wheel kind of acts like a pulley, so the rope goes over this pulley and that's what you're actually pulling on is this big wheel that turns the bell.

Well, if you pull it too hard, the entire bell can flip over, kind of like, you know, a kid in a swing flipping over the top bar. So it renders the bell useless. The rope is not over the wheel anymore and so you have to actually have to go up into the bell tower and flip the bell back over. That is, swing it with your hands, and this is a two-person job. Br. James and I were novices at the time.

BR. JAMES:Now, Br. William is extremely afraid of heights.

BR. WILLIAM:Going up in the bell tower is funny to me because it's so…it's so like janky. It's just real rickety and old, and you're going up this thing wondering if you're going to get back down. But you climb up these this spiral staircase that goes up 100 feet into the air and you get to this room where those big rose windows are and there's this big trap door that you open kind of like a cellar door and you crawl out onto this room that's about 20 x 20, maybe 20 feet by 20 feet by maybe 30 feet high.

It's a really high ceiling in that room, and in that room it's just open sandstone and there are these rungs, these iron bars just bolted into the sandstone. They go all the way up to the next floor. So there's no stairs, there's just these bars that go up, you know, like monkey bars, jungle gym-type thing, but they're right in the sandstone. And so you crawl up these things and there's another trap door up there that's just about as big to fit yourself.

You go through this thing and you get up there and that's where the bell platform is. And it's on this like paper-thin sheet metal that you have to stand on. You know it's 100 feet in the air. Depending on the time of the year, it's cold and it's gross, but you get up there, you climb through this trap door, you have to step over the hole you just crawled out of.

I was terrified to go up through this trap door and get onto the bell platform. It was a cold day, it was March, it was windy, really windy and kind of wet up there.

BR. JAMES:We were so excited. We both got up all the way up to the high top of the bell tower and then Br. William looks at me and he looks down and he says, "Uh oh," and he was so scared he went into the corner at the top of the bell tower and just stood there.

BR. WILLIAM:Br. James got up there fine. I got up there and just immediately freaked out, just completely seized up and I was yelling at Br. James, "I'm freaking out, I'm freaking out."

BR. JAMES:And I said, "Well, you know, I'm going to need your help trying to flip this bell back over." And we took both of our strengths to get the bell flipped back over. Trying to talk Br. William into helping flip the bell and overcome his fears was a little bit difficult.

We got the bell flipped and he had to crawl down the ladder that got us up there and he kept saying the whole time, "I can't do this. I can't do this."

BR. WILLIAM:I don't know how I did it, but I guess it was pure adrenaline. I managed to get myself back through the trap door, down the iron rungs, back down to the platform.

BR. JAMES:And in like a split second, he like had a surge of energy and he jumps on the ladder and climbs all the way down and he's all the way at the bottom like the base of the bell tower within like a minute. He just went and we get to the bottom and we realize that we flipped it the wrong way.

So we had to go back up and flip it back the right way, but this time he stayed a level down because he didn't want to go all the way up, so I had to flip the bell twice by myself because I had to flip it once to get it back to where it was and then another time to get it back on track.

But it all worked out. It was quite a comical experience getting to the bottom of the bell tower after Br. William's fears and realizing, probably me, flipped it the wrong way.

BR. JOEL: The sound of the bells accompany the monks through their whole monastic lives. They define our time as novices, they daily call us to prayer and, ultimately, they call us to our final home when we leave this life.

Appropriately in our last segment, we'll learn about the role the bells play at the end of a monk's life.

BR. SIMON HERRMANN:I really like the bell ringing for funerals.

BR. JOEL: This is Br. Simon Herrmann.

BR. SIMON:We ring what's called the death toll bell and that's Bell 5. So, all six bells have really long ropes, but Bell 5 has two ropes. There's one that's like typically to be pulled if we have a big feast, that's the long rope that we pull. But then there is the death toll rope that you just pull once and it, the hammer in the bell, just strikes the bell just once.

So ringing for funerals is interesting. When we learn that a monk dies, we ring the death toll bell for as many of years he's been professed a monk. So we recently had Br. Benedict who died and he was professed for 76 years, so we pulled the death toll 76 times, and it's every 15 seconds, so it ended up being a little more than 20 minutes' worth of ringing.

And so it's interesting to hear that bell, because you don't hear it like that very often and it's symbolic of a monk dying and you associate with a monk dying and the good things and the graces that come from that.

BR. JOEL: And then again, we do a similar thing at the funeral liturgy as we're processing to the graveyard from the church. You toll the bell again once the casket and the procession gets to the cemetery we start the full peal again for another three minutes and it kind of echoes the death toll.

It can be really an emotional thing. It's a very kind of lonesome sound when it's just that one bell tolling, and then it just gives you a sense of how long he was here because it takes, I'm not going to do the math, but it takes minutes and minutes that that one bell is sounding. And it's such a joyful sound when you when all six are going at once. It's our prayer that he's kind of echoing what's kind of happening in heaven.

FR. CHRISTIAN:We ring Bell 5 at these really critical moments. So we ring Bell 5 when you're making solemn vows and when you're lying down on the floor of the abbey church and you're your face is on the floor and you're hearing people praying around you and you're making vows and consecrating yourself to God and for the service to the Church.

And so it's a really big moment, and during that moment, you know the novices are ringing Bell 5 and it's really a sign that you're transitioning into a new reality in your life, a new commitment, a new meaning and significance for your life.

And then we ring that bell again when people die, and so it kind of links those two moments of transition and gives them a sacredness. I think the bells, in that sense, they remind us of the unity of our life and are a sign of those sacred moments.



BR. KOLBE: Thank you for listening to this rebroadcast on the bells of Saint Meinrad. This podcast was edited and produced by Krista Hall with help from our podcast team, Br. Joel Blaize, Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski, Mary Jeanne Schumacher, Tammy Schuetter, Jim Paquette and Christian Mocek. The music for this episode was written and produced by Br. Joel Blaize.

BR. JOEL: We want to give a special thanks to Fr. Justin DuVall, Fr. Christian Raab, Fr. Jeremy King, Br. Zachary Wilberding, Br. James Jensen, Br. William Sprauer and Br. Simon Herrmann.

BR. KOLBE: Subscribe to Echoes from the Bell Tower on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks to everyone who has left a review in iTunes recently. If you have not had a chance to, please let us know what you think of the show. If you leave a review before May 10, you can enter to win a prize pack with some sweet Saint Meinrad swag. All of the contest details are on the website at saintmeinrad.edu/giveaway.

BR. JOEL: Those who wish to make a gift toward the bell and clock repairs can do so at: donate.saintmeinrad.edu. And don't forget you can find all of our past episodes and some pictures of Bell 6 being removed from the bell tower on our blog at saintmeinrad.edu/echoes.



BR. JOEL:When a bell first gets installed, it gets christened or baptized we call it. And at that moment, it's given a new name.

BR. KOLBE:Oh, it's kind of like us. We're going to get new names at the end of novitiate, a later episode.

BR. JOEL:We're kind of like bells.

BR. KOLBE: Yeah, we are bells. Ding-dong.