Bells of St. Mary’s to toll near and far

Committee plans ceremony to present gift to priest for African school, launch fundraiser for memorial to Lake Church parish that will feature refurbished church bells

THE ST. MARY’S School bell from 1888 has been refurbished and is getting a new lease on life. It will be sent to the new Salvatorian Catholic school in Masasi, Tanzania, where Father Jim Weyker, a priest from St. Mary’s in Lake Church, served for 50 years as a missionary. The bell was delivered last week to the Town of Belgium home of Bob Hubing, president of the Bells of St. Mary’s Committee, who constructed a stand for it. Pictured with the bell were (from left) Committee Treasurer Kathy Schmidt, Vice President Kevin Wester, Hubing and committee member Gerri Bichler. An event is scheduled for Sunday, May 16, to present the bell to Weyker and kick off a fundraising campaign to create a monument for the three bells of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which closed and was enveloped into Divine Savior Parish. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

The 130-year-old, 120-pound St. Mary’s Catholic School bell, once relegated to storage, will toll again, finding a new purpose thousands of miles from its longtime home in Lake Church.

The bell, recently refurbished, will travel 8,000 miles to Masasi, Tanzania, to ring at a new Salvatorian Catholic school as one of the initiatives of the Bells of St. Mary’s Committee.

The overseas connection comes from Father Jim Weyker, who grew up across the street from the school and spent half a century as a missionary in Tanzania.

Three bells a few years older from St. Mary’s Church are being refurbished and will be put into a memorial at St. Mary’s Cemetery near the church.

 A ceremony to present the school bell to Weyker and kick off a fundraising campaign to pay for the memorial and unveil an artist’s rendering of it will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, May 16, at the cemetery.

The bells became a topic of controversy when Weyker two years ago floated the idea of sending them to Tanzania.

Parish members, many whom have ties to the church dating back decades or more, didn’t want to let go of the relics of their church that was put up for sale after the parish merged with Divine Savior in 2018.

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

The school bell was delivered to Hubing’s house last week, and he constructed a stand for it.

“I was amazed and really excited about it. We’re moving forward and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Hubing said.

The bells, while important to the parish members themselves, became props in the larger controversy of how the church was closed. Members were unhappy with how the church was closed and communication about the final Mass.

Kevin Wester, who’s not a parish member but has close personal ties to the church and who has led four church closings — “it’s like a death,” he said — suggested that the final Mass at St. Mary’s could have been handled better.

“I feel like perhaps it wasn’t done as respectfully or perhaps with enough adieu to help people through the grief process,” he said.

The Bells of St. Mary’s Committee turned into a nonprofit organization and  worked with Divine Savior to have the bells taken down and refurbished for a memorial. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee also gave its blessing to the project.

The three church bells, with diameters of 26 inches, 3 feet and 4 feet, are at Lee Manufacturing in Muskego. They will be electrified in order to be rung via an app, Wester said.

The bells are made of bronze and were manufactured by the Henry McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore. They were shipped by train to Belgium Station — the original name for the Village of Belgium — then put on wagons and hauled by horses to the then new church in Lake Church, according to Wester, who has published a book on the history of Lake Church.

The bells were rung for daily Mass and funerals and rang the noon-time Angelus for 100 years. In 1985, the parish purchased an electronic carillon system and the bells were silenced.

The bells are slated to be dedicated during Celebrate Lake Church Weekend on Aug. 12 to 14, 2022.

For more information, contact Wester at (262) 355-5758 or by email at kevin.wester14@gmail.com.

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