Stone tower will house historic bell at Franciscan friary
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Tue., Apr. 19, 2011
In a scene that could be straight out of a medieval manuscript, a tower of stone is rising from the woods along Colonel Brown Road.
A 50-foot-high tower designed to house a 120-year-old bell is under construction at the Franciscan Friary of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And the project is depending just as much on the power of prayer as on blueprints.
“Many factors came together” to get the project underway, said Father Bonaventure, FI, the friary’s vicar. “We took that as a sign that Our Lady wanted us to start it.”
The structure, which at the moment is about half its projected height, will also house meeting space for groups connected with the friary. Among these is the Knights of Lepanto, an organization for Catholic men taking its inspiration from the age of the Crusades.
The friary community of Catholic religious men had thoughts of a bell tower when they first moved to the friary site more than 10 years ago, said Bonaventure. Among the architectural treasures they salvaged from a condemned church in Fall River, Mass., to build their chapel was a bell cast in 1889.
The bell’s original maker, McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, still exists; one of only four remaining bell-makers in the U.S. Bonaventure said that company representatives told him this bell was the third-largest ever cast by the company. “Really, the only thing holding the steeple [of the condemned church] together was the weight of the bell,” he said.
A crane company owner who happened by helped the friars safely remove the bell, said Bonaventure. A regular visitor to the friary inquired about the bell, and then returned later with a crew of workers to dig the tower foundation. Yet another friary visitor offered her husband’s services as an architect, and he brought a fellow architect and two engineers on board with the project.
All these small miracles gave the friars hope that the dream could be fulfilled. “We took it as a sign from Our Lady that we should trust in providence and we’d be good to go,” said Bonaventure.
Work has been on hiatus for a number of years, due to a dearth of funds, but the past three months has seen the structure take shape from a low foundation to an impressive medieval-looking edifice.
The community has worked closely with Griswold officials to secure the necessary permits for the tower, said Bonaventure. “They’ve been very supportive,” he said of town officials.
Currently, a team of four stonemasons from Foster Construction in Rhode Island is laying stone along the cinder-block foundation structure. “Now that work has started in earnest, it will take about seven months total… or seven years,” said Bonaventure. “That depends on St. Joseph” – the patron saint of workers, after whom the nearby small chapel is named. The friars are depending on donations to cover the costs of construction as it progresses.
The friars are streaming a time-lapse film of the tower’s progress on their website, www.airmaria.com.