Repairing a Bell in Thief River Falls

For over 125 years, St. Bernard’s Church has been ministering to the spiritual, educational, and social needs of Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Co-located with an eponymous school, St. Bernard’s tends and fosters the local community with a devout stewardship. Above it all (surmounted only by the copper cross of the belfry) hangs St. Bernard’s bell. 

Cast in 1901 in Troy, New York, the bell has faithfully served the surrounding community for 122 years. At 1,400 lbs. and 41 in. in diameter, the bell’s sonorous toll rolls across the neighboring green spaces and avenues west of downtown, calling the faithful to worship and announcing the hour. 

In 1971, the swinging bronze bell was converted by the Verdin Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, from a rope pull bell to an automated ringer system. Repair works to the bell stand were completed in 2002, while in 2010, Verdin repaired the bell tolling mechanism. New electronics were installed to replace the outdated 1971 auto ringing system. Now, repairs to the original clapper, clapper springs, and wedge head bolts are needed to keep the bell safely operational. What better time than when the bell is on the move?

A bell is relocated and repaired

Areas of the existing bell tower structure are needed for other required construction improvements to St. Bernard’s facility, so the St. Bernard’s structural engineer has designed a new bell tower to rise from the church’s newly-planned entry complex. The tower will be moved 30 ft. east, at the same elevation 45 ft. above street level, and the old bell will be given a new home within.

Composite image of the bell at St. Bernard's Church in Thief River Falls, Minnesota

Composite image: The 1901 bell at St. Bernard’s Church in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, is removed from the tower for refurbishment work. Courtesy: St. Bernard's Catholic Church.

Reinstalling the bell in the new bell tower presents the perfect opportunity to complete the necessary repairs that will enable the bell to ring for another 122 years. The bell’s original clapper, clapper springs, and wedge head bolts, which have a normal life expectancy of 100 years, are sorely passed their prime due to wear, tear, and corrosion. 

Other crucial components need to be replaced or reconditioned to extend the life of the bell and its assemblies, most notably the two A-frame swing shafts, which are currently misaligned. Without prompt redress, the bell could dismount from its frame and crash through the belfry floor below.

Until the bell’s rigging is rejuvenated and reinstalled in the new bell tower, it has been intentionally rendered inoperable to prevent further damage or destruction. Along with repairs to the various mechanical components, the bell is due a general sprucing – polishing away decades of accumulated dirt and corrosion. Only when the reconditioning and repairs are completed will the bell ring out again.

Help keep the St. Bernard’s bell ringing

If you would like to support the repair and restoration of the bell at St. Bernard’s, the church has organized a building campaign to accept donations. Visit the St. Bernard's Catholic Church website to learn more.

Cover image: A bell tower rises from the façade of St. Bernard’s Church in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Courtesy: St. Bernard's Catholic Church.