Three New Bells Complete the Vision for St. Bernadette

When St. Bernadette Church in Springfield, Virginia, was dedicated in 1981, parishioners delighted in the contemporary architectural stylings that would form their new spiritual refuge. A massive 4,900-pound block of split, natural wood, supported on a thick foundation of steel-reinforced concrete, would serve as the new altar. His Holiness Pope John Paul II had celebrated Mass on the National Mall at the same altar two years before.

Outside, a dramatic, asymmetrical cross would emanate from the façade, pressed from the same brick as its surrounds. But the vision of architect Michael LeMay was never fully realized. Three bells were intended to suspend from the left arm of the cross to soften the brutalist line and call the faithful to worship. Budget, however, put those bells on hold. Four decades later, the wait is over.

Following the 40th anniversary Mass, presided over by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, three newly-installed bronze bells were blessed and tolled for the first time. As the Bishop remarked, “Bells have a way of helping us remember what we can so easily forget: the holy presence of God in our midst.”

The bells, cast at the Verdin Bell Foundry in Cincinnati, Ohio, are named in honor of three matriarchs from the Herrity and Burger families, who provided funding for the casting: Justine Margaret Herrity; her sister, Mary Elizabeth (Bette) Kennedy; and their mother, Maristella Gertrude Feustle. The bells range in size:

  • The largest at 29 inches in diameter weighs 500 lbs. and is tuned to C-sharp.
  • The second largest, at 24 inches and 255 lbs., is tuned to E. 
  • The smallest bell, at 20 inches and 145 lbs., is tuned to G-sharp. 

The bells are also engraved to commemorate “St. Bernadette Church, 2021,” “40th anniversary of St. Bernadette,” and “In Dedication for the End of the Pandemic, 2021.” They will toll before Masses, at noon and 6:00pm each day for the Angelus prayer, and following weddings and funerals.

Want to learn more about the new bells at St. Bernadette? Leslie Miller attended the anniversary Mass and compiled a fascinating account for The Arlington Catholic Herald. The National Bell Festival would like to extend our gratitude to Ms. Miller for contributing to this article.

Image: The façade of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield, Virginia, with three newly-installed bells. Courtesy: Leslie Miller, The Arlington Catholic Herald.