Bells of Remembrance Toll on Siena Campus

Jocelyn Thomas Around the Province

LOUDONVLLE, N.Y. – Three massive bells – known as the Bells of Remembrance – whose history with the Franciscans began nearly two decades ago, tolled on the campus of Siena College on a late Monday afternoon last month as a symbol of justice and unity.

The participants in the bell ceremony were careful to maintain their social distances. (Photo courtesy of Siena College)

Standing socially distant beneath sunny skies, friars, members of the college’s administration, and recent graduates participated in a prayer service on June 15 in front of Siena Hall for an end to racism in American society and for the remembrance of lives taken by the pandemic.

As the participants prayed, the bells tolled simultaneously in sadness for systemic racism, in grief for those lost to COVID-19, and in sorrow for the ignorance and fear that led to the death of George Floyd. They rang in the spirit of universal love and just and right relationships, according to organizers of the prayer service.

The event, which was streamed on Siena’s Facebook page, also commemorated the origination of the bells, which were provided by the college’s founding friars.

The bells were gifted in memory of two friars with strong ties to Siena – the late Ed Coughlin, OFM, who served as college president from 2014 to 2019, and Mychal Judge, OFM, who was stationed at Siena from 1976 to 1979 and became the first reported casualty of the World Trade Center attack in 2001. The bells came from a collection of David Schlatter, OFM, a 1972 Siena graduate.

Traveling Bells
The Bells of Remembrance Project was organized by the Franciscan Center of Wilmington, Delaware, and the McShane Bell Foundry of Glen Burnie, Maryland, during the days immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Siena student Denzel Tchougang rings one of the bells. (Photo courtesy of Siena College)

At one point, 18 bells were mounted to seven trailers, according to David, a former fire department chaplain, with the largest bell weighing 5,000 pounds, the smallest 150 pounds. Over the years, he added to the collection, naming the additions the Bells of the Fallen and the Bells of Consolation. Ranging from 4 to 125 years old, the bells are stored in a warehouse in New Castle, Delaware, just south of Wilmington, where David had lived before moving to Silver Spring, Maryland, in 2014.

In addition to being part of 9/11 anniversary commemorations in New York, Boston, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, David has transported the bells to many other events around the country – including memorial services, weddings, anniversaries, civic gatherings, and monument dedications honoring the sacrifices of those who died in service to the country.

The bells have also been rung at orchestra performances in Delaware, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania, and at the Fr. Mychal Judge Walk of Remembrance held the past 18 years in New York City. One of the bells was donated last year to St. Bonaventure University.

Several friars spoke at the June prayer service on the Siena campus, including Mark Reamer, OFM, guardian of St. Bernardine of Siena Friary and the college’s vice president for mission, whose opening remarks greeted in-person attendees and virtual participants.

United in Prayer
“The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of our fragility and our impact upon one another,” said Mark. “Three weeks ago today, the horrific death of George Floyd once again exposed the ongoing virus of racism, America’s original sin. We do this in the context of receiving a gift: Bells of Remembrance from the Franciscan Friars.”

Kevin Mullen said all HNP friars would have been proud to participate in the ceremony.(Photo courtesy of Siena College)

Mark added, “Francis of Assisi teaches us that the inseparable bond of all creation cries out for just relationships leading to true peace. We gather today in prayer, as an initial step, to ground ourselves in this true peace.”

Larry Anderson, OFM, Siena’s chaplain, read from the Book of the Prophet Micah the message to “act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God.”

Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, said he represented nearly 300 of his brothers “who would be proud to all be here today to present Siena College the Bells of Remembrance.”

“In recent months, we have heard public service announcements remind us that we are all in this together,” Kevin said. ”But the sad truth of our nation is that both the virus and the sin of racism have shown us that we are not really in this together. The virus has affected communities differently. Racism has affected and injured all of us. The dream of being in this together still awaits us.”

Dennis Tamburello, OFM, Siena ’75, invited participants to sing “We Are Called.” Other speakers included Beth DeAngelis, senior director of Siena’s Sister Thea Bowman Center for Women, Margaret Madden, Siena’s interim president, and Chris Gibson, the college’s president-elect.

Unushah Khan, a nursing student, rings a bell. (Photo courtesy of Siena College)

Mark, a 1983 Siena graduate, concluded the service by inviting those present from the class of 2020 to peal the bells. The honor was given to them because the class of 2020 paid for the thepermanent installation of the bells on campus, which will take place in the future. In recognition of their generosity, a plaque displaying the names of leadership donors will be placed at the site.

Each person tolled the bell seven times — for the seven founding fathers of Siena. The service concluded with alumni coming forward to peal the bells in celebration of their graduation.

Kevin, who served as Siena’s president from 2007 until 2014, was delighted to be part of the prayer service and the ceremony that provided the Bells of Remembrance to the college.

“These bells will ring out to the Siena community, calling them to respond to human needs by acting with justice, loving all creatures tenderly, and humbly walking with God in all that they do. May the Siena community hear the bells and remember their mission,” the Provincial Minister said.

Photos taken at last month’s prayer service are posted on Siena’s Flickr page.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.