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The Daily



06-09-03: St. Wendelin bells ring out longtime tradition
The Daily Standard
    Wanted: Bell ringer. Odd hours. Must have strong arms and rhythm.
    Ed Lefeld is nearly ready to hand over the ropes of the church bells he's rung at St. Wendelin Catholic Church for nearly six decades.
    His bell ringing days began back in 1947 when he was asked by the Rev. Goldschmitz to regularly fire up the church's furnace, ring the bells and mow the property.
    "I said 'Sure, I can do that,' " Lefeld said. "But once you're committed, you just keep on."
    That was 56 years and six children ago. Of course, Lefeld, now 83, no longer fires the furnace or mows the lawn, but he regularly rings the bells for weekday and weekend Masses, weddings, deaths, funerals and other events.
    During the early years, he also rang the bells daily at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., as well as noon on Saturdays.
    Lefeld was the perfect candidate for the job at the time -  in 1947 he had just built a home for his bride of three years, Viola, a stone's throw from the church.
    Hand ringing church bells is an ancient practice and rarely performed in churches anymore. Over the years, automatic systems have replaced volunteers like Lefeld who are hard to find these days, according to Dan Andriacco of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
    "Mr. Lefeld may be the only one of his kind left in this area," Andriacco said. "Although, I have heard some newer churches are trying to return to the hand rung bells for a more authenticated worship."
    In the thirteenth century, the Catholic Church followed a special prayer practice called the Angelus, which was recited morning, noon and evening. The church bells were rung simultaneous to the prayer readings and people stopped what they were doing in observation, according to church history.
    Andriacco, 50, said he recalls hearing the bells ring as a child on the playground in grade school. The speaker system would broadcast the Angelus prayers and students would stop in their tracks and pray.
    Church bells, particularly in rural areas, still are widely used to signify a Mass is about to start or just ended, or that someone in the parish has passed away. A bell is tolled for each year the deceased lived.
     Lefeld follows that practice, too.
    Years ago, the ringing of the bells about 30 minutes before Mass allowed farmers time to hitch the horse and make the trip. Now, bells are typically rung only five minutes before the start of Mass, "cars need less time than horses," Lefeld quipped.
    There are three bells with ropes in the tower, two smaller ones and a large one weighing about a ton, Lefeld guessed. Pulling the rope for the larger bell is a workout, he added.
    A fourth rope pulls a hammer that strikes the large bell - the toll bell,  he said.
    Through the years there were only a few times he missed bell duty - the blizzard of 1978 was one of those.
     When they were young, his children helped with the bells now and then, but never his wife.
    "I don't think I want to try," she said with a smile.
    It's not as easy as it looks, Lefeld said. You have to know which bell to ring and when or they collide and jam together, as a few people have found out.
    "Then someone has to crawl up 'The Thriller' to fix them," Lefeld said, pointing to an old wooden stairway without railing that leads to the bell tower nearly 60 feet high. "It's a long way up."
    Lefeld got a chuckle two weeks ago when a young boy accepted his offer to give him a hand.
    "He hung on and the rope took him off the ground about six feet," he said. "Boy was he surprised."
    Lefeld may have just found his new apprentice.


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