By Mary Alford
GREENVILLE – It’s no secret Greenville is full of rich history.
But, what folks might not know about is a bell dating back to 1854 that can be found in the steeple at St. Joseph Catholic Church — an item even some of the parishioners had long forgotten existed.
Members of the church discovered the 550-pound bell in the midst of their recent renovation campaign for the church, which was built in 1908 and was the third church of the Catholic community in Greenville.
“It’s been a good church but now the roof has gotten to the point that now the copper nails that they used to tack the slate on they started to erode away and we get a little bit of leakage on the side anyway,” Greenville native and seminarian Mark Shoffner said.
The bell, Shoffner said, was cast by Henry Hoover in Boston, Massachusetts. Hoover happened to be an apprentice to Paul Revere.
“He learned how to make bells from Paul Revere and later bought Paul Revere’s Foundry. So that bell was cast in Paul Revere’s Foundry and under his name. He is one of the most prominent bronze casters in American History,” Shoffner said.
Unfortunately, the bell hasn’t been in service for a number of years — maybe even since the 1940s.
But, Shoffner has set a goal to get the bell set up and ready to ring throughout downtown.
Shoffner said it will ultimately cost around $8,500 to get the bell ringing again, and he’s determined to accomplish this in his lifetime.
“It’s not just for us; it’s for the whole city to have those historic bells ringing and to have such a nationally historical bell in Greenville. We don’t know how it got here, but it’s here and we’re gonna run with it,” Shoffner said, noting this type of bell doesn’t typically exist outside of the northeast.
Bells are an important part of the Christian faith, Shoffner said, especially in the Catholic church. However, he said a bell can’t just be put up in a church.
“Bells have voices and they sing. … because the church looks so highly upon bells and they play such an important role in worship, they have to be consecrated by the bishop; it’s like a baptism. Bells and people are baptized and it’s only in the Catholic tradition that bells are baptized,” Shoffner said.
“In an old historic town, when you hear those bells chiming, it doesn’t only remind you of history but it makes you stop and that is the point of them.”
The parish has set up an account on the website Go Fund Me to restore the entire structure of St. Joseph, including the bell tower. Donors can also send checks for the restoration directly to the church, St. Joseph Church, P O Box 1220, Greenville MS 38702.
(Story reprinted with kind permission from the Delta Democrat Times. Mary Alford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)