The bells, sweetly ringing

A short history of the campus carillon and how we feel about it

In 1998, Andrew McSween wanted to make a donation to the College that would go for something that wouldn't be obtained with the regular operating budget. According to President House, "I had been looking into the carillon and its cost at about the same time, so that's the first thing that came to mind. The rest, as they say, is history."

McSween and his wife, Helen, donated $10,000 for the bells, which was supplemented by a $5,000 gift from Prudential, McSween's former employer.

The chimes that we hear on campus come from miniature metal bells amplified millions of times before being projected through speakers mounted on the roof of the Heffernan Center. Housed in a small wall cabinet in Father John Tokaz' office off the chapel, the carillon system creates an authentic bell sound that is channeled through the electronic controls.

The carillon bells sound on the hour from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. At noon and 5, the carillon plays the Angelus, traditionally a bell that calls for a devotional prayer (the Angelus) to be recited. On special occasions, Father John plays a familiar, repetitive bell peal. (This is usually before Mass, but he's also been known to do it after a baseball victory.) During Lent or Christmas time, he plays seasonal refrains. And before he was asked to stop, Father John played alternative rock on the weekends (the carillon system accepts CDs).

The bells even have their own funny story to tell: When Governor Baldacci came to speak at the 2003 groundbreaking ceremony for Alfond Hall, the bells drowned him out as he started his noontime speech - and continued to drown him out as the Angelus played, followed by 12 long chimes. The governor knew he had met his match - and waited.

What do the bells add to campus life?

Sue McAuliffe, Institutional Advancement staff:

It's a comforting sound...It says "All is right with the world. We're safe in our harbor."

Emily Sumner '09:

I like them. It gives a feeling of being on a campus. At a Catholic college, it's nice to hear church bells.

Patrick Mulcahey '09:

It wakes me up on Saturday morning. And I need to wake up on Saturday morning.

Michael C. Connolly, history professor:

I love them. They should play more frequently. They could have more variety, like be appropriate to the season...Silver Bells in winter. It's a great sound.

Kareem Myrick '06:

Once it (the bell sound) gets into the double digits, it's annoying.

Joe Anderson '06:

I don't mind them.

Viral Patel '09:

I love the bells. They keep me on time. I love the music.

Britney Rauscher '06:

I don't mind them.

Kimberly Bechard '09:

I don't notice them because I grew up next to a church.

Mary Tibbetts '09:

It's cool as you walk across campus; it makes you feel like you're at a Catholic college.

Susan Johnson, Web coordinator:

I think they're nice. It would feel kind of weird if they weren't here.

Beth Auger, biology professor:

If a class ends on the hour, my students tell me the bells are ringing, so it's time for class to end. Then I look at my watch, see they have 15 mintues to go, and say, "Nice try."

Katy Dehm, biology lab instructor:

They're lovely.

Sister Patricia Flynn, R.S.M., philosophy professor:

I am most conscious of them at noon when they announce Mass ... or when they ring for the Angelus prayer. I am struck by how the bells serve as an invitation to the whole College community to come to prayer, or at least remember that prayer is being offered in the heart of the campus.


I like it when Father John used to play Nine Inch Nails over the chimes.