More than 27 years have passed since the historic bells of Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church have pealed through downtown Naperville.
Thanks to a generous gift bequeathed to the church from two former longtime patrons, the two historic bells and one new bell will chime again this spring.
The 167-year-old parish is restoring the two bells in its tower and adding a third to commemorate what Pope Benedict XVI has deemed the Year of Faith.
"The bells are so important to the church for a number of reasons," said the Rev. Thomas Milota. "We ring the bells when we call to Mass or prayer, we ring the bells when there is a wedding to rejoice in the new bond, and we toll the bell when someone dies so the Lord can welcome them to heaven."
A 1922 fire destroyed the church and the original bell, but Milota said it is believed to still be a part of the church.
"The large bell fell into the body of the church and was quickly destroyed," he said. "We believe the bronze was cleaned and reforged into bells in the tower now. It's a symbol of the resurrection and endurance of people as we move forward."
The bells were restored, but in 1976 the church moved toward an electronic system that mimics the bells' toll. When the church decided to move back to the real bells, Milota said the gift from sisters Cecelia and Magdalen Hatch seemed like the ideal revenue source.
"We talked to their family and friends and everyone agreed Cecelia and Magdalen would be very happy to know their generosity made this possible," Milota said. "We're very thankful for their gift."
The large bell, which weighs 2,500 pounds, bears a Latin inscription that translates to "I, having been destroyed by the terrible fire, rose in honor of the princes of the apostles to call the faithful." The smaller bell, which weighs about 250 pounds, also is inscribed in Latin and translates to "Time flies. Death comes. Come Ye Faithful."
The newly forged bell will weigh about 990 pounds and the inscription will commemorate the Year of Faith. The church is hosting a contest to see how many parishioners can correctly translate the exact inscription.
Last week Milota accompanied about a dozen church council members and diocese priests to The Verdin Company's Cincinnati headquarters to watch the new bell, named Mary the Mother of God, be forged. Once complete, the new bell will be on display on the church grounds and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Siegel will baptize it immediately following the Mass at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 17.
"We say we baptize the bells, rather than bless the bells, because each bell has its own voice and takes on its own personality," Milota said.
The bells will be installed shortly after and Milota hopes to ring the three bells together for the first time on Easter, March 31.
"Every day, from then on, people will hear the big bell tolling and three times a day the medium-sized bell will toll for the Angelus Prayer," he said. "Three bells will always peal together whenever there is an important event."