WORCESTER —When the Notre Dame bell touched ground at 12 noon on Thursday, the bells of neighboring St. Vincent Hospital and St. John's Church were ringing the Angelus, a call to prayer.
A worker with the F&D Truck Co. salvage crew gave the Notre Dame bell a loud clang. It still worked.
The historic bell removed from the steeple of the former Notre Dame des Canadiens Church on Thursday is to be donated to the city of Worcester and preserved in a memorial.
The Notre Dame Church building itself is to be demolished, likely early next week, to make way for office and retail space in the multimillion-dollar CitySquare development.
“If the church can’t be saved, at least some part of it can,” said City Manager Edward M. Augustus.
The Hanover Insurance Group, principal investor in CitySquare, announced the company will donate the steeple bell as well as $10,000 and a portion of the land to the city to develop a memorial to preserve and display the bell.
The memorial is expected to honor the French-Canadian immigrants who built Notre Dame des Canadiens Church as well as the city’s current immigrant community.
Demolition of the church building should be underway by next week, according to Donald W. Birch, executive vice president of Leggat McCall Properties, the Boston firm managing the development project.
The bell will be taken for temporary storage by the city while plans for a memorial are finalized.
The 3,500-pound bell, cast in 1881, originally was installed in the belfry of the first Notre Dame Church on what is now Franklin Street. Four-thousand people filled Mechanics Hall on Jan. 15, 1882, for the solemn blessing and baptism of the bell with holy water and sacred oil, according to a parish history.
The bell survived the 1908 fire that destroyed the first Notre Dame Church, and has hung since 1929 in the steeple of the current Notre Dame, on Salem Square. The mother church of the city’s French Catholic parishes was closed in 2007, and the building sold to the CitySquare developers in 2010.
Discussions on salvaging the bell have been ongoing between The Hanover, the city manager, and Rev. Steven M. LaBaire, pastor of Worcester’s remaining French Catholic church, St. Joseph’s on Grafton Hill.
"We are very pleased to present the bell to the city on behalf of its residents, while also helping to preserve and memorialize the bell and all it represents," Ann Tripp, senior vice president at The Hanover, said in a statement.
"We look forward to working with the city manager, representatives of the Worcester Diocese, and others appointed by the city manager, to create an appropriate and permanent site for the memorial."
Mr. Augustus will lead the planning effort for the memorial. He said he expects to invite the participation of local historic preservationists who tried to save the church building as well as former Notre Dame parishioners.
The Hanover has offered to donate as a potential memorial site a portion of land located above the new underground Worcester Common Garage off Front Street.
The bell cost $1,250 when it was cast in 1881 by the Clinton H. Meneely Bell Co. of Troy, N.Y., according to a Notre Dame parish history.
At its solemn blessing in Mechanics Hall on Jan. 15, 1882, the bell, garlanded in flowers, was baptized with holy water and sacred oil by Rev. Jean-Baptiste Primeau, first pastor of the French-Canadian Catholic community in Worcester.
The bell was given the names Marie, Josephine, Anna, Leo, Patricius and Joanna, inspired by Catholic dignitaries, the last three in honor of the pope, the diocesan bishop and the pastor. Also inscribed were the names of civil authorities: the president of the United States, James Garfield; the governor of Massachusetts, John Long, and the mayor of Worcester, Frank Kelley.
After the bell was cast in June 1881, President Garfield was assassinated. Rev. Primeau, at the bell’s dedication, said he was “glad it commemorated the blessed name of President Garfield, a martyr to his country,” according to the Evening Gazette.
After the baptism and consecration of the bell, Rev. Primeau rang the bell three times in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and then members of the parish took turns clanging the bell for an hour and a half, the Gazette reported. The following evening, the bell was installed in the church belfry and rang for Rev. Primeau’s own farewell Mass.
"We are profoundly grateful to the Hanover Insurance Group and to the city for their efforts to salvage, preserve and enshrine the bell from the former Notre Dame Church," said Rev. LaBaire in a statement.
"The bell tolled countless times, summoning the faithful to prayer and marking the milestones of the community and of the nation," he said.
Rev. LaBaire noted the demographic landscape of Worcester has changed significantly since Notre Dame des Canadiens Parish was founded in 1869 to serve the needs of the city's French-speaking Catholics. St. Joseph's Church on Grafton Hill, which he serves as pastor, was founded as a mission of Notre Dame, and today still offers Mass in French, for a largely Haitian congregation.
"The bell is a reminder of the city's rich cultural and religious heritage," Rev. LaBaire said. "It remains a visual summons, beckoning us to welcome newcomers and to respect the diversity which they bring.
"As a Catholic and a Franco-American, it is my hope and prayer that the rich mosaic of the city's religious, linguistic and cultural heritage will inspire us to forge a community that is welcoming, respectful and safe to all who seek to call Worcester their home," he said.