A group working to get the bells of St. Dunstan’s Basilica reinstalled is now clashing with the bishop of the diocese, who does not believe the bells are a priority.
The group has been raising money in an effort to one day hear the 18 historic bells pealing once again from the steeples of the landmark Charlottetown church, which is also a National Historic Site.
Catherine Hennessey, who is spearheading the fundraising committee, says they are motivated by the cultural enhancements the bells would add to the city.
“The bells would add jubilation to the downtown,” Hennessey said.
But Bishop Richard Grecco of the Diocese of Charlottetown is not on board with the idea.
Despite several appeals from the committee, including a sit-down meeting with Charlottetown businessman Kevin Murphy, who is also part of the pro-bell group, Grecco has remained firm the bells are not a priority for the church.
He maintains that even if they were, diocesan engineers have advised the bells cannot be reinstalled without causing structural damage to the basilica.
That’s why he has placed a notice in church bulletins across the Island, advising parishioners of his concerns over the proposed bell project, calling the committee pushing for it an ‘unauthorized group.’
“These concerns have been explained, yet this unauthorized group persists in their efforts,” the bulletin notice reads.
It further advises the diocese does not support any fundraising campaign for the project, should individuals be solicited for donations.
Grecco said Thursday he is concerned the group fundraising for the bells may interfere with fundraising efforts by the church for other priorities and projects officially identified as important or necessary.
“I’m telling the people please, stick with the priorities of the parish,” Grecco said.
“And if you give monies, you should be aware that they don’t have permission to do it and they don’t have proprietary rights over the bells.”
But Hennessey points out the bells were originally donated to St. Dunstan’s in 1927 by parishioners and members of the community. Inscriptions on the eight largest bells denote this, according to an article in The Guardian dated March 16, 1928, when the bells finally arrived in the city from the Paccard Bell Foundry in France.
Hennessey says her group envisioned this as a potential 2014 project, and was even in talks with ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) as a prospective funding partner.
These are not funding sources the church or the diocese would normally be eligible for, so the project would not get in the way of other church fundraising efforts, she said.
“We saw an opportunity for dollars from places the church itself would not be able to access,” Hennessey said.
“We looked at it as a cultural gift to the church and to the community as a whole.”
Her group has been working with the original manufacturers in France, who have a proposal for how the bells could be reinstated within the basilica’s belfries.
Nonetheless, Grecco says he has a report saying the bells had to be removed in the first place because they were jeopardizing the stability of the steeples.
“Even if there were funds for the bells, we can’t put them back in the steeples,” Grecco said.
“Imagine if people started donating and then finding out (the group) didn’t even have authorization from the parish to do it, so we had to clarify.”
Hennessey says there could be other options for the bells than leaving them to gather dust in the basement of St. Dunstan’s parish rectory.
“It is unfortunate we failed to convince the bishop of the contribution the bells would make to our community and his church,” she said. “But I know the bells will ring again.”