Historic bell tolls again for Georgetown parish

GEORGETOWN—The old bell at St. Mary Our Lady of Ransom Church in Georgetown has its voice back after being silent for 15 years. 

The bell is ringing again thanks to an effort spearheaded by Father Richard Wilson, parish administrator. When he started serving at the church in Georgetown’s historic downtown district, he was dismayed to discover the bell did not work. 

That changed in mid-March, when a worker from the Ohio-based Verdin Company climbed into the narrow space in the tower that houses the bell and installed a new electronic system, which includes a striking mechanism that hits the bell’s weathered exterior.

Now, with the use of a remote control, Father Wilson and others at the church can set the bell to ringing. Currently, it sounds the tones for the traditional Angelus prayer at noon, plus a sequence before daily and Sunday Mass. 

“It’s absolutely wonderful to hear the bell again, a great thrill,” Father Wilson said. “It’s important as Catholics for us to have that bell, which calls us to worship. It’s a sacramental that aids us in our worship and sets us apart. The bell is a call to Mass, a call to the consecration of the Holy Eucharist.” 

He originally planned to have the bell chime on the hour, but decided against that because it would compete with the chimes from the historic Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church located across the street. The bell will also toll for funeral services, plus other uses are planned for the future. 

Father Wilson connected with The Verdin Company, located in Cincinnati, after seeing their exhibit at the Provincial Assembly of Priests and Bishops held in Charleston in August 2018. Verdin has built and repaired bells at churches, city buildings, schools and other places for 175 years. 

A worker from Verdin visited St. Mary Our Lady of Ransom and discovered that the old electric striking system had rusted shut. New wiring had to be run from the sanctuary into the bell tower. 

It cost about $11,000 to repair: around $8,000 for the remote-controlled striking system and another $3,000 for the wiring. 

Father Wilson said the money was raised through an effort that started in December, when he made a plea to parishioners to help fund repairs for the bell and other needs in the parish. Their enthusiastic response did the trick.

The church bell dates to 1903, when it was cast by the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore. The bell itself weighs 1,800 pounds and the entire mechanism weighs 2,300 pounds. It is believed to be the original bell for St. Mary Our Lady of Ransom, which was dedicated on Jan. 5, 1902.