Writer’s Workshop: The Angelus Bell

Source: St. Ignatius Facebook Group

The definitive source of time in my part of Rogers Park was the church bell at St. Ignatius Church. It rang four times a day: 7 AM, noon, 6 PM and 9 PM.

BONG, BONG, BONG!
BONG, BONG, BONG!
BONG, BONG, BONG!
BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG!

It’s called the “Angelus Bell” because it corresponds to the prayer of the same name, which commemorates the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary that she was to become the mother of the Son of God. To us, though, the ringing of the bell defined the day: when it rang at 7 AM, it told us that it was time to get up; at noon, that it was lunchtime; at 6 PM, that it was dinnertime; and at 9 PM, it was bedtime.

We lived at 6459 North Glenwood Avenue, exactly one block south of the Church. I could see the bell tower from the window in my room. Somehow, seeing it there was a comfort to me, and hearing its bell meant, to me, that all was well.

On January 25, 1967, it rang at 7 AM, right around the time that my mother told the three of us that Dad had died during the night. Somehow, hearing it ring was like an assurance that, no matter what had happened or what will happen, everything was going to be all right.

I learned how it worked when I was an altar boy: the control for the bell was in our Sacristy. It had a 24-hour timer, which in those days was a round metal plate that made one revolution per day. There were switches at the appropriate hours that, when they passed over a spot under the metal plate, completed a circuit that made the bell ring. There was no Quasimodo that rang the bell, it was all electronics. The bell would also ring for funerals: there was a separate switch for manual operation. For Daylight Saving Time, someone would have to go into the Sacristy after 9 PM and move that round metal plate forward or backward. As such, the bells might have rung a little before or after the correct time. Nevertheless, we considered it the official time. Never mind that WLS said it was 6:58 AM or 7:03 AM, when that bell rang, it was 7 AM.

St. Ignatius Church is now inactive as a parish, open for special events but no longer holding daily or Sunday Masses (at least, that’s what I gather from their website). I guess it will now be a mission center run by Loyola University. I wonder if the bell still rings…

14 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: The Angelus Bell

  1. What a view that must have been! I can see how the sound of that bell would feel reassuring…like it’s the one solid thing you knew would happen every day no matter what. What a comfort!

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    1. It was always there. No matter what the weather was, you could hear it, and like I said, people would set their watches by it. I worked at the rectory, and when I’d hear the bell at 9 PM, I knew it was time to close down the office and leave. If I timed it right, I would walk out the door just as the vibrations from the last toll were still sounding.

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    1. I doubt it. Ultimately I think that whole block where the church and school are will be razed and apartment buildings will go in. Wonder what they’ll do about the fallout shelter?

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  2. Well done, John.

    With the passing of Queen Elizabeth, bells and various types of salutes are already sounding across the big pond. Remembrances and tributes, yes. Reminders of our fleeting mortalities, definitely.

    Made me think back to an old song by The Browns…The Three Bells. Unlike the lyrics, there will be much more than “one lonely chapel bell ringing” in the ten days that follow in England.

    Sad that so many of the bells from parish churches have fallen silent as they close, one by one, along with parish schools. Such a loss for the communities who supported them.

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    1. It makes me sad to think that so many of those old churches, built with the money and labor of the people who were part of the parish, are going to be torn down and redeveloped. They were more than buildings, they were part of our lives.

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  3. Well done, John.

    With the passing of Queen Elizabeth, bells and various types of salutes are already sounding across the big pond. Remembrances and tributes, yes. Reminders of our fleeting mortalities, definitely.

    Made me think back to an old song by The Browns…The Three Bells. Unlike the lyrics, there will be much more than “one lonely chapel bell ringing” in the ten days that follow in England.

    Sad that so many of the bells from parish churches have fallen silent as they close, one by one, along with parish schools. Such a loss for the communities who supported them.

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  4. Funny story about the 6:00pm bell. There was an outdoor basketball court next to the church. There was a kid named Don Maurer who lived across the street from you (He was my age, not yours). He was a basketball nut; spent all his free time playing. His parents had a rule that he was to be home for dinner before the 6:00pm Angelus stopped ringing. We’d be playing a game around six and the bell would start ringing. Don would stop whatever he was doing in the game instantly and start running with the rest of the kids shouting, ” run, Donnie, run.” He claims he always made it. Thanks for the memories, John.

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    1. That court was still there when I was at Ignatius and probably well afterwards. I doubt it’s there now: the parish is closed and Lord only knows what will happen to that whole block (the school, the theater, and the church).

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