TOWNSEND -- A pealing bell often signifies joy -- the happy sound marking momentous occasions like weddings or the end of war. A more somber tolling, when a stationary bell is struck, marks times of sorrows.
Both sounds have a place and St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Townsend has a new bell that can do both. The bell was given in memory of Christine Senior, a 46-year-old mother of three who died a year ago after a brief struggle with cancer.
"This is not a mournful blessing, but a celebration," said the Rev. Jeremy St. Martin, pastor of the church. A plaque inside the church will help everyone remember the bell is a gift inspired by her.
It's the third bell to be installed in the tower. When the church was built "this wasn't a rich town. People weren't wealthy. They built a nice church, a big church," St. Martin said.
"They built the tower to support the bell," he said. "Sometimes you want to have a bell, but you can't afford it."
The parish did the best it could. "The tower didn't have a bell, but it was a big, giant speaker that was shaped like a bell. So it was a bell," he said.
That first bell had old tapes that played songs and a box with four resonating glass tubes. When amplified, they sounded like an acoustic bell.
The instrument aged and was damaged beyond repair. "The whole thing was defunct," St. Martin said. It was replaced by a small, refurbished bell, intended to be temporary.
The bell had not been used in a church before, so when it arrived in Townsend, it was blessed for the first time, St. Martin said.
"It was nice, but past its prime, like an antique," the pastor said. "It was good, but it wasn't like the bell we have now."
Before installing the new, larger bell on May 24, town officials had to sign off on the permits. The church discovered that the tower was originally built to support a heavy, swinging bell and so it was all set to accommodate its new occupant.
The tower is now lit at night, the bell visible through the opening at the top of the steeple.
The first official use of the bell will be on June 22 when it is blessed by Monsignor Arthur Coyle, the regional Episcopal vicar of the Merrimack region of the archdiocese of Boson. Coyle recently conferred the sacrament of confirmation on Elizabeth Senior, Christine Senior's eldest daughter.
The test ring of the bell was done on the anniversary of Senior's death.
"The bell is a time of celebrating faith in the resurrection and our hope that all the good in Christine's life makes us rejoice," St. Martin said.