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La Salle News

September 19, 2022

The history of La Salle’s bell tower 

Bell Tower archive
John H. Veen presents David Leo Lawrence, Mayor of Pittsburgh and then-gubernatorial candidate, with a Liberty Bell replica. (From left to right) David McGrath, president of the International Relations Club; Al Dorley, president of the APO fraternity; John H. Veen; two members of APO fraternity; David Leo Lawrence; and Lawrence’s son, Gerry Lawrence. Courtesy of University Archives.

A version of the carillon—another name for the bell-chiming from College Hall’s tower—has existed since the late 1950s.

A walk through La Salle University’s Hansen Quad is joined by the sounds of chimes quarterly throughout the hour.

The first in a monthly series celebrating La Salle University’s rich history and the forthcoming 160th anniversary of its charter from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The history of La Salle’s electronic carillon, or the sound of bells played through tape recordings, dates back to the late 1950s. The original La Salle carillon, installed in 1959, was replaced in 1982 and then again in the 2010s with a computerized system.

Carillons date back hundreds of years as a way of calling people to prayer, said Margaret McGuinness, Ph.D., professor emerita of religion and theology. The Angelus Prayer was the largest calling, occurring three times a day, said McGuinness. Other prayers and hymns would rotate depending on the season, including the holy seasons of Advent and Lent.

La Salle’s songs rotate to match the holy seasons. It also plays patriotic songs and hymns.

New students at La Salle will experience the carillons for the first time this semester. Check out a timeline of the carillon’s history at La Salle:

Dec. 14, 1958

Evening Division student John H. Veen, ’59, conducted a two-month “A Bell for La Salle” campaign to bring an electronic carillon to campus. The campaign concluded on this December date with a dance and grand lottery drawing. The contract was signed to place the carillon in College Hall’s tower, according to a January 1959 issue of the student newspaper The Collegian.

Feb. 12, 1959

A dedication program and bell concert were held in the College Auditorium, what is now De La Salle Chapel in College Hall. Rev. James Driscoll, O.P., a staff member of the Chaplain’s office and a professor in religion and philosophy from 1956-1961, read the invocation.

Veen presented the keys to then-College president Brother Daniel Bernian, FSC. John Guischard, ’38, Ph.D., a professor of French at La Salle from 1942-1965 who also served as Alumni Association president from 1958-1960, delivered remarks. The bells were blessed and dedicated to the memory of the late Pope Pius XII by Msgr. Charles McGinley, pastor of Holy Child Church, located near the intersection of Broad Street and Duncannon Avenue, followed by Benediction presided by Rev. James Driscoll, according to the event’s program booklet.

Bell Tower archive
(From left to right) Br. D. John, F.S.C, Vice President; Jack McCloskey, Assistant to the President; John H. Veen, Manager of Student Union Building; Fr. James Driscoll, OP; Monsignor Charles B. McGinley, Rector, Holy Child Church, Philadelphia participate in the dedication of the carillon. Courtesy of University Archives.

A carillon concert followed immediately after the dedication. This is when it was determined the bells would ring daily, from 7 a.m.–10 p.m., with the Angelus running three times a day, according to records in the University Archives.

Dedicating items like carillons is common in Catholicism, according to McGuinness. For the time, dedicating the first carillon to Pope Pius XII made sense, with his death occurring a year earlier in 1958.

June 9, 1959

The New York Times published an article about La Salle’s new carillon. The article was reprinted in the July 1959 issue of La Salle Magazine, sharing the news of the installation of the bells in honor of Pope Pius XII.

Dec. 1, 1982

As the original carillon aged, a replacement carillon—gifted by the La Salle Alumni Association—was installed in the College Hall tower. The carillon features Westminster chimes, according to a Summer 1982 issue of The Collegian.

May 19, 1984

After its installation in 1982, La Salle’s second carillon was formally dedicated to all deceased La Salle alumni, according to University Archives, which provided the program from the dedication event. This carillon, a Schulmerich “Basilican” VI, was purchased through alumni donations coordinated by Veen, ’59, the Evening student who had led fundraising for the original bells a quarter-century earlier. The new carillon featured a clock-controlled tape player allowing its chimes to become automated.

2012

The carillon underwent updates, according to the fall issue of La Salle Magazine.

2013-2015

The carillon was replaced with a computerized system to continue its ringing without tapes.

Present

Bell Tower modern day
Today, the sounds from La Salle’s electronic carillon play out through speakers on top of College Hall’s tower.

Today, the bells toll every quarter-hour, beginning in the early morning hours. The sounds can be heard across La Salle University’s campus and into parts of the neighboring Northwest Philadelphia community. An extended hymn rings at 12 noon, to call those within range of the bells to a moment of prayer.

“La Salle’s bells do more than remind us to get to class or lunch. They become a part of daily life at La Salle for students, faculty, and staff, and are a part of what makes us La Salle,” McGuinness said.

—Meg Ryan

@lasalleu Where is that sound coming from…?#belltower#lasalleuniversity#philly#edutok#college ♬ original sound – La Salle University