The Bells of Saint Martin

Jean sent this piece of history to me.  It was written by Judge Walter A. Saxton (1911-2002), who was baptized at St. Martin’s on June 6, 1911, was a member of the first graduating class of St. Martin’s and was a descendent of George Washington.  The Amityville Courthouse is named after him.  I thought you might like it.

For nearly 90 years, the three mighty bells in the belfry of Saint Martin’s Church have sounded over our village, ringing out joyous and solemn tones to villagers of all faiths.  In 1902, new bells gave to the little hamlet what was described in a local newspaper as a “metropolitan character.”  Now the same bells toll to a suburban community grown beyond the wildest dreams of the little early Catholic congregation.  The bells were formally blessed on Sunday, April 27, 1902 at a Mass said by the Pastor, Father Ferstal, with music by the choir.  The Vicar General the Rt. Rev. McNamara presided at the consecration and preached the sermon. 

Father Sheridan and I climbed the bell tower for an inspection.  The bells, made by McShand Bell Foundry of Baltimore, MD, were cast in three sizes.  The largest, named “Francis Xavier,” weighs 1,000 pounds and was donated by Mr. and Mrs. George Stanton Floyd-Jones of Massapequa. The legend inscribed on the bell reads, “In Memory of Thomas Jefferson and Amelia K. Owen and Anita and George Stanton Floyd-Jones.”  Mr. and Mrs. Floyd-Jones were converts and strong supporters of the new struggling parish St. Martin of Tours.  They were members of the Jones Family and after whom Jones Beach was named.  Mr. and Mrs. Owen were parents of Mrs. Floyd-Jones.

The medium sized bell is named “Patrick.”  “Patrick” weighs 800 pounds and is a memorial to “Katherine Areson, Anna Ferstl and John Keirns and all departed members of St. Martin’s.”  Katherine Areson may have been the wife of, or some way related to, Alfred Areson, a Protestant, and a benefactor of St. Martin’s.  Anna Ferstl was perhaps the mother or relative of Father Benno Ferstl, first pastor of St. Martin’s.  I have been unable to find information about John Keirns.

Inscribed on the smallest bell, named “Mary,” are the names “Josephine Molle, Patricia and Adelia Keirns and all other devoted children of St. Martin’s.”  “Mary” weighs 600 pounds.  Josephine Molle was a member of the prominent early Catholic family in the community.  Adam Molle was active in local affairs and for a long time an official of the Village of Amityville.

About 1925, there was a fund drive to finance the construction of a new convent.  When the goal was reached, I assisted Tom Kelly, son of the sexton, Joseph Kelly, ringing out the joyous news.  The bells were rung by hand, ropes connected to them hung down into the narthex of the old church.  In 1963, demolition of Old St. Martin’s began, with much preparation to the construction of our present lovely edifice.  The bells which had rung-out the Angelus for years were silent until May of 1964.  Then they were rung again mechanically for dedication of the new church.  During the building period, the Reverend Bayard H. Goodwin, of Saint Mary’s Anglican Church arranged for the ringing of the Angelus at his church by the sexton of Saint Martins.

God willing, our bells will ring in the 21st century, our 100th anniversary, and on and on.  In my youth, nothing has sounded sweeter than the bells of Saint Martin’s inviting the faithful to midnight Mass on a cold and snowy Christmas day.

This little window into history tells us something you might not have known about church bells:  they have names, they are consecrated and anointed with the oil of Sacred Chrism, and most interestingly, the bells of churches are the forerunners of emails, fire alarms and texts that for centuries have announced births and deaths, the call to prayer, and they announce to all the Good News of our salvation.  The names mentioned are names of people unknown to us and long-gone to God; but we still hear their sonorous praises from the heavens from “Francis-Xavier,” from “Patrick” and from “Mary.”  Long may they ring!