Story and photos by Jessica Votipka, York News-Times
UTICA — In 1949 lightning struck the wooden steeple of St. Patrick Church in Utica. Rather than replace the steeple, the tower’s top was patched up. Now parishioners of St. Patrick’s have mobilized to give the town’s skyline a lift. Decades later, the church – which was built in 1915 – is getting its steeple back.
A new steeple is but the beginning for the extensive project. An effort to replace the damaged steeple has resulted in the discovery of a need for more work on St. Patrick Church, including new stairs winding up the bell tower and fresh paint inside the church. The need for improvements have been discussed for quite some time, said pastor Father Maurice Current.
“In the last one to two years it’s really begun to unfold,” he said.
One of the main projects – in addition to replacing the long-missing steeple – is to modernize the 100-year-old bell. To eliminate manually ringing the bell, an electronic system will be implemented. However, the old bell isn’t going anywhere.
“It was really important that we use the original bell,” said Colette Stelling, a church construction committee member. It was gifted to the church in 1915 by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Sanley in honor of their daughter, Mary Elizabeth (Mrs. Peter Hubertus).
Bells have a unique history in the Catholic Church. Traditionally, any object used in the service of God is consecrated; bells are no exception. This blessing is so important, that it is carried out by a bishop, explained Father Current. He said he is learning more about the importance of bells to his faith, right along with St. Patrick’s parishioners.
“I often noticed the richness of the tone, not knowing the full significance at the time,” he said. Bells have been used for centuries to call worshippers to service – which Current knew, but he also noted that bells are used “to ward off evil spirits.”
St. Patrick’s bell is resting amongst the church’s pews during refurbishing. In the meantime, plans are underway for the new steeple – plans that offer a nod to the past, as well as the church’s heritage. The steeple will be made of copper, which after years will get a green patina – fitting for a church that was established primarily by families of Irish and German descent.
The copper steeple will be topped with a 24-karat-gold cross, Stelling said. The steeple is being funded by an anonymous donor. Parishioners are footing what remains for the project in its entirety, and donations are still being accepted.
As parishioners strive to make St. Patrick’s church tower stretch farther toward the heavens, the construction project serves spiritual symbolism well. In a 1927 article, the Benedictine Monks of Buckfast Abbey described the relationship: “A tower is like a finger pointing heavenwards, reminding men of their supernatural destiny and forbidding them to be so engrossed in the pleasures and cares of earth as to forget their only true home.”