By REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
Walking down the street on any given morning, city of Amsterdam residents are likely to hear the sounds of bells tolling once again from Cornell Street.
"It not only speaks to our past," said city historian Robert von Hasseln, "but it speaks to our future.
"It's not only harkening you back; it's calling you forward."
The sounds come from the three bells in the bell tower of the historic St. Stanislaus Church, a church complex erected at the end of the 19th century on -- as von Hasseln puts it -- the nickels and dimes of the Polish immigrants.
The bells, created by the Meneely Bell Company of Troy in 1897, went out of commission a handful of years ago.
Michael Ryba, deacon at St. Stanislaus, explained that when Pope Benedict was elected to the papacy, the bells tolled for hours on end, a process that proved to be too much for the old mechanism that ran them.
"We shut the bells off and we didn't ring the bells probably for about three years," Ryba said. "The only bell we could ring was the toller because it was a different type of setup."
Fixing the bells when the mechanism broke wasn't something the church could put money into. The $30,000 rehabilitation project was just not a priority project for the church as they tried to get back on their feet financially, Ryba recalled.
"We just couldn't justify doing the bells," he said.
It wasn't until Ryba approached a local church group known as the Perogie Angels that the idea became possible to rehabilitate an important piece of the church's history. Ryba approached them and asked them how they would feel about putting their fundraising money into sponsoring part of the repairs. They said yes.
And a second group, called the Holy Names Society, jumped on board, as well. Memorial money came in from families and the church started saving. Eventually, there was enough to bring the bells back to life.
A lot of work went in to getting them fixed for Easter, Ryba said, and even though there is still some fine-tuning to do, the result has been extraordinary for the parishioners and community.
"They're a beautiful sounding bell, and the ring? It just resonates through the valley," he said, adding that they can even be heard across the river.
The bells toll three times a day at the church: Once at 6 a.m., once at noon, and once at 6 p.m.
Rev. Robert DeMartinis, pastor at St. Stanislaus, explained why.
"In Rome, the bells of Saint Peters Square ring three times a day ... and what they are rung for is to remind the people to take time to pray (a prayer) honoring the blessed mother," he said. "During a busy schedule, you're caught up in the everyday activity of your work. To hear the bell is your minute to pause and just kind of meditate and relax a little bit."
Von Hasseln, aside from being the historian and director of community and economic development for the city, is also a resident of what he calls "Polish hill."
"I hear those bells every morning. I hear them in good weather when I walk to work," he said. "I notice they have a sharper, clearer sound to them now and it's a really wonderful, evocative thing when I'm walking to work."
But the work isn't complete and will likely continue for quite some time, Ryba said, as they will be working with a company to preserve them.
"The bells speak for the people in the community, the parish," Ryba said. "They mourn with you at funerals, they celebrate with you at weddings, the bells ring and they call the people to church."
The path to get to the bells is not an easy one. It's a journey that involves walking planks in the church rafters, crouching through a small doorway, and shimmying up a small opening into the bell tower where the bells sit.
The tower leaves only enough room for the three bells, cast with the names of St. Antonius, St. Joannes, and St. Joseph on their sides, along with the names of the earliest financial donors to the bells.
But for the St. Stanislaus community, they are pieces of home and ones they aren't willing to let go.
"Over the past 50 years, they were kind of neglected, fix as needed," Ryba said. "So now we're going to keep up with it. We've refurbished them the best we can and now we're going to keep up with it. Every couple years we will have someone come in and do an inspection on the bells."
Von Hasseln said he just hopes that people in the community will take the time to stop and listen.
"When you think of them, this is a perfect example of here we have something old that's new again," he said. "Lift up your heads and listen to these bells in the morning. Step outside and listen to them and remember what a great town you live in."