The bell tower of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist houses fifteen cast bronze bells. The oldest and largest of the bells was cast in 1912 at the McShane Bell Foundry of Baltimore, Maryland and blessed by Archbishop Joseph Blenk of New Orleans. It sounds the note E-flat, though not quite at modern pitch. For this reason this bell always rings alone, just as it has for the past century. It is still used every day to call worshippers to prayer at the weekday masses, at the 7 a.m. mass on Sundays, for tolling at funerals, and during the seasons of Advent and Lent before all weekend masses. The estimated weight of this bell is greater than two tons.
The other fourteen bells are tuned to modern pitch and form a chime capable of playing melodic tunes. Four of these bells were installed on April 9, 2001 and blessed by Bishop Edward O’Donnell, a gift of the Roland and Marion LeBoeuf family in memory of The Rev. Monsignor William Teurlings, Pastor of the Cathedral when the present building was constructed. Like the original bell, these bells are capable of swinging to create the sound of “pealing” bells, but can also be struck with electronically-controlled clappers in the performance of “tunes.” They are heard every hour on the hour during the day from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m ringing the “Westminster Peal” as at London’s “Big Ben” where this peal was made famous. The peal is comprised of the notes B-flat, E-flat, F, and G. These bells were cast at the Meeks, Watson & Company Bell Foundry of Georgetown, Ohio and are inscribed with the names “Roland Stephen,” “Marion Cecilia,” “Susan Carolyn,” and “Cynthia Marilyn.” The largest of these bells (B-flat) weighs 850 lbs.
The remaining ten bells were installed on March 26, 2010 and blessed by Bishop Michael Jarrell, a gift of the Vida Domingues Luquette family in memory of Mrs. Luquette’s late husband, Jesse. These bells were cast at the Royal Eijsbouts Bell Foundry in Asten, Netherlands and do not swing, but rather are suspended from a steel beam in the tower and struck with electronically-controlled clappers. These bells are used in conjunction with the LeBoeuf bells to play hymn tunes before the weekend masses. They are also used to play change ringing peals for special occasions. Together these bells weigh 2500 lbs.
In addition to marking the hour, calling worshippers to prayer, tolling for funerals, pealing on festive occasions, and playing hymn tunes before mass, the bells also ring the Angelus every day at 6 a.m., 12 noon, and 6 p.m. This is an ancient custom used to remind Christians of the mystery of the Incarnation. The name Angelus is derived from the opening words of the Angelus prayer in Latin: Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ, "the Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.”
In the early days of bell-ringing bells were controlled by ropes and pulleys, along with the expenditure of much human effort! These days modern technology has eliminated the need for rope pulling. Instead, a computer system designed by Chime Master Systems of Lancaster, Ohio operates the bells with a unit housed in the choir library adjacent to the choir loft in the church. Accompanying the computer system is a keyboard which allows for the input of new tunes which can be added to the existing library of nearly 500 tunes already in the computer system. Bells are programmed by the Music Director to play automatically, although “live” performances are possible.
The fourteen-bell chime at St. John Cathedral forms the following melodic scale capable of playing the melodies of virtually all church music: