By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Don’t ask him how.
“It is a miracle of Biblical proportion,” said Dr. Bruce Prince-Joseph, artist in residence and music director for the Anglican Use liturgy at St. Therese Little Flower Parish.
But somehow, some way, through coaxing prodding and the work of volunteers, the historic Bells of Peace suddenly sprung to life again, and since late August, has been sounding throughout the neighborhood once dubbed by media as “The Murder Factory.”
Prince-Joseph, whose career includes a stint as the primary keyboard artist with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, will give some credit to the Rev. Jeff Hon and electrical engineer Bruce Haupt for countless hours of piecing back together the mid-century electronics that brought the 405-bell carillon — one of the world’s largest — back to life.
But then again, he also knows who really deserves the credit.
“I can’t tell you how we did it. There is no human explanation for it,” he said. “It’s St. Therese, because what happened here is nothing short of a Biblical miracle.”
The carillon now chimes on the quarter-hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily except Sundays, when Mass — traditional, Gospel-style and Anglican Use High Mass — is celebrated.
Heard for blocks around through a loudspeaker system installed in the church’s bell tower, which was constructed in 1948 but never housed a bell, the parish’s pastor, Father Ernie Davis, said the carillon is an extension of what happens inside the church.
“It is our way of taking the prayers said in our neighborhood and broadcasting them throughout the neighborhood,” he said.
St. Therese Little Flower is the third home of the historic carillon. Bishop Robert W. Finn will join the parish to bless and dedicate the Bells of Peace at 3 p.m. Sept. 30, at which time Prince-Joseph, Canon Harry Firth and Gospel choir director Caron Williams will treat the audience and the neighborhood to a concert.
The whole city is invited, Prince-Joseph said, and the parish has already made arrangements to block off streets for a neighborhood party that will begin immediately after the parish’s 11:15 a.m. High Mass.
It won’t be nearly the crowd that numbered in the tens of thousands on Nov. 11, 1961, when the Bells of Peace were first heard in Kansas City, the gift of Joyce Hall on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Liberty Memorial.
Nor will the crowd likely include two ex-presidents, as it did some 51 years ago when the rededication of the memorial brought out both Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.
But it will be a celebration. Prince-Joseph will have it no other way.
Built with outmoding vacuum tube technology at a time when the world was going solid-state transistor, the Bells of Peace carillon sounded at the Liberty Memorial for 20 years until it fell into disrepair and was about to be scrapped.
A friend of Prince-Joseph called the maestro after the friend bought the odd-looking keyboard console at an auction and wondered what it was.
On sight, Prince-Joseph knew exactly what it was — the console to the largest electronic carillon in the world — and immediately called Canon Harry Firth of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in downtown Kansas City.
The two spoke to officials at the Liberty Memorial who were only too happy to have them take the rest of the carillon and install it at the downtown church.
And the next part of the story is also evidence of the intercession of St. Therese, the Little Flower, Prince-Joseph said.
It took two years to install the carillon and get it voiced at St. Mary’s.
Just last year, St. Mary’s went under renovation and gave the carillon to St. Therese and Prince-Joseph.
“We installed it here in less than one year,” Prince-Joseph said. “That’s what the miracle is. It couldn’t have happened. It shouldn’t have happened. But it did.”
Yes, it was a gamble, Father Davis said. But St. Therese Little Flower Parish is known for taking risks on faith.
“A church like this has to take risks,” he said. “We live on the edge all the time. Why not take a risk?”