The Angelus

“There is so much to be done at school that we often forget to think, to pray, or just enjoy the taste of life. This Student Council is presenting an Angelus bell to the school to remind us all of the need of quiet thought. Traditionally the Angelus is rung as a call to prayer. Our Angelus will be what we make it. There is much to think about in that brief moment of our own. There is world peace to pray for, boys in Korea to be remembered, people at home to be loved, and our own thoughts to be thought. The Angelus will be rung daily to provide a moment of peace in the whirl of activities. It is a small beginning but if eighty girls pause in the middle of rush and confusion to pray and to think, it is a beginning.”  – Maria Burgee ‘52 [Maria Burgee Dwight LeVesconte], at the dedication of the Angelus, 1952.

It is a large church bell, inscribed “For Quiet Thought.”  Many recall it as the heart of the Northampton School for Girls campus. The Angelus, which hung in the cupola of Scott Hall, was rung daily.  Everyone was expected to stop whatever she was doing and maintain a moment of silence.  Founder and Principal Sarah Whitaker wrote in her 1972 memoir, Miss Whitaker Remembers, that

Scott Hall, with its cupola (Eric Stahlberg)

“The bell was often rung as classes were passing and it was interesting to see each person quietly standing, usually with bowed head. The bell was also rung as the girls went to their houses after Sunday evening prayers. Since they were supposed to disperse quietly the bell helped to keep the comparative stillness. I would like to include the hymn that was composed by one of the girls [Halcyon Crawford ’54], or perhaps several of them, and sung at the dedication service.

Ring out this chime, let silence fall
The mist of thought encircling all
Each quiet thought, each prayer we say
Will guide us in a better way.

Amidst the toiling troubled world
We pause, our God, along with thee
And humbly beg and heartfelt pray
For peace throughout eternity.

When surging tide of heaven’s great sea
Has bound us in its mighty power
May those on earth be blessed with joy
And prosper in their golden hour.”

Sounding the Angelus was central to Northampton School tradition from 1952 to sometime in the late sixties, when Headmaster Nathan Fuller, perhaps as a gesture to changing times and a more secular focus, perhaps for no better reason than that the deteriorating cupola could no longer sustain the ringing of a heavy bell, ended the practice.  And many people simply, sadly, forgot.

The Bell in the Garden

Some who had never known the large bell mistakenly thought that a smaller bell that hung in the “Sacred Garden” outside Hathaway House was the Angelus.  It was an easy assumption; the bell’s mount even featured an angel.  This bell vanished shortly after Northampton School’s final Commencement in 1971.  When older alumnae asked at newly merged Williston Northampton what had happened to the Angelus, they were told, “We don’t know.  It’s gone.”

Then, in the summer of 2005, John Anz ‘82, who was Director of Alumni Relations at the time, received a phone call from Andrew Pollock, Executive Director of Cutchins Programs for Children and Families, the current occupant of the former Northampton School for Girls Campus.  “We have a church bell that might interest you.”  Cutchins was repairing the roof on Scott Hall, and had discovered that the Angelus, long presumed missing, was right where it had always been.  John and I sped to Pomeroy Terrace and risked life and limb crawling out on the roof of Scott Hall to confirm the find.  There, encased in a generation’s accumulation of hornet nests, was the bell.  The rope had been removed decades before, probably to discourage teenage improvisation.

The next phase of the day had its comic aspects.  Mr. Pollock told us that he had no problem with our taking the bell, but that strictly speaking, we had to go through a number of legal hoops involving the transfer of state property to private hands. And, he noted, that process was likely to take weeks and incur charges. He proposed an alternative: that the bell be considered construction waste, in which case we could just haul it away. The catch was that it had to happen right away; he had a crew of roofers standing around. And he really had no idea how to get it safely down from the roof. We called Williston Northampton’s Director of the Physical Plant, Jeff Tannatt, who came over with a crane. We ended up taking the whole cupola, but the bell was on our campus by the end of the day.

The Angelus Terrace (R. Teller)

(When I got home that night my mother, who had taught at Northampton School for many years, asked me what I was grinning about.  “We recovered the Angelus,” I said.  She cried.)

For several years we have hauled the Angelus out of storage for use at Alumnae Reunions.  With Robert Hill’s investiture as Head of School in September, 2010, we began incorporating it into school ceremonial occasions, such as Convocation and Commencement, either as a call to assemble or preceding a moment of silence – in the case of graduations, a last call for silent thought at that powerful moment just before the seniors are dismissed. But the Angelus has lacked a permanent, visible home on the Williston Northampton campus.

No more.  Thanks to a generous 50th Reunion gift from the Class of 1961 and an anonymous donor, a new Angelus Terrace has been constructed on the lawn near our new dormitory at 194 Main Street.  It is situated where the bell may be clearly heard at ceremonial events on the Quad and in Stevens Chapel.  The Angelus Terrace was dedicated at Reunion on June 9,  2012, in the presence of many ‘Hamp alumnae, including members of the Class of 1952 who had been at the dedication sixty years ago.  All present sounded the bell with enthusiasm.  The Angelus is truly home.

Silent no more (Ben Barnhart)

Your comments and questions are encouraged!  Please use the space below.

2 thoughts on “The Angelus”

  1. I’ve been exploring this site with interest. There’s a lot on the old girls school on your blog. I’m not complaining, but why?

    1. A better question might be “why not?”
      But the serious answer is that throughout the academic year just ended, we’ve celebrated 40 years of Williston Northampton coeducation, which might or might not have happened, but surely would not have been the same without our 1971 merger with Northampton School for Girls. Their culture permeated Williston Academy’s, and for the better.

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