Digital ding-dong! Greenpoint church will replace bells with recording

Digital ding-dong! Greenpoint church will replace bells with recording
Photo by Aaron Short

A Greenpoint church’s century-old bells might be going digital.

Father Robert Czok, pastor of St. Anthony’s Church on Manhattan Avenue, said that the parish would have to raise more than $20,000 to fix the original system, but only half that amount to replace the sonorous clanging of actual bells with a recording.

The digital ding-dong is emerging as the most likely scenario because the Diocese of Brooklyn has said it is unable to lend any money for the repair.

“The Diocese won’t pay for them,” said Czok. “It’s not considered an emergency, and even in an emergency situation. we’d have to raise our own funds.”

The three Westminster bells at St. Anthony’s, which were installed in 1895, weigh 8,000 pounds total. The church doesn’t employ an on-duty chimesmaster anymore, instead relying on an automatic striking system. But that system was shut down last month after Czok noticed that the striker had deteriorated.

The cheapest replacement option is the digital system that would provide an impressive range of hymnology for only $10,000.

The next cheapest option, at $19,000, is fixing the striker while keeping the bell stationary.

The most expensive option, $25,000, is to allow the bells to swing in the belfry, but Czok is worried that the 165-year-old church tower could collapse from the bells’ momentum.

Without the periodic gonging, longtime residents are sad.

“I grew up with those bells, they’re very important,” said 81-year-old Virginia Sheehan. “When I wake up, I don’t have to bother looking at a clock, I know what time it is.”

Czok said that the church’s first fundraiser would be the annual raffle at the Feast of St. Padua on June 13.

And two neighborhood blogs, New York Shitty and Brooklyn 11211, are launching a Chipin fundraising campaign.

Greenpoint resident Teresa Toro said she can’t wait to contribute.

“Their sound of those bells has contributed to the neighborhood’s texture and warmth and it’s always been a constant, comforting presence,” said Toro. “Everyone I’ve spoken to feels the same way whether they’ve lived in Greenpoint for 40 minutes or 40 years.

Czok says that many Greenpoint residents, even those outside the parish, have approached him about helping restore the bells to their former glory.

“It’s part of the audible survey of the neighborhood, a subliminal reminder that there’s something bigger than us and all our problems — a reminder that there is a God,” said Czok.

The church has been a beacon for immigrant, working-class Irish and Polish Catholic families since it was built in 1856 — and today it remains the only church in Greenpoint that offers a Spanish mass for the neighborhood’s burgeoning Latino population.

But perhaps it is best known as the 20-mile mark in the New York City Marathon, offering one of the best photo-ops of the race.