The driving force behind this bell monument that was brought to a successful culmination with a gala unveiling on July 8, 2000 is Very Rev. Walter Madej.
This hard working pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus / Holy Cross Polish National Catholic Church in New York Mills had a vision of making this bell the focal point of a display that would remind the people of this village of their heritage.
Fr. Madej’s credentials are impressive. He graduated from the Catholic Seminary of Philosophy and Theology at Gdansk, Poland in 1968. That same year he was ordained to the priesthood. From 1971 to 1975 he continued his studies on the sociology of religion at the Catholic University of Lublin. His education continued and in 1991 he completed studies at the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. He has served God at a variety of church communities prior to coming to New York Mills in 1997.
Fr. Madej is also gifted as a sculptor and he has been commissioned to produce art works for numerous churches and institutions. One of his works that is still in progress is the interior design and carvings of the sanctuary for the Cathedral of the Blessed Mother of the Rosary of the Polish National Catholic Church in Buffalo, N. Y.
Fr. Madej collaborated on this project with a fellow sculptor named Jim McDermid. For many years Jim McDermid has been a teaching artist at the Munson-Williams-Proctor School of Art. He was also an Associate Professor of Art at Kirkland College. Professor McDermid has a BFA degree from Syracuse University and an MFA degree from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. As a working artist, he is known for his wood sculptures using sections of tree logs to make human scale forms.
Fr. Madej, with the approval of the parish committee, went to the Village Board early in 1998 and sought and received their approval for this non-profit project. It was thought to be appropriate that the parish share this beautiful treasure with the village. It was also thought that it would serve as a covenant between the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and the village. At the same time the parish wanted to emphasize that they were not giving away the bell that had been presented to them. Rather they were making it a gift to the village.
Fr. Madej saw the unique historical value of the bell and articulated this to both the village board and to village residents.
The bell was originally ensconced in a tower in the Number 2 Mill. It, and another bell located in the Number 3 Mill, served a variety of functions as village criers. Often referred to as ” the curfew bell”, it would ring at 6 AM to signal the people to leave for work. It would also announce the beginning and end of lunchtime and it would signal the end of the workday. Finally it would ring at 9 PM to indicate the start of the evening curfew.
Additionally, the bell would be tolled for funerals and fires.
From its housing atop the Number 2 Mill the bell witnessed the development of New York Mills. It saw the flourishing of the paternalistic fiefdom of the Walcotts and Campbells.
It viewed a real curfew being enforced by night watchmen who patrolled the village to make sure that lights were out by 10 PM.
It saw strict rules imposed by the paternalistic mill owners, which included the prohibition of alcoholic beverages.
The bell then watched as a large influx of Polish immigrants arrived to work in the mills while at the same time the mills were being sold to the absentee owners of the New York City based A.D Juilliard Corporation.
The bell was no doubt aghast at the worsening of relations between the workers and the absentee owners that led to two bitter strikes that occurred in 1912 and 1916.
It wept when it saw the terrible working conditions that existed. Among other things, children would bring lunch to their parents and would see their mothers soaked to the skin in their work clothes and their fathers covered with cotton lint. The children came to realize that their parents were working to make our future rich.
The bell smiled as it saw strong family units, extended families and neighbors caring for each other and offering strength to one another.
Following World War II the bell experienced the decline and closing of the local textile mills. It was no doubt elated when it was given a new home in the church steeple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Polish National Catholic Church.
A master carpenter named Joe Pal Sr. constructed the church steeple for the bell. The bell was elated to comply with his request and peal loudly for him as his funeral hearse and his mourners went past it on its way from the Requiem Mass for him at St. Mary’s Church to his final resting-place.
Starting in 1952, from that vantage point the bell could continue its role as a cohesive force in the community as it rang out at appropriate times such as noon for the Angelus Domini as well as at 6 PM and for funerals.
The bell continued to do a marvelous job of giving a warm sense of community belonging to those who lived within earshot until 1993 when it was retired.
As you can see the bell’s functions have evolved through the years. It is very appropriate that it now be given a suitable place of honor in this community.
It is Father Senior Madej’s hope that people who view this bell monument will reflect on it and allow themselves to take weeks, months and even years to develop their own interpretations and their own personal deeper meanings as to what the bell stands for.