Whitestone Students Ring Bell for Haiti

Msgr. John Tosi, pastor of St. Luke Church, Whitestone, third from left, leads the congregation in applause following the blessing of a bell which is headed to a church in Haiti with the nonprofit group, From Here To Haiti.
During First Friday Mass, Msgr. John Tosi, pastor of St. Luke Church, Whitestone, third from left, leads the congregation in applause following the blessing of a bell which is headed to a church in Haiti with the nonprofit group, From Here To Haiti. (Photos by Marie Elena Giossi)

Joseph Zuccarelo embarked on a big project last fall – collecting and recycling plastic bottles in the hopes of raising enough money to buy a bell for a church in Haiti.

At a rate of five-cents per bottle, Zuccarelo soon realized he couldn’t do this alone so he reached out to his principal and sixth-grade classmates at St. Luke’s School, Whitestone.

Last week, Zuccarelo and his classmates cheered with pride as they saw and heard the brass bell they purchased for St. Anne Church in Anse-a-Macon, Grande Cayemite, Haiti. They marveled at the resonance coming from the shiny 77-pound cup-like structure forged at a Michigan foundry.

Msgr. John Tosi, pastor of St. Luke’s, blessed the bell and christened it “Saint Luke” in front of the school community during First Friday Mass on March 6. Among the congregation were members of From Here to Haiti (FHTH), the nonprofit that is facilitating the donation.

Formed following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, FHTH assists in repairing non-governmental buildings of public assembly, including churches and schools. The organization’s finished 18 projects and has several more underway, which provide temporary employment for hundreds of Haitians and improve thousands of lives.

St. Luke’s parish has helped with several FHTH projects. Schoolchildren donated old soccer uniforms to Haitian children, and helped pay for a satellite dish and the start of a computer lab at St. Gerard School, Chardonnette. Parish families also donated about $5,000 to build bathrooms at the College St. Augustin, Grande Anse.

Last April, FHTH helped put a new roof and bell tower on St. Anne Church, located on the remote island of Grande Cayemite, a one-hour boat ride off the coast of Haiti.

Patricia Brintle, president of FHTH and a parishioner at St. Luke’s, and her husband Joe, FHTH treasurer, were there as the final touches were put on the bell tower.

‘God Will Provide’
“I asked them, ‘Why do you have a bell tower? You don’t have a bell,’” Pat recalled. “They said, ‘We believe God will provide.’”

Hearing that story, St. Luke’s sixth-grade class, which numbers 60 students, raised $1,200 through bake sales, collecting spare change and bottle recycling in the course of a few weeks last fall. Many students even sacrificed their snack money for the cause.

“Never did we think we’d get the response that we got,” said teacher Ericka Conlon, who moderated the project. “I can’t tell you how thrilled they (sixth-grade students) are to be here today to see all of their hard work come to fruition.”

Msgr. Tosi was so impressed with the students’ works that he added $500 to cover the total cost of the bell.

In his homily, Msgr. Tosi spoke to the children about the importance of bells in daily life, from changing classes to sporting events, but especially in the life of the church.

“Bells have been used in the church for hundreds of thousands of years, boys and girls,” he said. Bells are rung to announce Masses and at the consecration as well as to denote sacramental events such as funerals and weddings.

While working on this project, students learned that in many Haitian provinces residents don’t own clocks and communities mark their lives around church bells. The ringing signals everything from when it is time to go to school to when an emergency arises.

Msgr. Tosi told the children that even though people in Haiti live different lives from people in Whitestone, “they’re the same as us” in their Catholic faith.

“I want to thank the sixth grade for loving the people you don’t even know on that little island off the coast of Haiti. You’ll probably never see them but you worked hard to raise the money for the bell,” he said.

And the bell, he said, will serve as a reminder to the people of St. Anne Church “that God loves them” and provides for them – just as they believed He would.

“I feel like it was a great thing to do,” Zuccarelo said of his own and his classmates’ efforts. “It feels good that we helped.”

After blessing the bell, Msgr. Tosi entrusted it to the Brintles and Dr. Eddy Leveque, FHTH vice president, who hopes to install it at St. Anne Church in time for Easter.

Joe and Pat Brintle unwrap the bell before Mass.

Msgr. John Tosi, pastor, speaks to students about the importance of bells.

Sixth graders watch as the bell is blessed.

Msgr. Tosi leads the congregation in applause after the blessing.

Sixth graders pose with the bell on the altar.

Msgr. Tosi and Principal Barbara Reiter entrust the bell to From Here to Haiti officers.