Year of Faith Pilgrimage & Knights Tower Carillon 50th Anniversary Celebration

Celebration Marks 50th Anniversary of Knights Tower Carillon - Our Council and Families Were There!

On Sunday, Sept. 8, several thousand Knights of Columbus and their families traveled to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Filling the Great Upper Church of the nation’s preeminent Marian shrine, they gathered for the a Year of Faith Pilgrimage, as music from the 56-bell carillon of the Knights Tower called them to prayer.

The pilgrims joined Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson and Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, together with other K of C leaders and guests, at “America’s Catholic Church” to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Knights Tower Carillon and to reconsecrate the Order to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

An honor guard of approximately 500 Fourth Degree Knights led the opening procession for the Solemn Mass, which was celebrated by Archbishop Lori and concelebrated by Archbishop Gérald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec, Primate of Canada, among others. Immediately following Mass, a prayer program commenced that included exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, a Marian meditation led by Archbishop Lacroix, the recitation of the rosary, remarks by the Supreme Knight, and an act of reconsecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary led by the Supreme Chaplain and Supreme Knight.

Sept. 8 traditionally marks the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, nine months after the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

Archbishop Lori began his homily, noting the relevance of Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading, which seemed “tailor made for this occasion”: “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?” (Lk 14:28)

The 329-foot Knights Tower, funded by a $1 million grant from the Order and completed in 1957, together with its 56-bell carillon that was dedicated on Sept. 8, 1963, has a symbolic purpose, the supreme chaplain said. “I would submit that the Knights Tower should be seen as a tower of faith, that rises in our midst as sign and symbol of the Church’s faith.”

Citing Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), Archbishop Lori proceeded to cite several ways that the Knights Tower is “an apt symbol for the faith that we profess.” For instance, it is built on a solid foundation, just as Christians are called to firmly establish their faith on the truth (cf. LF, 23). While “faith knows because it is tied to love” (26), the tower also represents the Knights’ works of charity as they “bear witness to the truth of God’s love.” Moreover, just as faith involves hearing and seeing (cf. 29), the Knights Tower “directs our gaze and lifts our spirits upward,” and “the bells open our ears to the Word of God.” Finally, the “structural unity and integrity” of the tower evokes the unity and “communion of the Church” as well as the “interconnected elements” of the faith (cf. 38, 46).

After Mass, Archbishop Lacroix led the congregation in prayer and meditation before the Blessed Sacrament. The recitation of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary followed, with the decades being led by State Deputies from throughout the East Coast who traveled to the Basilica with delegations from their State Councils.

Supreme Knight Anderson echoed the supreme chaplain’s sentiments in his remarks: “Just as the carillon of the Knights Tower sends beautiful music into our nation’s capital and reminds all who hear it of this place of God, our lives as Catholics and as Knights of Columbus must also reach out to enrich others and remind them of Our Lord’s presence among us.”

Anderson went on to speak about the significance of Mary’s title as the Immaculate Conception, which he said is reflected in the patronage of not only the National Shrine but also in the home parish of Venerable Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus.

“Our Lord sees and loves and saves Mary before she had free will; before she could speak; before she could breathe; before her parents were even aware of her existence,” Anderson said. “And thus Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is the paragon of human dignity. Because, in reaching out to Mary with extraordinary grace while still in the womb, God reminds us that our dignity comes to each of us as a gift from the Creator.”

The supreme knight further noted that a two-year Orderwide Marian Prayer Program dedicated to the Immaculate Conception was inaugurated Aug. 7 at the Supreme Convention in San Antonio. The program features a painting of Our Lady that hangs above the main altar in the Basilica-Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Québec, the primatial church of Canada. A large reproduction was on display at the foot of the basilica’s sanctuary during for the pilgrimage.

Before the final benediction, Archbishop Lori prayed an act of reconsecration of the Knights of Columbus to Mary. In part, the prayer read: “O Mother of the human family, Mother of America, and Mother of the Knights of Columbus, we confidently entrust ourselves and our families to you. … Obtain for us strong faith and the grace of eternal salvation. Pray that we might be dedicated entirely to your Son. We pray that by your motherly care our Order and our hearts, newly consecrated, and belonging totally to God, may be a special portion for Him, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

The carillon’s largest bell, or bourdon, which is known as the Mary Bell sounded after Supreme Knight Anderson led the congregation in praying the Sub Tuum Præsidium, a prayer to Mary from the first centuries. Weighing 7,200 pounds, the Mary Bell features fleurs-de-lis, the emblem of the Order, and the inscription: “MARY IS MY NAME / MARY IS MY SOUND / BELOVED MOTHER / QUEEN OF HEAVEN AND EARTH / QUEEN OF THIS DEAR LAND / FOR KNIGHTS TO GOD AND COUNTRY BOUND / AND ALL WHO HEAR MY VOICE / I SING THE PRAISES OF GOD.”

Finally, Archbishop Lacroix invited all those present to consider making another pilgrimage in 2014, to his home diocese of Quebec. The year will mark the 350th anniversary of the historic parish of Notre-Dame de Québec, the mother parish of Canada and the United States.

Also among the special guests and dignitaries present for the Mass and prayer program was Cardinal William Baum, a former archbishop of Washington. It was Cardinal Baum’s predecessor, Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle, who presided at the inauguration of the Knights Tower Carillon in 1963. On that occasion, Cardinal O’Boyle declared, “To the members of the Knights of Columbus, in the name of all the bishops of the United States, I say we are deeply grateful for this wonderful gift. Long after we are gone, this tower and these bells will be paying honor to God and to his Mother.”

Indeed, although the Year of Faith Pilgrimage was a special occasion of prayer and celebration, the bells of the Knights Tower Carillon sound numerous times each day, welcoming pilgrims from near and far to Mary’s House.

Tower History

The Mighty Carillon of the Knights Tower Rising high above the northeast sector of the nation’s capital as a defining feature of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Knights' Tower stands in testament to the devotion American Catholics hold for the Blessed Mother. Funded by a $1 million grant from the Knights of Columbus, the 329-foot tower was completed in time for the dedication of “America’s Catholic Church” Nov. 20, 1959. Almost four years later, with an additional donation from the Knights of Columbus, the 56-bell carillon was finished on two levels of the Knights Tower.

The inauguration concert of the bells was held on Sept. 8, 1963, with Arthur L. Bigelow, bellmaster of Princeton University, playing such familiar tunes as Exsultate Deo, Faith of Our Fathers, Ave Maria and Tantum Ergo.

The 56 bells, which vary in weight from 7,200 lbs. to a mere 21 lbs., were manufactured under a joint contract by two European companies, one in France and the other in Holland. Following ancient tradition, some of the bells are named and inscribed with words that the bell is given to “sing.” Appropriately, Mary is the name of the largest bell, or bourdon, and sounds the note B-flat. The inscription on the bells reads: “MARY IS MY NAME / MARY IS MY SOUND / BELOVED MOTHER / QUEEN OF HEAVEN AND EARTH / QUEEN OF THIS DEAR LAND / FOR KNIGHTS TO GOD AND COUNTRY BOUND / AND ALL WHO HEAR MY VOICE / I SING THE PRAISES OF GOD.” The inscription includes an explanation how the bell got its name: “Supreme Knight Luke E. Hart, under whose leadership both the carillon and tower were donated to the Shrine, requested that the largest bell be dedicated to the Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven and Patroness of the United States, thereby expressing the love and devotion of the Knights to her.”

The close association of the Knights of Columbus with the carillon is recorded in the bells themselves, a number of which have been named. The St. Christopher Bell honors Christopher Columbus, Discoverer of the Americas and patron of the Knights of Columbus. The St. Michael Bell honors Father Michael J. McGivney, Founder of the Order. The St. James Bell honors three supreme knights: James T. Mullen (1882-1886), James E. Hayes (1897-1898) and James A. Flaherty (1909-1927). The St. John Bell also honors three supreme knights: John J. Phelan (1886-1897), John J. Cone (1898-1899) and John E. Swift (1945-1953).The St. Edward Bell honors Supreme Knight Edward L. Hearn (1899-1909). The St. Martin of Tours Bell honors Supreme Knight Martin Carmody (1927-1939). The St. Francis of Assisi Bell honors Supreme Knight Francis P. Matthews (1939-1945). The St. Luke Bell honors Supreme Knight Luke E. Hart (1953-1964).

Bells have also been named for St. Virgil in honor of Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant (1977-2000) and, most recently, for St. Karol in honor of Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson (2000-present), as part of the ceremonies for the dedication of the Knights of Columbus Incarnation Dome on Nov. 17, 2007.

The bells are an intimate and intricate part of the daily life of the National Shrine, set off by short electronic prompts every 15 minutes and marking each hour with a longer song. The bells may be sounded by hand by a carillonneur pounding the wooden baton keys of the unique console that prompts the striking of the bells — a skilled task that requires a good deal of strength. The Shrine’s carillonneur since 1964 has been Dr. Robert B. Grogan. With thanks to Dr Geraldine Rohling, Archivist and Curator of the Basilica of the National Shrine, whose research contributed to this account.

The Above information was gathered from the Knights of Columbus Site