By Jennifer Johnson
The Independent Association of Framingham State Alumni (IAFSA) has recently donated a state-of-the- art carillon bell system to the FSU Ecumenical Center in honor of Christa McAuliffe.
McAuliffe died in the Challenger explosion in 1986 and would have been the first teacher in space. She was also a Framingham State University alumna of the class of 1970.
According to Mark Evans, arts and humanities director, in 1986, an electronic carillon was installed in her memory at her home parish, St. Jeremiah’s. He said the bells were known as “Christa’s Bells.”
Eric Gustafson, executive director of development and alumni relations, said, “The idea [to donate the bells to FSU] originally came from Grace Corrigan, an FSU alumna and the mother of Christa McAuliffe.”
The bell system at St. Jeremiah’s had been purchased “through gifts that came to the parish from school children all around the country after the Challenger disaster,” according to Gustafson.
The Archdiocese of Boston closed St. Jeremiah’s in 2005, which caused a protest vigil at the church from 2005-10. At that point, the property was sold to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Mission of St. Thomas.
In the spring of 2013, Evans and Dan Giard, facilities operations director, went to inspect the bell system in St. Jeremiah’s Church (now renamed St. Thomas Church). According to Interim President Robert Martin, “They [Evans and Giard] discovered the technology behind the bells was all digital, but it was old technology, like 8-track tape technology.”
Evans said, “Moving an instrument of that vintage could well damage it.” He said this would not only deprive the FSU community of music, but also deprive the St. Jeremiah and Syro-Malabar communities of “their cherished memorial to Christa McAuliffe.” According to Evans, “It was decided that Christa’s bells should not be moved.”
Martin added that despite the bell being outdated, Evans discovered that the congregation was “very attached to the bells.”
Evans said the IAFSA decided to donate a state-of-the-art carillon upon the discovery that the bell system from St. Jeremiah’s would not be donated. The purchase of the $12,795 system was made possible by alumni who had donated to a fund for “Ecumenical Center improvements,” according to Evans.
He described the bells that have been donated to FSU as “a digital system,” adding, “High quality recording of real bells in musical numbers, tolling of the hours, celebratory peels – you name it, we have it.” He said currently, the bell tolls only at the end of morning and afternoon classes.
Evans is responsible for programming the carillon, and although it is possible to play the bells manually, no one at FSU is currently doing so. He added, “I’ve already had good natured jokes about me jumping on and swinging bells and shouting, ‘Master, Master!’”
According to Gustafson, “IAFSA is one of the university’s most generous annual donors.” The association gives out significant funds in scholarships and financial support.
Vice President for Enrollment and Student Development Susanne Conley said, “I think they [the bells] fill the air with a beautiful, traditional sound heard on college and university campuses everywhere.”
Conley supported Evans throughout the process “as he worked with everyone involved to make this happen.” She said she has she had the pleasure of hearing the bells. “I find them to be sonorous,” said Conley.
Gustafson said the donation is not specifically related to the 175th anniversary of FSU, “but it’s a wonderful addition to the campus in this special anniversary year.”
Martin said, “It is lovely for the university to have what I think will become a tradition.”
Conley said, “I hope students, faculty and staff like them [the bells] and that they find them to be a pleasant addition to our campus life.”
According to Evans, “I am very moved by the sound of bells. They announce the mundane and monumental.” He added that on Jan. 25, there was a memorial service for retired FSU psychology Professor John Budz in the Ecumenical Center. “We tolled the recording of a 4,500 pound bell, in solemn tribute. Many at the service were moved.” [Editor’s note: For more coverage about John Budz’s memorial service, turn to page 1.]
Fiona Coughlan, a junior geography major, said, “The story behind the bell is really genuine, and I think we should embrace the bell.”
According to freshman elementary education major Joleen Stygles, “It’s a nice donation in memory of her [Christa McAuliffe].”
Rebecca Nelon, a freshman criminology major, said, “It’s nice to hear them during the day. It brightens everyone’s day.”
Evans said when he was working at the University of North Carolina, “The whole campus enjoyed the tolling of the hours and occasional concerts. It made us smile.” To him, the bells mean “community.”
Kyle Holmberg, a freshman communication arts major, said, “I think it’s great what they’re doing in memory of this national hero. Every time I hear the bell ring, it will make me think of her.”
According to Zack Kirby, a sophomore business major, “The purchasing of the bells was very noble of IAFSA.”
Evans said this spring, there will be a dedication ceremony naming the digital carillon the Christa McAuliffe Memorial Bells.