Blessing Of The Bells

Published 4:45 pm Thursday, May 2, 2013

BUCKINGHAM – Almost two years ago during the ground breaking ceremony at the proposed construction site for Saint Thomas of Aquinas Seminary, the school's rector, the Reverend Father Yves le Roux, asked the audience to close their eyes and pretend they could hear bells ringing from the area where the seminary would one day stand.

On Saturday, April 20, the ringing of the bells did not have to be imagined. Their sounds became a reality after H.E. Bishop Bernard Fellay blessed the seminary's cornerstone and cloister bells.

During the daylong event, which drew several hundred participants-many from other states and other countries-the future role of the 1,000-plus acre site nestled in rural Buckingham County and semi-circled by the soft hue of the Blue Ridge Mountains became as clear as the sound of the bells.

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The morning began with Bishop Fellay performing the ritual of blessing the huge cornerstone plaque, which was displayed next to the bells. After sprinkling the engraved stone with holy water, he moved on to the bells.

Before starting the consecration, the bishop explained that the rite begins with the baptism of the bells. As the ceremony proceeded, music featuring the melodic voices of seminarians with the Saint Thomas Aquinas Schola seemed to soften the backdrop of a bright blue sky meeting the stark red clay of the construction site.

After the blessing of the bells, Mrs. le Roux, mother of the seminary's rector who traveled from her home in France for the special occasion, and Mrs. Linda Fortin, who first introduced the seminary proposal to the Buckingham County Planning Commission in 2009, each rang one of the bells.

The ceremony was followed by Pontifical High Mass led by Bishop Fellay. After a week that included the Boston bombings and the explosion in Texas, the bishop contrasted the evil of the creatures of the world with the infinite goodness and perfection of God.

“God will never be beaten by evil,” assured Fellay. “You must never forget that.”

Talking about the seminary and its role in preparing priests, the bishop offered, “He wants them to be instruments that through them He will continue to perpetuate the very sacrifice of redemption.”

Focusing on redemption and grace, Fellay shared, “That's why we build the building here.” Reminding that only God can give grace, he added, “The priest remains an instrument in the hands of God.”

Describing the new seminary project as a work of faith, Fellay talked about the numerous properties that were considered and the questioning about the need to relocate. “It became the will of God,” he shared.

“We certainly ask God to bless this place. To make it a real fountain of grace, the source of a great, great river-a river of grace,” stated Fellay.

Tours and More

After the ceremony and mass, Father le Roux shared that although initial plans had anticipated moving from the Winona, Minnesota location, which the seminary has outgrown, to Buckingham in June of 2014, a change in architects delayed the project and the anticipated date for moving is now projected for late June 2015.

Very excited about the new location and the environment it will offer the students, le Roux began pointing out areas of the vast landscape that will be used for housing and facilities.

He talked about an area where the seminarians will stay during their visits to the Buckingham site before the actual move is made. That area, explained le Roux includes an almost completed bathhouse with shower facilities. He noted that seminarians were on hand to help with the ceremony, luncheon, and tours.

As he talked, several of the young men were already working with the catering staff in preparation of the formal luncheon while others were removing furnishings from the large tent where the mass was conducted.

Father le Roux shared there will also be a guesthouse for the order's nuns along with a retreat house.

Talking about the progress of the project, he offered, “It is good.” Continuing, he added, “And we already have 70 cows and we are starting the vineyards.”

Before lunch, Joe Chambers, who represents the district on the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors, offered a tour of the property via his Jeep.

The ride over the rolling terrain reinforced the pastoral appeal the property held for those who were scouting for the seminary's new location.

Gracing the property are several ponds, one that was recently landscaped to include a wooden bridge for those walking along its boundaries. Dairy and beef cattle graze in pastures and will provide milk, dairy products, and meat for the seminary as well as generate income. Several donkeys stand on watch to take care of any coyotes that might try to corner a calf.

Garden areas and orchards are mapped and this summer some of the students will begin work to prepare those areas for planting. Likewise, a large area has been cleared for the vineyards.

Much of the acreage, which was owned by a timber company, will continue to be used for timber production.

While driving, Chambers, who has supported the project since it was first introduced to the planning commission, talked about the number of local people working at the site, either doing construction or grading and clearing. Likewise, he shared that contractors are utilizing local businesses as much as possible.

After lunch, seminarians led tours of the construction site. Our tour guide began by explaining that the first phase of the construction includes the main seminary complex. The chapel, which is phase two, will be built after the seminary is completed and the move is made.

According to information provided by the county, the building permit for the dormitory area is for 88,833 square feet; and the one for the administration building, which will include the kitchen, dining room, conference hall and recreation room, is for 42,344 square feet.

The design features three wings, which form a three-sided rectangle, and the chapel will form the fourth side of the rectangle.

Walking through the mechanical areas on the basement level, the guide explained that the HVAC system would include geo-thermal technology. The space also included a pump room and laundry areas.

A long hallway leads into the library. Nearby are rooms that will serve as an art room and barbershop.

Although not yet constructed, the upper stories will include classrooms and the dormitory.

The group moved on to the adjacent administration building where the guide enthusiastically shared that the recreation room will be large enough to accommodate a ping-pong table. He also noted an area designated for the fireplace.

Before ending the tour, the guide not only outlined the space that will become a cloister but also pointed to an area on the lower side of the dormitory that is destined for a soccer field.

A Beacon of Hope

Inserted in a packet containing the program was a letter of welcome from Father le Roux. He wrote, “I would like to thank you for attending this impressive ceremony, which is an important milestone in our grand and vital project-a project which is especially necessary for the times in which we live.

“Your support for this undertaking helps to ensure a future for Catholicism in this county and in the world by preserving the priesthood and the untainted Faith which these men will receive behind the very walls which you will see.

“In the laying of the cornerstone, in the baptism of the bells, you witness and participate in the very tangible launching of something which is a joy for faithful families and a mark of honor for traditional Catholicism.

“The new seminary is a beacon of hope to this and succeeding generations; I pray that you will come away from this weekend making this same hope your own.”

The printed program included A Preface to the Consecration of a Church Bell. Adapted from The Sacramentals of the Catholic Church, by Reverend A. A. Lamb, LL.D, it offered, “…they sing the glory of God; they follow the rhythm of Christian life with its joys and sorrows; they invite the faithful to church in order to pray there, to participate in the Sacraments, and to listen to the Word of God.”

So, too, will Saint Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Buckingham. With its Romanesque architecture, its stone edifice and cloisters, its pastoral setting, its classrooms and chapel, the seminary will invite and encourage the faithful-the young men who consecrate their lives to the service of God.