Special to The Hays Daily News

VICTORIA -- Hearing the bells of the "Cathedral of the Plains" in Victoria, an admirer of the church once wrote: "The bells are sounded to announce the presence of Jesus. How beautiful the sound of a simple bell. The beauty of early morning prayer helps us to start our day with thanks for the many gifts we've received."

The bells of the church play a significant part in the makeup of the community of Victoria.

St. Fidelis Catholic Church in Victoria, "The Cathedral of the Plains," a church that has been awarded the title of one of the "8 Wonders of Kansas," is celebrating 100 years of continuous celebration of worship.

Part of the celebration includes the "First Ringing of the Bells" that will take place May 30 in conjunction with the 16th annual Fidelisfest celebration.

There are four bells in the south tower of church. The smallest weighs 285 pounds and was used in the second church built in 1878. The present church is the fourth church built in the same area.

A second bell weighs 595 pounds and was used in the third church. Those two bells, together with another bell weighing 1,300 pounds, were installed in the current church May 31, 1911. In 1929, the largest bell weighing 2,000 pounds was installed at the church.

The bells were rung manually by pulling ropes that hung in the vestibule of the church until 1947 when four electric motors were attached to large wheels by steel cables to swing the bells. From that time on, one only had to press a button to ring the bells.

Interestingly, most of the ringing was accomplished by one of the brothers of the Capuchin Franciscan order that serves the church. Brother Wendelin Wiesner was responsible for ringing the bells from their installation until his death.

For more than 30 years, he rang the bells three times during the day at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m., and before every Mass that was celebrated in the church.

In May 1974, as the earlier equipment began to deteriorate, one of the electricians in the parish installed a new system in which the bells were fastened in position and struck by electronically impelled hammers. This eliminated the structural strain of more than two tons of metal swinging. A clock also was connected to the system to activate the bells automatically according to a pre-set schedule.

The significance of the bells in a church traditionally has been that of a "call to service." In many Catholic churches, such as St. Fidelis, the sounding of the Angelus occurs at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. The Angelus is a devotion commemorating the Incarnation of Jesus, and is traditionally a time when many devout Catholics take time to stop what they are doing and pray a formal prayer.

For St. Fidelis in particular, the ringing of the bells is a statement that God is present in the community, and it is a call to worship the Lord in thanksgiving for everything God has done for the families of the community.

The celebration of the "First Ringing of the Bells" takes place on Memorial Day, May 30. It begins with the celebration of Mass at 11 a.m. with special music provided by St. John Ringers from St. John Lutheran Church in Russell and the parish choir.

Throughout the day, the different activities include a German wedding-style dinner, an auction, raffle, kids' games, a country store, a pop/beer/hamburger/brat stand, and entertainment by the Wes Windholz Band and Jimmy Dee and the Fabulous Destinations.

During the day, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., the bells of the church will ring every hour on the hour.