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Bell donation shows sense of community rings true

Posted: February 12, 2018

Bell donation shows sense of community rings true

Jackson inside Sky's the Limit.  She donated the former
church's bell to the RM, and wants to keep the building
where kids begin their learning lives historically intact.

A strong sense of community led Rosie Jackson to make sure a piece of local history would find a permanent home in East St. Paul and would be on display for all to see.

Jackson, who owns Sky's the Limit Montessori School in the former St. Catherine Anglican Church building on Birds Hill Road, recently donated the church's former bell to the municipality and it will be on display in Centennial Plaza.

For Jackson, news the RM was constructing Centennial Plaza outside the municipal offices brought to a close years of wondering what she could do with the bell that came with the building she bought almost 10 years ago.

"We're all about community," Jackson said.

"A lot of these students, I'm hoping, will stay within the community as they grow and then maybe their children, they'll have (the bell) story to tell them.

St. Catherine closed in 2010, but had served the community in the building on Birds Hill Road since 1914.  The bell arrived a year later and hung in the church's bell tower.

It was rung every Sunday and on numerous special occasions, including weddings, funerals and on New Year's Eve.  Its role was to let the community know that something important was happening.

In 1994, it was discovered that the walls could no longer support the bell's 800-plus pounds, and it was removed.

It was put into storage until 2002, when fundraising by a dedicated group of parishioners - as well as in-kind work - allowed them to build a new structure to support the bell.  It remained with the building when it was sold to Jackson.

Mayor Shelley Hart was pleased when Jackson approached her about donating the bell to the municipality and said she thinks Centennial Plaza is the perfect location for it.

"For over 20 years, my family were members of St. Catherine church.  We were heartbroken when the church was closed by the diocese but understood the small congregation was no longer sustainable," Hart said.

"In February 2017, Rosie invited me to read to her students during "I love to read month" and it was during this visit that we discussed the bell.  It was clear that Rosie wanted to find a meaningful, permanent home for it and I was thrilled when the offered it to me for Centennial Plaza.

"The Plaza is all about our history.  It is our legacy project for our 100th anniversary and will have other historical elements playing homage to East St. Paul's early industries.  The bell was a perfect fit and we are so thankful for Rosie's contribution to preserving out community history."

Ernie Parrish attended services at St. Catherine and said when Jackson bought the building to turn it into the school, he kept in touch with her and was hopeful the bell would eventually find its way to a permanent, and public, home.

"I was always a member of St. Catherine Church and over the years I've kept in touch with Rosie," Parrish said.

"When Rosie said that she was going to donate the church bell to a place where everyone can see it, I said 'Rosie, that's phenomenal'."

For Jackson, who received offers to buy the bell from individuals and even another church congregation, selling it never seemed like the right thing to do.

"It's not about that.  That didn't even cross my mind," she said.

The students have become attached to the bell, and she said staff talked with students about the bell and where its new home will be.  Some were quite concerned and one young boy's mom told her that her son was "very concerned".

"We had a meeting and explained to him where it's going to and that we'll go see it when the weather gets better," Jackson laughed.

She commended RM employees who removed the bell and
filled in the hole left from the tower it was perched in.

Seeing the empty space after the bell left however, was tough.

"It was bittersweet for me, because it did come with the building, and I don't plan on changing the building, I want to keep it historical," Jackson said.

"When they lifted it off it was like, well, OK, that's it, it's gone."

Centennial Plaza is currently under construction.  The bell won't be on a tall tower in its new home, but will be closer to the ground so everyone can see it better.  Jackson is
excited about that.

"They've lowered it, which is wonderful, everybody can
really get a good look at it and feel it and touch it."

Parrish said the bell is important historically and he, and many others, are happy with news of its new home.
"It started in the municipality of East St. Paul at St. Catherine and now it's going to remain ... forever," Parrish said.

"Everybody that I've talked to from St. Catherine Church, they all agree that's the best place for it."



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