Church hopes to restore 160-year old bell tower

Published: Dec. 22, 2013 at 10:02 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 30, 2013 at 1:29 AM CST
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New Orleans, La. - Inside the gleaming sanctuary of St. Mary's Assumption, parishioners decorated for Christmas mass.

This church has been a labor of love for nearly 160 years.

"In the 1850s, when the church was built, it had rained for several days," says Peggy Wilson. "The ground between the river and the church was all muddy and so the women of the parish took their aprons and put the brinks in their aprons and carried the bricks to the site so that construction could begin."

And so St. Mary's Assumption stands today in the heart of the Irish Channel, but it needs work.

Church members are trying to raise nearly $1 million to repair and restore the bell tower.

Father Richard Thibodeau is leading the effort.

"While there's the practical reason of, we don't want rain to come in any more, there's also that symbolic and that historic reason of saying, this is part of the heritage of New Orleans," she says.

The bells last sounded years ago and Hurricane Katrina only worsened damage done by time and termites.

A lightning strike shattered the cross. The clock hasn't ticked in ages.

"When the bells would ring or people would look at the clock and they could see what time it was, those were all ways for people to connect with feeling part of a neighborhood that has changed considerably many times over since the 1850s," says Thibodeau.

Father Thibodeau says the church is about $200 thousand away from its fundraising goal and he hopes to begin the restoration sometime in 2014.

It will truly take a community effort to get it done, just like it did in 1858.

"When you think of the number of people who have been in this building since the 1850s," says Thibodeau. "Those who came in here at a time of war and were praying for a loved one, or those who were here at a time of a wedding and were celebrating how wonderful it was, or a baptism and it was just the beginning of a new life and all the potential for that new life, that this is really, it's a living organism of who we are."

For more information on the restoration project, click here.