OLEAN — The bells of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels will ring Friday for 15 minutes straight in honor of the Very Rev. Gregory J. Dobson, who is stepping down from his post after more than two decades.
St. Mary’s famous bell in the west tower is the largest in the city and can be heard from a radius of more than 2 miles. It will ring starting around 6:45 p.m., church officials announced. It is anticipated the chimes located in the east tower — the last Deagan 25-chime set still operating in the United States — will play as well.
Friday’s bell ringing in a slow toll will honor Dobson as the third-longest serving pastor in the 166-year history of the church — now a basilica. The pastor of the parish for almost 22 years, he recently announced his retirement effective Aug. 1.
As the bell tolls, the church is set to host a community appreciation dinner in Dobson’s honor with 250 people, which is not open to the public. Although the parish’s BasilicaFEST starts Saturday, the appreciation dinner is not part of that event. The dinner will take place on the basilica grounds starting at 6 p.m. and will cause the first block of West Henley Street to be closed.
The dinner will celebrate Dobson’s time with St. Mary’s as well as his 35th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.
Saint Mary of the Angels’ bell, which has been part of the Olean landscape since 1878, weighs 2,500 pounds. It was cast in 1915 from the two former bells that hung in the bell tower of the previous church building built in 1860 by the Franciscan Friars at St. Bonaventure College — as the university was known at the time. Those bells were donated in 1878.
The basilica’s bell is designated for use in calling people to pray or to announce a Mass beginning or the presence of a dignitary. In years past, it was rung three times per day.
Before telecommunications or internet, the bell was an important communication device in Olean used to announce the death of important citizens or to alert the city of major news. At the announcement of the end of World War I, the bell rang 100 times in the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 11, 1918.