MIDDLETON TOWNSHIP — Part of a Catholic Church that burned to the ground 66 years ago in Susquehanna County has returned to service.
The bell on top of that church is ringing once again near Lawton, after being buried since the 1940s and it’s back where that church stood all those years ago.
It’s the sound Jerry Guiton has been waiting nearly 70 years to hear again: a century-old bell ringing out on this hilltop near Lawton.
“That’s a great sound,” Guiton said. “I love it. I’ve been waiting a long time for it, but it was worth it.”
The bell used to stand high above St. John’s Catholic Church. But in 1947, a fire ravaged the church, leveling it. And after all the flames, parishioners buried the bell. At least that’s what neighbor and church-goer Jerry Guiton had been told.
All these years later, he decided it was time to try and dig it up.
“It was a gamble. I wasn’t sure what we’d find. I thought maybe there would be pieces of it but to find it all in one piece is just great.”
Guiton showed us photos of the dig last year. He was amazed finding the buried bell all in one piece and in pretty good shape.
“When you saw it was the shape of a bell, you must have been thrilled.”
“yes, we had a lot to work with, yes,” Guiton replied.
“That was your moment, that was a big moment.”
“Did you ever think it was going to be in this good of condition?”
“No. no we didn’t.”
The bell has been restored with very few signs of damage from that fire and all those years underground.
“It has a crack here like the liberty bell so it gives it more character.”
Now Guiton and Randy Long work to finish the new home for the bell at the site of the old church, the current St. John’s Cemetery after years of talking about finding it and restoring it.
“I told him that was an awful good idea and I think I spoke too soon. I said, ‘Jerry, you dig up the bell and I’ll put up the structure to hold it’ and he’s held me to it,” Long said.
“It really is (an incredible spot for it,)” Guiton said. “It makes me so happy to see it up in place. That’s where it belongs.”
“By golly, we got it up, it does ring and I hope it rings down in the valley here for everybody,” added Long.
The bell will be rededicated at a mass Memorial Day weekend back at the spot where the bell rang before many masses at St. John’s Catholic Church in Susquehanna County all those years ago.