Little known facts: Meet the Cowan Bells

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A crowd gathered to watch Bishop Thomas Tschoepe bless the Cowan Bells before their installation in the tower. Photo courtesy of the UD Archives.

It’s a sound you heard daily, often to remind you that you were late for class or that it was time to take a break and get dinner. It’s the sound that reminds you Mass will begin in five minutes. It’s the sound of the Cowan Bells.

But unless you make the trek to the top of the Tower and look closely, you might not know that each of the bells has a name: Columba, Agatha, Catherine of Alexandria and Andrew.  

As their names suggest, these bells were forged to be much more than a mere alarm clock.  Drs. Donald and Louise Cowan chose these names to signify the role they would serve in the university.

Columba, the largest of the four, weighs 1,990 pounds and rings in the key of F. Its namesake, the the sixth century Irish scholar and missionary who is famous as the patron saint of poets, is also known in Ireland as Columkille, or “Dove of the Church.” Constantly heard from the Tower rafters, the University of Dallas’ dove still makes its presence known to its hearers down below.

The second largest bell, Agatha, is an A. One of the early third century Christian martyrs, St. Agatha is known for her purity and unshakable faith, whose type of martyrdom made her known as the patron saint of bells.

Catherine of Alexandria, named after the patron saint of philosophers, students and teachers, is in the key of C.

Andrew is the smaller F, weighing 253 pounds. Its namesake apostle is known as the “first-called,” and died in Patras, Greece, the final stop of Rome students before their return to the Eternal City.  

The Tower had been standing in silence since its construction in 1966, until a donation from the Carl B. and Florence E. King Foundation funded their construction and installation, which was completed in 1976.  

The four bronze bells were officially blessed on Nov. 18, 1976, by Bishop Thomas Tschoepe.  Students and faculty packed the tower-side of the mall for the christening and dedication of the bells to the Cowans.

  “This touching tribute could completely undo us,” Louise Cowan said. “If we did not recognize it springs from and gives testimony to the loving bonds of community among us rather than to any accomplishment of our own.  Each, the bells tell us, is a part of a whole; all are bound up in the life of each. No one within their radius can choose not to hear their call to unity; their incessant reminder informs us of the necessity to forgive, to aspire, to harmonize, to love.”

On Nov. 22, a crane hung the bells in the side of the tower, and they rang for the first time at their formal dedication on Dec. 5.  

The bells became affectionately known as “Cal, Aggie, Kate and Andy.”

There is a church tradition that the sound of blessed church bells can repel demons. Perhaps in a similar way, the Cowan Bells are part of the reason UD has stood up so well to the ups and downs of the decades.  

Perhaps, their constant call to harmony has done more to preserve this place than we realized.

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