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Church Bells at 6 A.M. Irking Some Near St. Helen in Ukrainian Village

By Alisa Hauser | August 9, 2013 6:44am
 Churches in Ukrainian Village have been ringing bells multiple times daily for years, to signify Mass times as well as for special events such as anniversaries and funerals. But not everyone enjoys the sound of the bells, which ring for under two minutes and at 6 a.m. in some cases.
Church Bells in Ukrainian Village
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UKRAINIAN VILLAGE —  Churches — and their bells — have been part of the Ukrainian Village neighborhood since the Great Chicago Fire. But for some residents, the sounds are getting a bit old.

A spirited back-and-forth was sparked recently on a neighborhood Facebook page, when sales exec Todd Brandel, who recently moved to Ukrainian Village, wondered why St. Helen Catholic Church ringing its bells every morning at 6 a.m.

His objection is not about religion, he said.

"To be clear, my disdain for this noise has nothing to do with the religious aspects of it. I don't care if it's church bells, a car alarm, a dog barking or a garbage truck. Loud, repetitive, disruptive noise at 6 a.m. is not cool in my book," Brandel said in an email to DNAinfo Chicago.

Meanwhile, Roger Romanelli, an executive at a nonprofit who lives across the street from St. Helen, 2315 W. Augusta Blvd., earlier this year asked Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy to force the church to stop the "daily violations" of the city's noise laws.

"Every day at 6 a.m., and every Sunday at 6 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., the church rings its bells 40 times, and sometimes 100 times," Romanelli wrote to McCarthy. "In the summer, we cannot open our windows at night because the church's daily morning bell awakes everyone."

The complaints about the bell-ringing have angered some traditionalists. On the Facebook page, Brandel was called a "negative Nancy" who ought to consider moving to Iowa, while neighborhood gadfly Joe Lake dropped the F-bomb, and said the Catholic Church has been ringing bells at 6 a.m. "since the Middle Ages."

"If you don't like it, there is something you can change ... your place of residence," one neighbor wrote.

But Brandel also had support: "If I tried blasting a recording of church bells out my windows at 6 a.m., the CPD would be on me faster than I could blink," one person posted.

The comments became so unneighborly that page administrator Steve Niketopoulos removed the entire conversation.

Romanelli said he has lived in an apartment across the street from St. Helen for nine years. He recently wore earplugs to bed but said he was still awakened by "the gonging bell" at dawn. The plugs, he said, "didn't work."

Brandel said he found the ringing of the bells "to be a rather odd practice given the fact that the church is situated in a densely populated area and the City of Chicago has noise ordinances that are supposed to prevent this kind of thing."

"I learned that this is part of the Catholic tradition and has been going on for far longer than I've been alive [let alone lived in the neighborhood] and some kind of special dispensation was given to [exempt] the church from the noise ordinance," said Brandel. "I still don't like it, but I can live with it."

In a letter to Romanelli, Near West District Police Capt. Ronald Pontecore Jr. said that St. Helen is not in violation because city noise laws allow for the ringing of bells, as long as they do not ring for more than five minutes in an hourly period.

St. Helen rings its bells at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. for one minute and six seconds — as it has for 50 years — and therefore does not violate the noise ordinance under "the five-minute rule," Pontecore wrote.

The pastor for St. Helen wasn't available for comment, but church secretary Agnes Brandys said that Romanelli was the only one who has complained about the bells. She said church leaders had reached out to Romanelli.

Omelan Kluchnyk owns a three-flat in the neighborhood and prays in front of a statue at St. Helen on evening walks, but he worships at nearby St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral. He said complainers "should have thought of that before they moved here."

"When you see a church, you ask, 'Are the bells ringing?' " he said.

The daily bells from St. Nicholas, 835 N. Oakley Blvd., also can be heard in the neighborhood. The Rev. Bohdan Nalysnyk, pastor of St. Nicholas, said he was "sorry to hear" about bell complaints, "but this is life — people complain."

"When you hear the bells, it's part of your life. It calls you to be a good Christian, to how you are supposed to live," Nalysnyk said.