Sister of the Liberty Bell Returns to St. Augustine Parish

An iconic bell symbolizing religious liberty has returned to its home parish, summoning all to safeguard the “sacred right” to worship.

Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Senior presided over a May 7 prayer service at St. Augustine Parish in the Old City neighborhood, where he blessed the Sister Bell — a 150-pound lesson in early American history, and a reminder that “the precious gift of religious freedom … cannot be taken for granted,” said the bishop.

Celebrating the bell’s long and lively journey to St. Augustine were Augustinian Father Bill Waters, pastor; Philadelphia City Representative Sheila Hess; Philadelphia City Councilman Mark Squilla, who also presented a citation of honor from the city for the occasion; James Cuorato, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Independence Visitor Center; and some two dozen parishioners and area faithful.

Originally cast in 1754 to replace the Liberty Bell, which had cracked upon its first testing, the Sister Bell hung in the shadow of its repaired (and later re-cracked) older sibling, tolling the hours at what later became Independence Hall.

In 1777, both bells were smuggled to Allentown to avoid seizure by invading British troops, and were returned to Philadelphia in 1778. About 40 years later, the city transferred the Sister Bell (also nicknamed “The Other One”) to the Augustinian clergy who served Old St. Augustine Parish, located at 4th and Vine Streets.

Amid a fierce surge in discrimination against Catholics and immigrants (particularly those from Ireland), the church was burned to the ground on May 8, 1844 by members of the Native American political party, often called the “Know-Nothings” for members’ secrecy regarding their affiliation and activities.

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