Monday, December 23, 2013

St. Helena Cathedral

On Christmas morning in 1914 at 10 o’clock, the fifteen bells in the St. Helena Cathedral spire rang out for the first time inviting all to the dedication mass. Fifteen hundred people filled the sanctuary to capacity. The service culminated a six-year building project, and the cathedral was still unfinished, but the community did not seem to notice the lack of stained glass windows and statuary familiar today. The Right Reverend Bishop John B. Carroll conducted a memorable service, noting the absence of the two major contributors. Peter Larson, who died in 1908, was one major donor, and Thomas Cruse was the other. Cruse, who had died a few days before, gave $100,000 toward the building costs and paid for the fifteen bells in memory of his daughter, Mamie. The day after Christmas, the first Requiem Mass in the new cathedral was sung for him. Cruse’s life was a rags to riches tragedy. An Irish immigrant, he rose from poverty with the discovery of the Drumlummon Mine near Marysville. Cruse’s wife died in 1886, leaving him to raise an infant daughter. An overprotective and domineering father, he nearly smothered her.

Mamie Cruse. Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 941-807
Strong-willed Mamie was her father’s match. Three times married, twice divorced, and estranged from her father, she lived a life of dissipation and died in 1913 at twenty-seven. Each of the Cathedral bells is inscribed to Mamie and so they are sometimes called “Mamie’s Bells.” Montana historian Richard B. Roeder intended to write about Mamie's Bells but died in 1995 before he could fulfill that desire. Roeder’s obituary appeared on the Independent Record’s front page on Christmas Eve. By the strangest coincidence, next to his picture was Martin Kidston’s story of Mamie's Bells.

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