A tale of bells and more in stunning new Catholic church in Samoa

18 Lepea church II

The beautiful sounds of several huge bells can be heard ringing out from the new Church of St Theresa of the Child Jesus in Lepea in Samoa.

And the St Theresa 7’Oclock Fundraising Community, Auckland (affiliated to the Lepea 7am Sunday Mass Community, Samoa) was instrumental in finding the bells, and made a partial  payment towards the costs of the bells, as well as to the purchasing of other church building materials.

Aucklander Sofia Vito-Sumich, who comes from Lotopa, and is a parishioner of the Lepea Catholic Church, headed the St Theresa 7’Oclock Fundraising Auckland community for the 7’Oclock Mass Community Lepea, Samoa.

Her brother Fuiono Felise Vito managed the financing for the NZ$7million (WST$12million (Tala)) project.

Mrs Vito-Sumich told NZ Catholic that she was asked several years ago to try to find bells – specifically “four large ones” . . . “and I had no idea where to get them from”.

Initial enquiries in Christchurch did not prove successful, so she took out advertisements in NZ Catholic in 2019 seeking assistance.

Several responses came in, including one from Mr Bernard Hempseed of Christchurch, who gave her some contact details for a London organisation.

“So I emailed, telling them the full story of the need for bells, and they got back to me and said we will refer to the people who buy the bells and restore them and resell them. That’s how I got in contact with these people.”

According to the booklet printed for the opening and blessing of the church by Apia Archbishop Alapati Lui Mataeliga on December 16, “the largest bell of the four was purchased from Whites of Appleton Ltd . . . and the other three bells were purchased from Nicholson Engineering Ltd, in England”. The bells, which date from the late 19th century, weigh 1067kg, 790kg, 560kg, and 472kg respectively. A bell from the old church in Lepea is also used.

“The bells were reconditioned, tuned, painted, and [had] all other associated works . . . to prepare them before exporting to Samoa, as well as prefabricating of the bell frames. All these works were carried out by Nicholson Engineering Ltd . . . All the bells are electrically operated [with] swing chiming and [are] remote controlled,” the booklet explained.

The overall cost for the bells was WST180,000, NZ Catholic understands. Mrs Vito-Sumich said that much smaller bells could have been bought from the United States, but they would have been much more expensive.

When the new bells were rung for the first time at Lepea at midnight on June 1, 2022, together with all other church bells of  the whole of Samoa to mark the 60th anniversary celebration of Samoa’s independence, one observer said that it brought back memories of the wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981 and also of The Sound of Music, Mrs Vito-Sumich said, adding that some members of the fundraising communities and the Vito family were among the many Samoans who returned from overseas to attend the opening and blessing of the church, which was a peaceful and joyful three-day event.

“They [the bells] were absolutely beautiful,” she said.

The parish at Lepea is made up of two communities – the 7 o’clock and 8 o’clock Sunday Mass communities.

“They all worked together on this project,” Mrs Vito-Sumich said.

“My brother managed the finance – WST$12million (NZ$7million) altogether. Close to half a million was raised from here in New Zealand. Eleven plus million was raised in Samoa itself, the whole of Samoa. All sorts of fundraising initiatives took place – golf tournaments, walkathons, corporate balls . . . As one orator, a Samoan Government cabinet minister, said, it is a magnificent church of ‘Samoa’. The whole of Samoa contributed.”

Mrs Vito-Sumich told NZ Catholic that her fundraising committee in New Zealand raised about NZ$300,000 net. The 8am Mass Fundraising Community, Auckland, also fundraised in New Zealand for the 8am Sunday Mass Lepea Community, Samoa, for the church. The rest of overseas funds were donations from Samoan families overseas. Funds raised in New Zealand by the 7’Oclock Fundraising Community were put back to the New Zealand economy, as funds were banked in New Zealand and were utilised to purchase building materials in New Zealand.  In doing this, it saved loss of funds through foreign exchange, Mrs Vito-Sumich said.

Forty-six stained glass windows in the new church were designed and fabricated by New Zealand company A Touch of Glass.

“It is a magnificent achievement, a magnificent project. It is absolutely worth every effort put in. We are overwhelmed with pride for everyone’s achievement,” Mrs Vito-Sumich said, adding that the project is basically close to debt-free. Lepea parish raised no loan.

Mrs Vito-Sumich noted: “As the saying goes in Samoa, ‘E tagi I lima le galuega’. Meaning ‘Through the toil of our hands’. It is a work of love. “

She paid tribute to Fr Ricky Bernard, the main builder for the project, who worked with a workforce of 24 carpenters and labourers. Fr Bernard also built the cathedral at Mulivai, Apia, the opening booklet stated.

The decision to build a new church at Lepea came after the previous one on the site deteriorated and became structurally unsafe. The old church was demolished in 2014.

Archbishop Alapati Lui Mataeliga donated five acres of land at Malololei to Lepea parish to help raise funds for the new church.


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Michael Otto

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