Bell tower, focal point at Victory Noll, speaks volumes to Carney about missions

Sister Alodia Carney stands in front of the bell tower at Victory Noll, located on the plaza in front of the Holy Family Building.
Sister Alodia Carney stands in front of the bell tower at Victory Noll, located on the plaza in front of the Holy Family Building. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published June 5, 2014.

The large bell encased in a tower, which stands as the focal point at Victory Noll, was cast in 1885, is 31 inches in diameter, weighs 550 pounds and rings the musical note of "C."

But it is what the bell symbolizes that speaks to the heart and life's calling of many of the sisters at Victory Noll, and Sister Alodia Carney in particular.

"It's so prominent to us because it's a mission bell ... the bell calls us to missions," she explains. "It is reminiscent of the bells and bell towers of the mission churches of the American Southwest, where Victory Noll sisters carry on much of their ministry.

"We started in the Southwest in 1922, so that's why the mission bell is so important to us ... to me it is an icon of the missionary life."

Carney began her life as a missionary in 1952. She had grown up on a farm in Iowa and had just completed high school, working selling tickets in a bus depot in Dubuque, when a magazine from Indiana caught her eye and became her inspiration.

"It was my first mission," she recalls. "It was exactly what I wanted. I learned about Victory Noll through a newspaper ad that came out of Huntington, Indiana, in Our Sunday Visitor. It pictured a sister, under a tree, teaching children who were sitting on the grass. I said, ‘I want to do that.'"

She joined Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters and, after training at Victory Noll, she began teaching. Sometimes sitting on church steps, sometimes gathered in the back yard or someone's living room, Carney shared love and the gospel with children and their families, many of whom were migrant workers.

"I have taught in a van, with children so unruly that I said to the van driver, ‘Don't let them out of the van - we'll have classes right here!'" she laughs. "It was a 15-passenger van ... they didn't miss class but I wanted them inside the van - I didn't want them to scatter."

As a missionary sister, Carney subsequently served in San Antonio, TX; California; Colorado; Gary, IN; Detroit, MI; and Fort Wayne. She also traveled in Mexico, Spain, Italy and Ireland.

Sometimes her work led her to many odd places - and some dangerous ones as well.

"The surrounding area was often violent and crime-ridden in some of those places. We carefully worked in pairs. We were in contact with each other," she recalls.

"Sometimes we would have an evening meeting in the church hall, and we all left at the same time, walked to the parking lot at the same time. We never let one person go by themselves out to the car. We all went together ... We took care of each other in that way, moving in groups."

Once an intruder broke into the house in which she was living. Carney says it was in an area with many good families, but also people who had lost their way, often using drugs and hustling to get money however they could.

"We were at home at the time - there were four of us," she says. "When we shouted our alarm this person heard us and ran away ... The trouble is, he came back the same night. The police did come. We had the police with us quite often because the precinct headquarters was close by and we had become good friends with the police officers."

Eventually the would-be burglar was caught and served time in prison.

But despite the challenges, Carney says her most rewarding experiences involved what she calls "welcoming the stranger" and seeing positive changes in the lives of those she touched.

"In most of these areas we were welcoming the immigrants, most of them from south of the border, offering them hospitality, friendship, religious education. That's what they were asking," she says.
"They were immigrants but for their children, they wanted a church connection. And that was exciting to provide that for them. And sometimes in the midst of it all, they disappeared. They were deported. That was a heartache."

Carney's hobbies include reading and Indiana history. She has also been active in social justice, working in community with other sisters and parish leaders to combat human trafficking, not just in third-world countries, but also in the United States.

Even after her retirement in 2011, Carney, at age 85, still considers herself to be on the mission field, greeting strangers to Victory Noll and making them feel at home. She often gives visitors tours of Huntington and its attractions. In addition, she assists other sisters with tasks such as letter writing and phone calls.

She says the idea is that everyone has something to give in whatever stage of life they are in, and that makes up their own particular ministry.

"Even in the most common circumstances, we are a missionary in that we have the opportunity to be of assistance to someone else - maybe simply by a comforting word or recognizing a person, looking at them and recognizing them," she says. "Thanking them for a favor or a service that they give, however simple it is. That's within the reach of everybody."

The bell at Victory Noll plaza is rung for various occasions, such as for prayer, worship, celebration of feast days or for funerals. Whenever a sister's body is carried from the chapel the short distance to the cemetery, the tolling of the bell accompanies her.

But mostly, whenever Sister Carney hears the bell ring out, it reminds her that its call to missions is for everyone, to find their calling in life and do it.

Complete caption: Sister Alodia Carney stands in front of the bell tower at Victory Noll, located on the plaza in front of the Holy Family Building. On the three sides of the tower are painted murals symbolizing morning, noon and night, reminders of the liturgical hours of the day. The bell is an inspiration to Carney as a call to missions, reminiscent of bells and bell towers of the American Southwest, where Victory Noll sisters carry on much of their ministry.