When you drive past St. Mary’s University or walk the campus, what stands out most to you? St. Louis Hall? Chaminade Tower? The water fountain in front of the school? Whatever it may be, nothing stands out more, literally, than the Barrett Memorial Bell Tower. The late Susana Barrett envisioned a striking centerpiece for the campus that would bring together the St. Mary's community. With the help of her son Charles T. Barrett Jr., a St. Mary's alumnus, this vision became a reality. It was primarily through his efforts that this project was funded and in addition, met with President Cotrell and Brother Jim Jakely, to form a committee which traveled around the country examining other school's bell towers in order to get inspiration for our own. The 100-foot memorial tower was dedicated to the Barrett family at a ceremony on February 2, 2007. At this ceremony, the former President of St. Mary's, Charles L. Cotrell, Ph.D., recognized the Bell Tower as the "centerpiece of the campus landscape" and an area that "[transformed] this space into both the geographical and spiritual center of the St. Mary's campus."
Although the Bell Tower is relatively new to campus, it can be hard for those who attended or worked at St. Mary's before the construction of the tower to remember what the school looked like before it was built. LaRae Sleeter, attended St. Mary's from 1988-1993, remembers that part of this area was an accessible parking area, and the other part was a large open field where intramural sports took place. One of her first memories of this area was a story she heard of the naming of the mascot, the Rattlers. According to Sleeter, the area where the Bell Tower is now used to be the football field that would have to be cleared of rattlesnakes before games were played. Even though it may be difficult to imagine what the Bell Tower area used to look like, it’s hard to negate the fact that the Bell Tower is an aesthetically pleasing asset to the school.
The Bell Tower captivates everyone's attention at St. Mary’s. Before there was a Bell Tower, when the school song, "The Bells of St. Mary's," was sung, faculty, staff, and students would point in any direction while singing this song. After the tower was built, it's now tradition to point towards the Bell Tower when singing the song.
The original placement for the Bell Tower was going to be in Alkek Plaza, but this idea was quickly dismissed by architects, engineers, and St. Mary's community members who were working on the project. They felt the placement of the Bell Tower in its current location was more appropriate because of its centrality to campus. Today, the Bell Tower serves as a central meeting area for groups on campus including the Marianist three o'clock prayer.
One of the most shocking facts about the Bell Tower is that the bells inside of the tower aren't real bells, they are made of styrofoam. All the aspects, including the design, the engravings, and the bells, that make up the Bell Tower are what make it unique and special to this campus. The Barrett Memorial Bell Tower of St. Mary’s University will forever, as former President Cotrell describes, “symbolize the strength, heritage and traditions of excellence at St. Mary’s.”