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Teen rings in 16th birthday with bells at Indiana Catholic parish

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IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Amanda Noles

By John Shaughnessy

CANNELTON, Ind. (CNS) — Tom Huber, former parish council president at St. Michael’s Parish in Cannelton, was touched by the note he received this summer from a mother who wanted to make a special birthday wish come true for her son.

"My name is Amanda Noles. I am the mother of a sweet boy, Cayden, who is blind and autistic," the note began. "Cayden will be turning 16 this summer, and I want to try to make it a memorable birthday for him in some way since he is not able to get a driver’s license or car like most 16-year-olds."

Noles went on to explain that "as a child with autism, Cayden has many obsessions," and one of his favorites involves bell towers from around the world, including Big Ben in London.

The Arkansas woman also noted that her son loves to listen to bells. He was particularly enthralled while listening to a YouTube video of the ringing of the bells at St. Michael’s in southern Indiana during the Christmas season. Since Cayden listed St. Michael among his top 10 favorite bell systems in the world, his mom decided to surprise him with a road trip of about 500 miles to see it, hear it and hopefully ring it, which he did.

Cayden, his mother and two of his grandparents drove from their home in Little Rock, Arkansas, and arrived in Cannelton July 20 — nine days before Cayden’s actual birthday.

The first present came when Cayden first heard the bells. The next day, he pulled the ropes for these bells before and after the Sunday morning Mass.

Parish members also held a reception for Cayden and his family after Mass.

Cayden said ringing the church bells at St. Michael’s was "spectacular." In describing their appeal, he said: "I feel like Jesus has placed them in my heart to actually uplift my spirit."

His mother feels the same way about St. Michael’s parishioners. "The people of St. Michael’s Catholic Church were a picture of Christian hospitality in action," Amanda Noles said. "They were all so friendly and went above and beyond anything we could have imagined. The mayor even came to greet us. I could go on and on about the wonderful people at St. Michael’s."

Her enthusiasm also overflowed when she recalled how Cayden reacted when the parish let him ring the bells twice, for an extended time.

"To see the huge smile on his face and the excitement pouring out of his body, my heart was filled with joy, and my smile was as big if not bigger than his," she said. "It meant the world to be able to give him the gift of experiencing the bells he had for so long only listened to on YouTube."

During their weeklong journey, the family visited eight other places in Indiana, Kentucky and Arkansas that have bell systems, including the World Peace Bell in Newport, Kentucky.

As far as his mom’s surprise gift, Cayden said: "I think I will never forget that."

Parishioners at St. Michael’s feel the same way.

"It was such a privilege to make this happen for this young man," Huber said. "We were just elated to have them come to our church. It was such a feel-good morning for our small community."

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Shaughnessy is assistant editor at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.


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