August 30, 2019

Ringing in a special moment

Mom’s surprise for her son’s 16th birthday reverberates with joy for everyone involved

Amanda Noles, her son Cayden, and her parents, Don and Linda Dale, pose for a photo with the World Peace Bell in Newport, Ky., in the background. Cayden, who is blind and autistic, loves the ringing of bell systems, so as a surprise for his 16th birthday his mother planned a weeklong journey to visit bell systems in Kentucky and Indiana, including one of his favorites at St. Michael Church in Cannelton in southern Indiana. (Submitted photo)

Amanda Noles, her son Cayden, and her parents, Don and Linda Dale, pose for a photo with the World Peace Bell in Newport, Ky., in the background. Cayden, who is blind and autistic, loves the ringing of bell systems, so as a surprise for his 16th birthday his mother planned a weeklong journey to visit bell systems in Kentucky and Indiana, including one of his favorites at St. Michael Church in Cannelton in southern Indiana. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Tom Huber was touched when he read the note from the 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 such bells. He was particularly enthralled while listening to a YouTube video of the ringing of the bells at St. Michael Church in Cannelton in far southern Indiana during the Christmas season. And since Cayden had listed St. Michael among his top 10 favorite bell systems in the world, she decided to surprise him with a road trip of about 500 miles to see it, hear it and hopefully ring it.

After reading all those details in the June 24 note from Noles, Huber picked up his phone to call her in his role as the then-parish council president of St. Michael.

What followed is a story that reverberates with joy for everyone involved.

‘A picture of Christian hospitality’

“I told her about our church and our community and a recently remodeled

bed-and-breakfast across the street from the church so they could stay there and hear the church bells ring every 15 minutes,” Huber said about his first phone conversation with Cayden’s mom. “When she found out about it, she made all the arrangements.”

Cayden, his mother and two of his grandparents then made the drive from their home in Little Rock, Ark., arriving in Cannelton on Saturday, July 20. It was nine days before Cayden’s actual birthday, but the celebration began with some early gifts.

The initial one came on that Saturday when Cayden heard the bells ring for the first time. Then his mother told him that she saw a large church bell that was mounted near the steps leading into St. Michael Church. That bell was from the former St. Patrick Church in town that was torn down in 1901, according to Huber. Cayden beamed as he rang that bell. An even bigger thrill for him came on Sunday morning, July 21.

That’s when Cayden pulled the ropes to ring the church bells of St. Michael before and after the parish’s Sunday morning Mass. Parish members also held a reception for Cayden, his mom and his maternal grandparents—Don and Linda Dale—following the Mass.

Cayden described the experience of ringing the church bells at St. Michael as “spectacular.” On the day he rang the bells, Cayden explained the appeal of the sound of the bells for him: “I feel like Jesus has placed them in my heart to actually uplift my spirit.”

His mother feels the same way about the parishioners of St. Michael. “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.”

‘I will never forget that’

As he rang the bells at St. Michael, Cayden wore glasses, just as he often does.

“Cayden wears glasses for protection of his eyes,” his mother explained. “He is blind. He has light perception only. He is able to tell if there are bright lights on or off, and this also helps him to see shadows of things.”

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

 As far as his mom’s surprise gift for his 16th birthday, Cayden said, “I think I will never forget that.”

Their new friends at St. Michael have the same reaction.

“It was such a privilege to make this happen for this young man,” Tom Huber said. “We were just elated to have them come to our church. It was such a feel-good morning for our small community. It touched so many people. And it was a neat occasion because it made him so happy.”

Huber’s wife, Jane, views the welcome of Cayden and his family as a reflection of the parish’s history.

“We are very proud of our beautiful, historic church,” she says. “Visitors are constantly complimenting the church interior and how well it is preserved. It is a difficult task for a small parish, but we are tirelessly working and planning events to help support it.

“We are celebrating our 160th anniversary this year. We hope it will serve as a refuge for all who are seeking Jesus Christ for another 160 years.”

Count Cayden and his mom among the people whose lives have been touched by the extra efforts of the parishioners of St. Michael.

“They were just very nice, and very welcoming,” Cayden said.

His mother added, “It was definitely a 16th birthday gift we will never forget. Cayden and our family will cherish the memories at St. Michael’s Catholic Church forever.” †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!