"The bell is our symbol," Pallante explained. "The bell doesn't just ring for church — it's for everything. If somebody died, you know because they ring the bell."
After Monongah, nobody ever notified them that their loved ones had died. They never rang the bell for them.
So they made a special bell. They brought it to America, where it finally rang for the Monongah miners, as West Virginians and Italians stood silently side by side in the cold square, both hearing a list of names that sound like home.
'We know from Sago, this could happen again'
As the sun finally rose over the steep mountain, snow lay untouched over the graves of the Monongah miners.
Little kids shouted and sledded down the other side of the cemetery hill. In a few hours, the throng of people from the square would crowd onto this one-lane country road to pay their respects.
First, though, they would attend a Mass for the dead.
One hundred years ago, when corpses and body parts were being pulled from the wreckage of the mine, nobody stopped for a church service. Women were hustled through the bodies, allowed to hastily identify their dead husbands and sons, and then the bodies were immediately buried — without the burial Mass the mourners, many of them Catholics, would have wanted. Some men are still entombed in the mine.
Thursday's Mass was solemn and elaborate, as if to make up for the shortfall of 100 years earlier. Knights of Columbus honor guards in scarlet capes and feathered plumes preceded five priests into Monongah's Holy Spirit Catholic Church, where white-robed altar boys and girls bore lighted candles and smoldering incense.
Bishop Michael Bransfield, clothed in golden vestments, read the gospel of John: "I am the resurrection and the life ..."
He addressed Gov. Joe Manchin, who was in the congregation, thanking him for working for coal mine safety.
"We know from Sago, this could happen again," Bransfield said, referring to the mine explosion in nearby Upshur County that killed 12 men less than two years ago.
"No matter how much technology has advanced, no matter how smart we think we are ... This could happen again tomorrow."
When it came time for the prayer of the faithful, the speaker prayed for the safety of the modern-day coal miner.
"Lord," the entire congregation responded in unison. "Hear our prayer."
To contact staff writer Tara Tuckwiller, use e-mail or call 348-5189.