So in answer to my question, I can confirm that this relic from the past is in fact a call system indicator, from those days when presbyteries were staffed with housekeepers.  I did like one person’s suggestion that it could be the dumb waiter control, that sends your gin-and-tonic to one of three rooms (perhaps this person knows me too well?)!

This gadget certainly seems quaint by today’s standards.  Mosts priests are quite capable of getting around a kitchen nowadays, and not too many houses have much of a “housekeeping” presence beyond the essentials.  I might add that the position of presbytery housekeeper was even more significant in the not-too-distant past, before parish offices with multiple staff people became the norm.  In the absence of an office with staff, it was often the housekeeper who manned the phones and the door, and was the first person people came into contact with in contacting the parish.

Parish life has changed, and we no longer ring bells or push buzzers to have our gin-and-tonic (–oops, I mean cup of tea) delivered or the plates cleared away after a meal.  But we’re still grateful for the women who work in and care for our presbyteries, keeping everything in order, and making life a little easier.