A NOTE TO THE READER
A comprehensive history of St. Mary of the Assumption has not been properly and formally undertaken. Much of the early history is buried in darkness, and those that made it, have long since gone to their reward. What follows is by no means complete, but we hope it will serve as a historical sketch of the highlights and summaries of pastorates, of the life of God’s people, gathered together at St. Mary in Lancaster, Ohio. This sketch is the fruit of parish historical collections, resources from the Catholic Telegraph of Cincinnati and The Catholic Record Society of Columbus, local newspapers, and books that tell of the history of Lancaster and Fairfield County.
First Mass in Lancaster
Father Edward D. Fenwick, O.P. offered the first holy Mass at the home of Michael Garaghty, in the original portion of the present Mumaugh Memorial – Fairfield County Foundation, at the corner of Main and High Streets (pictured right). Fr. Fenwick the “Apostle of Ohio,” his nephew Fr. Nicholas D. Young, O.P., and other Dominicans continued to travel from St. Joseph in Somerset to minister with some regularity to the Catholics of Lancaster for a number of years after this Mass.
Our local paper, the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, did a write-up when our parish marked the 200th anniversary of this first Mass on August 14, 2017. Read it here.
Founding of the Parish
Although Saint Mary is commonly understood to be the second oldest parish in Ohio, an exact date of the founding of the parish by the Order of Preachers in the Diocese of Bardstown, KY is not known beyond 1817-1819.
In regard to the organizing of the parish, the great Dominican Historian and Biographer of Bishop Fenwick, Father V. F. O’Daniel, points to a time after the first Mass in 1817 and before the 1819 dedication of the church building. However, since friars from St. Joseph in Somerset cared for the people initially, it would seem likely Saint Mary’s parish wasn’t organized until after St. Joseph’s 1818 founding. The best we can come to the founding of St. Mary then would be between late 1818 and before the first church’s dedication at Easter of 1819.
Diocese of Bardstown
Initially, the whole United States (such as it was in the 1800’s), was under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Baltimore, Maryland. On 8 April 1808, the Church established Baltimore as an Archdiocese with four suffragan dioceses: Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Bardstown, KY.
From Wikipedia: “The Roman Catholic Diocese of Bardstown (Kentucky) was established… out of the territory of the Baltimore Diocese, the first Catholic diocese in the United States. When founded, the Bardstown Diocese included most of Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. The geographical area was large, and today there are 44 dioceses in the area comprising the original diocese… [Bardstown is] the direct predecessor of the Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville, as the seat of the diocese moved from Bardstown to Louisville in 1841.”
Easter of 1819
Dedication of the 1st Church
After the founding of the parish came the building of the first church. Fr. Nicholas D. Young, O.P. blessed and dedicated the small frame church at Easter of 1819.
Read a Description
The entrance to the little chapel was on the east end. A stairway on the outside led above the door and gave entrance to the balcony where the choir gave their responses and sang the anthems while Fr. N. D. Young, or some other missionary, chanted the mass. No elegantly carved oak pews were their’s, neither had they marble altars. Humble though it may have been, it was dedicated to their Creator by Fr. N. D. Young, and was to our forefathers the source of the same joys as come to those who worship in Milan’s Cathedral.
– The Centenary of St. Mary book
June 19, 1821
Diocese of Cincinnati is Established
When the Diocese of Cincinnati was established, Fr. Fenwick was named the first bishop. St. Mary of the Assumption was then transferred from the Diocese of Bardstown to the Diocese of Cincinnati. The Illustrated History of the Diocese of Columbus said Cincinnati had four parishes across the state of Ohio at that time: Saint Joseph in Somerset, Saint Mary’s at Lancaster, Saint Patrick’s outside Cincinnati, and a warehouse in Zanesville, called Holy Trinity.
Fr. Thomas H. Martin, O.P. becomes 1st resident pastor
From the founding of the parish, Dominican priests from Somerset had spiritual care for the people of Saint Mary. In 1834, Fr. Thomas Martin, O.P. was made pastor and was the 1st resident pastor.
Fr. Nicholas D. Young, O.P. served as pastor from September 1836 until 3 November 1839. Fr. N. D. Young, who it seems had first organized the parish and certainly did bless and dedicate the first parish church, would be the last Dominican friar to serve as pastor.
Read about Catholics at Saint Mary
The Catholic population of Lancaster, in Fairfield County, is of the most respectable and enlightened in the State. There are many distinguished converts. The church is a frame building, rather inconveniently situated. It is much too small for the Catholic congregation, who therefore contemplate, as soon as the present pecuniary embarrassments shall have been removed, to commence a new and larger building, in a more eligible part of the town. The Bishop had the satisfaction of meeting here with many of the congregation he formerly served near Emmittsburg Md., and of seeing them attain among the most zealous and edifying members of his flock. At this request of the citizens, he preached two evenings, in succession, to crowded audiences, in the court house… There are upward of one hundred communicants in the Lancaster congregation. 17 persons were confirmed.
– The Catholic Telegraph (6 May 1834).
Read about the Priests
Initially, the Dominican Friars from Saint Joseph in Somerset took care of the people of Saint Mary, namely Father Fenwick and Father N. D. Young. There were other priests who gave spiritual comfort to the people of Saint Mary and who recorded sacramental entries for the parish located at Saint Joseph – Somerset: Father John G. A. Alleman, Father H. D. Juncker (later Bishop of Alton, Illinois), Fr. Geo. F. A. Wilson, and Fr. J. V. De Raymacher.
Father Stephen T. Badin (pictured), was the first priest ordained in the USA. According to a diary entry of Bishop Flaget of Bardstown, he and Father Badin visited the Lancaster Catholics while traveling Zane Trace from Kentucky to Baltimore in 1812. Father Badin served the people of Saint Mary on several occasions afterward and is identified in the sacramental records as administering baptism to two children on 2 June 1839. He returned to Saint Mary to be present for the dedication of the second church building in 1840.
Baptismal Record Above
For historical interest and to demonstrate how carefully our records have been kept, the above is a picture of a page of entries in the baptismal register by Fr. Martin. The literal translation follows:
October 19th, 1834. I baptized Thomas, son of Jacob Lannon, and Mary Hill, husband and wife. Sponsors were Henry Hughes and Jane Riordan. F. Tho. Martin
October 19th – I baptized Martin, son of John Powers and Catherine Shorlock, husband and wife. Sponsors were Andrew Maher and Mary Hill. F. Tho. Martin
October 21 – I baptized Jacob R. McCune, son of John McCune and Rosanna Rogers, husband and wife. Sponsors were Mich. McCune and Elenor O’Reilly. F. Tho. Martin
November 2 – I baptized Rosanna, daughter of Daniel Elms and Hanna Clark, husband and wife. Sponsor was Winifred Lilly. F. Tho. Martin
Fr. Josue M. Young becomes 1st Diocesean Pastor
In 1839, the bishop of Cincinnati, J.B. Purcell sent Fr. Josue Moody Young to Saint Mary as her first secular clergy pastor. With the arrival of Fr. Young came the first wave of significant change for our small pioneer parish, beginning with a new church building. Young served 15 years at the parish before being moved and shortly thereafter, being consecrated bishop of the Diocese of Erie, PA.
Pictured right, an image of the parish sacramental register documenting Fr. Young giving First Holy Communion to children of our parish on 15 August 1842.
Read about a new church
Fr. Josue M. Young quickly assessed the small frame church as too small for the rapidly growing congregation and took steps toward building a new church. A site for a new and larger church was selected and purchased just up Chestnut Street on the top of Main Hill at the corner of High and Chestnut Streets.
In 1841, a substantial and well-built brick building was built – the basement was to serve as the school which Father Young had envisioned, and the large second floor was the church proper. A bell brought from a convent in Spain was installed atop the church to call the people to the sacred liturgy.
On the 15th day of August, A.D., 1842, the feast of the Assumption of the B. V. M., I gave First holy Communion to the following boys and girls, John Riffle, Sophia Uhl, Martin Bish, Margaret Granan, Francis Oberle, Helen Granan, Louis Feist, Elizabeth Lambing, Wendelin Shue, Mary Phillip, Thomas Wetzler, Dorothy Utz, Joseph Uhl, Catherine Frottinger, Catherine Shue, Mechtilda Walt, Emelia Harper, Magdalene Steck, Louise Binder, Cecilia Harper.
May God grant them the grace to persevere to the end.
Josue M. Young
November 1, 1840
Dedication of the 2nd Church
Just before the start of winter, the church was dedicated to divine worship by Fr. J. M. Young on 1 November 1840.
The Catholic Telegraph article on 21 November 1840: “Dedication of St. Mary’s Church”
The High Mass was sung by Rev. N. D. Young, O.P. The Bishop preached after the Gospel and Very Rev. Mr. Henni, at the end of Mass, addressed the German population in his usual graceful, impressive and eloquent manner. The day was inclement, but the church was crowded, and a more orderly and respectful audience we do not remember to have seen on any similar occasion. There were several first communicants at the morning sacrifice, and seventy-five persons, of whom twelve were converts, were confirmed in the afternoon, after discourses in German and English, by the bishop and Very Rev. Mr. Henni. the choir was very effective and occasionally powerful, reflecting much credit on the musical talent of Lancaster and evincing zeal, assiduity and success with which repeated rehearsals had been attended by all the members. – The Catholic Telegraph (21 November 1840)
St. Mary School is Begun
In the Summer of 1847, Father Young approached parishioner Eliza Gillespie to serve as the first teacher for the parish school. The basement of the church was a more than adequate space with heat, lighting, and plenty of desks to begin.
Eliza Gillespie would teach in the parish school until 1851. In 1853 she entered the Sisters of Mercy convent in Chicago but would soon go on to join the Sisters of the Holy Cross community taking the name Sister Mary of St. Angela in April of 1853. In 1854 she became the superior of the convent… read more about Sister/Mother Angela at Brittanica.
More about the School
From the beginning of his pastorate, Father Young began to voice his desire to start up a parochial school. Anna McAllister in her book Flame in the Wilderness recalls: “each day, [Young] made his spiritual rounds, he realized more forcibly the need of a Catholic school where the children would be instructed in religion, as well as the secular subjects.”
People of the parish were eager to assist in the school’s success and donated discarded readers and spellers. They also enrolled their children in the school; the response was so overwhelming, that a second teacher, Neal Gillespie, was brought in to educate the younger students!
Fr. Henry Lange becomes Pastor
Father Henry Lange became the fourth pastor of Saint Mary in February of 1854 and has been associated with some of the greatest efforts and sacrifices of the people of the parish which made possible the parish of today, especially the construction of the third and present church.
In the Spring of 1862, “fearing that these men serving their country would be denied the blessing of Holy Communion at Easter time, Father Lange paused in his great efforts toward building the church, and journeyed to the South to minister to his former co-workers. The joy of these men on seeing Father Lange and his sacrifice in their behalf, still lives in the memory of the congregation” (Saint Mary Centenary Book).
Father Lange, having untiringly served the Lord, and the people of Saint Mary for eleven years, died on 9 February 1864 and thus did not live to see the completion of the church.
Father Lange, like his predecessor, was young and enthusiastic and, like his predecessor, Lang immediately noticed the second church building was, again, too small for the still-growing congregation. Father Lange chafed under the disadvantage and soon had work begun on the new and present church in 1854.
The cornerstone, blessed by Bishop J. M. Young (former parish pastor), was placed in ceremony by the Archbishop of Cincinnati – J. B. Purcell, later that month on 28 August 1859. Work progressed but few church buildings would be built under such trying circumstances than those that would soon come with the Civil War.
Sympathy with Distress
Amidst the Civil War, construction of the new church, and financial challenges for all, under the leadership of a German pastor, the people of Saint Mary of the Assumption manifest the catholic spirit of our religion in a collection for the suffering poor in Ireland.
LANCASTER, O., March 20, 1862
Most Rev. Dearly Beloved Archbishop,
Enclosed I send you eighty-five dollars, which I collected at the Mass on St. Patrick’s Day. If not too much trouble, you will please forward it to the suffering poor of Ireland. You may send it to any part where it may be most needed. I am sorry that it is not more; our poverty must be our excuse for not giving more. May the bloodless martyrs of that fortunate country obtain for us a share of that fortitude and constancy in the faith which they have for so many centuries displayed to an admiring universe! God certainly displays the riches of His grace in their long continued sufferings. They behold the wicked persecutor, rich and powerful and prosperous in all his undertakings, whilst the servants of God struggle for existence and are unsuccessful. Still they do not despair, but on the contrary, they teach all nations that “God is good,” and gives eternal renown and happiness for our earthly loss. Blessed is the people that has faith and strength thus to exchange earth for heaven!
Your humble and obedient servant, and son in Christ, H. LANGE
N.B. The generous contribution of St. Mary’s, Lancaster, has been sent by Archbishop Purcell to the Bishop of Galway.
June 5, 1864
3rd and Present Church is Consecrated
Although the brick walls had not yet been plastered and the maze of posts and beams supporting the roof was still exposed, Archbishop J. B. Purcell Consecrated the church on 5 June 1864. Part of the decorations of the building included the statues of Saint Boniface and Saint Patrick, the national patrons of the dominant ethnic groups that comprised the congregation.
“It is one of the finest and largest churches in the country, and is a monument, better than marble or brass, to the memory of the much-lamented Father Lange, and to the piety and devotion of the Catholics of this city.” (The Lancaster Gazette, 8 June 1864)
Our parish church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is located in a Historic District in Lancaster.
Lancaster Eagle-Gazette article on June 4, 2014: “St. Mary parish to celebrate 150th anniversary [of the church’s consecration] with Mass”
Article on the Church Consecration
“The new Church of St. Mary, in Lancaster, Ohio, was solemnly consecrated by the Most Rev. Archbishop Purcell on last Sunday. During the performance of the sacred rite, which occupied three hours, the Right Rev. Bishop Young, of Erie, addressed briefly the large audience which had assembled outside the church. The Right Rev. Prelate had been formerly Pastor of the congregation, and his presence and words, amongst his former parishioners, were both most gratifying. At the conclusion of the consecration, in which the Archbishop was assisted by the Rev. Father Borgess of the Cathedral, Rev. Mr. Brummer, present Pastor, and the Rev. Messrs. Jarbo, Lilly and others of the Dominican Order, from Somerset, and Priests from adjacent missions, the Right Rev. Bishop Junker, of Alton, celebrated High Mass, assisted by the Rev. Edward Fitzgerald, of Columbus, as Deacon, and Rev. Mr. Voght, of Alton, as Subdeacon. After the Gospel, the Dedication Sermon was preached. There was present in the church a large audience, consisting not only of the Catholics of Lancaster but also of many from Circleville, Zanesville, Somerset and other points. The Papal Benediction was given by the Most Rev. Archbishop at the conclusion of the service.
The new church is a noble edifice and most creditable to the zeal of the late Pastor, Rev. Mr. Lange, and his devoted and most generous people. With the exception of the Cathedral [Diocese of Cincinatti], it is unquestionably the finest church in the Diocese.
We are indebted to Mr. Blair, general superintendent of the work, for the following table of dimensions. The extreme length is one hundred and seventy-two feet, width seventy feet, height fifty-six feet to the apex of ceiling. The tower is a large and solid structure of brick, is one hundred and four feet high, on which a spire is to be erected, making to the top of the cross two hundred feet. The walls of the church are all of hard brick, resting on a massive foundation of sandstone. All the ornaments are of this beautiful material which abounds in the neighborhood. The roof is slated. The windows of the church are filled with stained glass of different patterns, the donor’s name appearing on each. The interior is very attractive, and the arrangement of the sanctuary quite imposing. There are six octagon columns on each side, from which the finely executed groined arches spring most gracefully. The architect is Mr. Herman. The plastering, which we observed was particularly well done and without a blemish on its snowy surface, was by Mr. Bannan of this city. We observed crowds of people during the morning visiting the grave of the late Pastor, Father Lange, who was called to heaven just as the great work he had begun was completed. We found it covered and heaped up with fresh flowers, and men and women praying and weeping beside it.
The Catholics of Lancaster have reason to be grateful that God has given the zeal, perseverance, and generosity to accomplish so great a work in His name. They have set an example of true Catholic union and notwithstanding the demands made on their charity at home, they have been ever among the foremost when solicited for the Orphan Asylum or Seminary. They deserve to lead the way in every good work.” – Catholic Telegraph (8 June 1964)
The Post-War Years
The Civil War ended in 1865 and the veteran men of Lancaster returned home to see their new church, now a year old, for the first time. Saint Mary held a peacetime service after the men returned home, at which prayer was offered for the living, and the dead, and a special service was held at the grave of Father Lange. Fr. Lange’s earthly remains were later moved to the priest circle at St. Mary cemetery – marker pictured, right.
After several temporary pastors, stability returned when French-born Father Louis DeCailly was assigned pastor of Saint Mary in 1868. During Father DeCailly’s pastorate, the parish saw continued growth, the construction of a new parish house on Chestnut St. (pictured), and improvements to the school building to make more efficient use of the facility for the growing student body.
March 3, 1868
Diocese of Columbus is Established
October 4, 1869
St. Mary’s 50th Jubilee
St. Mary Welcomes the Dominican Sisters to the School
St. Mary Cemetery
1884 - Dec. 1905
Father Nicholas E. Pilger’s Pastorate
The Knights of Columbus, Council #1016, was chartered on 5 June 1905 with 74 members.
The three bells Fr. Pilger procured for the bell tower still call the people to prayer and ring the Angelus three times a day. The bells, St. Joseph, St. George, and St. John were named in honor of the societies who donated them.
In 1891 a three-year high school program was begun – in 1894 the first graduation took place with a class of ten students. St. Mary High School continues to this day, now called Wm. V. Fisher Catholic High School.
In recognition of his long and loyal service, His Holiness Pius X, conferred upon Pilger, the rank of Monsignor but he died in December 1905 and so the honor was laid atop his coffin and not upon his brow.
Article on Fr. Pilger's Death
“Scarcely had the notes of the Angelus died away when the solemn tone of St. Mary’s bells proclaimed to the people of Lancaster that a good man was dead – that Father Pilger was no more. All well knew and understood, both Catholic and non-Catholic, what sad news the bells of St. Mary proclaimed- that they beloved pastor and townsman had ceased his weary labors and gone to his reward. Quickly did this sad news spread throughout the entire community and on all sides could be heard in sad and solemn tones: Father Pilger is dead… In the funeral procession, which was about one mile long, walked men and women of all walks of life and conditions of life; and even the little school children and the ladies would not be deterred by the long and fatiguing walk to the cemetery. As the silent and solemn funeral procession, such as Lancaster had never seen before, wended its way to St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, south of the city, many were the heads that were bared along the route and many eyes filled with tears as they heaved a great sigh and said: “There was a good man.”” – “St. Mary’s Church at Lancaster”, The Catholic Home Companion, March of 1906
1906 - 1923
Building and Renovation toward the Golden Jubilee
Father J. B. Mattingly was made the next pastor. In 1907, a new school was built to replace the inadequate building that was formerly the second church. The new school was comprised of eight classrooms and cloakrooms, an office, a library and spacious halls, and a basement. To continue to support the growing number of Dominican Sisters, a new convent was built in 1808 to house the ten sisters and was furnished by private individuals and church organizations. Father Mattingly supervised the construction of an assembly room beneath the church and completed a new pastoral residence in 1911 on the site of the old 1840 church. All three buildings were built in a harmonious style and to stand the test of years. It was not uncommon to see Fr. Mattingly out with the men of the parish doing hard labor for these building projects.
Father Mattingly had kept an eye ahead to the parish’s centennial anniversary and in 1913, launched remodeling and renovation improvements in the church for the celebration a few years ahead. As a part of the remodeling, the parish’s Knights of Columbus Council 1016, with the help of some parishioners, installed a new pipe organ that served divine worship until 1987. A new marble pulpit was built at the communion rail on the left side of the sanctuary, new hardwood floors were installed, the side aisles were moved to the outside walls, and new pews were installed. Four confessionals and heating radiators were added to the sidewalls, and ceramic tile was laid in the aisles. In 1916, the windows were replaced with beautiful stained-glass windows crafted in Germany.
The Lancaster Gazette, Sept. 9, 1907 “Bishop Hartley Formally dedicates St. Mary’s Parochial School Building“
The Lancaster Gazette, Jan 31, 1912 “Splendid Residence of St. Mary’s Church Thrown Open Yesterday“
The Lancaster Daily Gazette, Dec. 10, 1908 “Saint Mary’s New Covent Opened“
The Parish’s Golden Jubilee
Saint Mary of the Assumption celebrated its Centennial from August 15-17, 1920. At this time, the parish congregation consisted of about three thousand persons.
The Centennial Celebration was a three-day affair that included a Solemn Mass, a parish dinner, a parade, and the unveiling and blessing of the Centennial Monument. The Solemn Mass, celebrated at 9.30 am that Sunday, began the official celebration of the Centennial.
The homilist, Father Kennedy, was a theology professor at The Catholic University of America, dean of the University’s faculty of theology, and would become the Prior of the Dominican House of Studies in 1922. Father Kennedy’s coming was a source of joy to the people of the parish, as he frequently assisted at Saint Mary when stationed at Saint Joseph in Somerset.
Article on the Special Mass
Article on the Parade
The rather large article will open in a new window.
A Focus on Catholic Education Begins the next 100
When Fr. J.B. Mattingly retired in 1923, Monsignor David P. Quailey, a noted scholar, was appointed the next pastor and served until 1948. It was made clear quickly, the emphasis he would place on Catholic education when in 1924 he changed the three-year high school format to a four-year college preparatory course of study. In 1928-1929 he spearheaded the building of a new Saint Mary High School building, complete with an auditorium and gymnasium.
Monsignor Quailey saw Saint Mary through the period of the Great Depression and the Second World War, under which many parishes, and schools specifically, strained greatly. Quailey was able to not only maintain the school but continue to add programs, even despite thinning resources. On 22 December 1947, an article in The Lancaster Eagle-Gazette described him as a man who was precise in his demands for high levels of education that boosted the school to one of the top in the state.
Church Additions and Redecoration
With the continued success of our parochial school system, Father Schaefer personally oversaw the expansion and remodeling of the convent to accommodate up to 35 sisters. Then, attention was turned to the church building for its second major remodeling. Two porches were constructed on either side of the main entrance and two side chapels were built. Interior church changes between 1953-1956 included: a new main Altar, a rearranged communion rail, the Assumption image being placed in a golf-leaf reredos against the apse wall, marble floor added to the sanctuary, ornate repainting of the interior, and new carved Stations of the Cross from Oberammergau, Germany. The year the renovations were completed, Father Schaefer resigned his pastorate due to failing health.
Expansion and Ministry to the Poor
Monsignor Roland T. Winel was a United States Navy chaplain during the Second World War and served at Pearl Harbor. He was serving as Chancellor to Bishop Michael J. Ready when he was appointed the pastor of Saint Mary in June 1956. In his first two years at Saint Mary, Winel would guide two very large and impactful projects and then begin to lead the parish through the initial developments and aggiornamento of the Second Vatican Council in his 12-year pastorate.
In 1958 Winel recruited seven men of the parish to organize a local conference of Saint Vincent de Paul to aid those coming to the parish for assistance.. By 1959, the men had organized the local conference and resources enough to rent a storeroom downtown. The local St. Vincent de Paul Store would relocate several times before opening the current store and warehouse in February of 1985.
Concern had begun to grow about the facilities at Saint Mary being adequate enough for the growing population, so a county-wide census was taken in 1959 to gather data. The Catholic Development Fund was begun to provide extensive improvements to Catholic facilities in Fairfield County by remodeling and expanding the Saint Mary Grade School building and the establishment of a new Catholic parish sites.
To the regret of the people, Monsignor Winel concluded his 12 years as the pastor and went into missionary work.
More on the Catholic Development Fund and New Parishes
Concern had begun to grow about the facilities at Saint Mary being adequate enough for the growing population, so a county-wide census was taken in 1959 to gather data. Monsignor Winel oversaw what would be the parish’s largest endeavor of its kind — The Catholic Development Fund was begun to provide extensive improvements to Catholic facilities in Fairfield County by remodeling and expanding the Saint Mary Grade School building and the establishment of a new Catholic parish site in Lancaster. In February of 1959, the goal was announced at $500,000. By the end of March, pledges totaled $726,335.
Saint Mary purchased 42 acres of land for what would become Saint Mark Parish (founded in 1959) and 23 acres of property for Saint Bernadette (founded in 1963). Additionally, as a result of the Development Fund, the Saint Mary high school building was remodeled to serve the primary school children and the old primary grade school building became the inner-parish diocesean high school and was re-named, Bishop Fenwick High School, a man dear to the parish.
Catholics Rise to the High School Challenge
The former Saint Mary High School, now Bishop Fenwick High School, was in serious danger of losing its state certification due to deficiencies in the building which had been built just after the turn of the century. The parish, without the Catholic high school, was an uncomfortable topic and although the parish had always been financially supportive of projects and improvements, this situation was going to be expensive.
Bishop Clarence E. Elwell named Monsignor John V. Wolf pastor of Saint Mary in June 1969. Wolf was sent to Saint Mary to face the high school challenge of building a new building. Twenty acres of land was purchased by the diocese with the funds raised and the ground was broken on 20 September 1970. The new building was opened in 1971 and the school was renamed, William V. Fisher Catholic High School.
More on Building the New High School
Bishop Elwell asked Wolf and the Catholics of Fairfield County to conduct a drive to raise $400,000, which would be matched dollar for dollar by the Diocese of Columbus, for the new high school. In January of 1970, Saint Mary kicked off the fund drive and local Catholics raised $471,500. Additionally, Mrs. William V. Fisher gave an additional $400,000 toward the cause in memorial of her late husband who was a neophyte to the faith and a pioneer in the local business community. Saint Mary and area Catholics were going to build their new high school. Twenty acres of land was purchased by the diocese with the funds raised and the ground was broken on 20 September 1970. The new building was opened in 1971 and the school was renamed, William V. Fisher Catholic High School.
Planning for the Future
Father William A. Dunn was named pastor in March 1981. Dunn, like those before him, was deeply invested in parochial education. During Dunn’s pastorate, a kindergarten program was begun in the school and Dunn spent two years teaching at the high school.
Of greatest note, Father Dunn led Saint Mary of the Assumption through the replacement of the church’s 1913 pipe organ which was beyond repair. Dunn formed an organ committee at the parish to help him guide the process. The Austin Organ Company of Hartford Connecticut was selected as the organ builder and a fundraising campaign was launched in 1987. The new majestic instrument consisted of thirty-four ranks of 2,093 individual pipes. The pipe organ (Opus 2714) was installed in early 1989 and first accompanied Mass at the Easter Vigil that year. We are blessed to have such a wonderful instrument to assist in the worship of Almighty God.
Renovation and 175th Anniversary in 1995
Bishop James A. Griffin appointed Father Martin V. Weithman pastor of Saint Mary in July of 1989. Weithman realized the need for interior care and maintenance of the church, and so formed a committee to research, study and plan for a major renovation of Saint Mary Church in July of 1990. Voices of Faith – Heritage of Generosity parish fund appeal was launched and the parish raised $950,000 for a number of important parish improvements: church renovation, school endowments, and cemetery care and improvements.
Father Weithman worked with parish council and other consultative bodies within the parish to not only carry out the church renovation project, but to devise a long-term maintenance plan for all parish buildings and a financial plan for the future of the parish, as well. The church renovation to enhance the Gothic features was complete by August of 1995, in time to celebrate the parish’s 175th anniversary. Additionally, Weithman began youth ministry activities at the parish and brought the ministry of permanent deacon to Saint Mary. He is remembered for empowering the people of the parish.
A New Century at St. Mary
In July of 2000, Father Weithman was given a new pastorate and Father Donald E. Franks was assigned our pastor until August 2011.
Fr. Franks always remarked about the generational faith, traditions, and legacies of Saint Mary. He was especially involved in youth ministry efforts at the parish, school, and high school where he could support the young people and be with their whole families.
Franks also saw to a number of improvements and proactive maintenance of parish buildings and grounds: tuck-pointing of the church brick, church finials were replaced with exact sandstone replicas, sidewalks replaced, parking lots paved, many improvements to the school buildings, a complete renovation of our parish hall and its commercial kitchen, renovation to parish conference rooms, and improvements to the cemetery: roads were paved, a new sign was added, and the crucifixion scene was restored.
2011 - 2017
Continued Growth and Significant Anniversaries
Father Craig R. Eilerman was made pastor in August 2011. Eilerman had served at Saint Mary previously, from 1996-1997, and came to Saint Mary with fond memories of deep faith life, multiple generations at Mass together, and being very supportive of priests.
In Father Eilerman’s time, a preschool program has been added to the school, men’s and women’s faith groups have begun, and a program was started for middle school and high school youth ministry. A new slate roof was installed for the church to replace the original 151- year-old roof. A 10-year strategic plan for parish buildings and the property was developed. Additionally, new recurring events have been added to parish life: a parish picnic each September, a Marriage Gala in February, and in late summer, a Catholic Kids Camp program for the children.
Several Significant Anniversaries
In 2014 we commemorated the 150th anniversary of the consecration of the church. A summer of celebration was had that included the Anniversary of Dedication Mass, special church tours a church museum display in the parish conference rooms, a special Corpus Christi procession, and the publication of a parish pictorial directory.
In 2017, the 200th anniversary of the 1st Mass offered in Lancaster was celebrated with a ceremony at the site of the Mass, a procession to the church for Mass with Bishop Fredrick F. Campbell, and an ice cream social following in the courtyard. No sooner was the celebration of the anniversary of the first Mass in Lancaster complete than attention and planning began in anticipation of the parish’s 200th anniversary.
Capital Campaign and Church Beautification
Saint Mary embarked on a capital campaign to raise over $2.5 million dollars for a number of priority projects. The campaign, One Faith, One Hope, One Family: The Tradition Continues, led by Father Eilerman and a number of parishioners on the campaign cabinet. The top priority was the beautification of the church, since worship of God is at the heart of our parish community, and long-term improvements in the school buildings.
From Epiphany 2019 until the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the church was closed for her beautification. All Lord’s Day, daily Masses, and the celebration of the sacraments continued at the Saint Mary Campus.
More on the Campaign Improvements
Church Improvements: The beautification of the interior of our church, including an upgrade to the restrooms, repair of water damage to the plaster walls, complete interior repainting, new lighting, renovation of the sacristies and moving the tabernacle back to a central place in the sanctuary. This beautification is the top priority since the worship of God is at the heart of our community and since the parish was about to inaugurate the bicentennial.
St. Mary School Buildings: Plans to renovate the restrooms in the east building, create a new entrance for the Pre-School, install air conditioning in both the east and west school buildings, and install an ADA-approved access ramp to the front of the east building.
August 2019 - August 2020
Parish Bicentennial Celebration
The bicentennial year (August 2019 – August 2020) was begun in the beautified church for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not only was the church packed with people in the pews and standing where they could, but the Mass was live-streamed online to some three hundred locations of people who had ties to the parish but were not able to travel for the Mass. Bishop Robert J. Brennan, Bishop of Columbus, was the celebrant and he was joined by a large number of priests of the Diocese.
A year of events followed (displayed right), some were interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but it was a wonderful celebration not only for the people of Saint Mary and the Catholics of Lancaster, but our joy was shared by much of our region of Ohio.
7 July 2022
A Decree from the Apostolic See
At the request of His Excellency, the Most Reverend Earl K. Fernandes, Bishop of Columbus, in a letter of 18 June 2022 expressing the prayers and desires of the clergy and the lay faithful, the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, with the power of faculties given to it by the Supreme Pontiff FRANCIS, very willingly bestows upon the parish church in the town of Lancaster that is dedicated to God in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Assumption, the title and dignity of a MINOR BASILICA, with all the attached rights and liturgical concessions to be observed as these are regulated by the Decree “Regarding the Title of a Minor Basilica,” promulgated on 9 November 1989.
All this is granted, anything to the contrary notwithstanding.
Issued from the office of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on 7 July 2022.
+ Arthur Roche, Prefect
+ Victor Francis Viola, O.F.M., Archbishop Secretary
On Sunday, 14 August, the Bishop of Columbus, the Most Reverend Earl K. Fernandes celebrated the Vigil of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the patroness of our parish, and at that Mass announced the decree from Rome. Bishop Campbell, Bishop Emeritus of Columbus and about 25 priests of the diocese were present also.
OUR THIRD CENTURY
The Church of God must be built within the souls of the youth of today… the heirs of the next century.
YOU ARE HERE.
YOU ARE A PART OF THE FUTURE OF ST. MARY OF THE ASSUMPTION
Since Saint Mary of the Assumption began her third century walking with the Lord, the same sentiment expressed in the parish’s 1964 commemorative booklet to mark the centenary of the church’s consecration holds true in the people of this parish:
The dateline has changed but the scene is much the same. Saint Mary Church has been a haven of peace for thousands of families… Far more important than the refuge which this provided for its parishioners was the pioneer spirit prevailing among them… The worship of God by His people became an increasingly more perfect act of praise and thanksgiving. Christan family living and the religious education of their children were focal points of these peoples’ existence.
The challenge to the Catholic people of Lancaster in the next century will exact no less sacrifice than that which was willingly and courageously made [in the past] “You shall be my people and I will be your God.” This is a pledge of both God’s mercy and His justice. Worship of Him may not diminish among His people; nor may His children be left unformed in His likeness.
Will you take up the life in our parish church
to which the Lord is calling you?