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Efforts underway to name Old St. Mary’s a minor basilica

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Catholics pray inside Old St. Mary's Catholic Church in Over-the-Rhine. The oldest standing Catholic church in the archdiocese is being considered for minor basilica status. (CT Photo/John Stegeman)
Catholics pray inside Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Over-the-Rhine. The oldest standing Catholic church in the archdiocese is being considered for minor basilica status. (CT Photo/John Stegeman)

By Walt Schaefer
For The Catholic Telegraph

Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr has granted his permission and supports efforts to name Old St. Mary’s Church, Over-the-Rhine, a minor basilica.

Old St. Mary’s, the oldest standing Catholic church in continuous operation in Cincinnati will be celebrating its 175th anniversary on July 3, 2017. A year-long celebration will begin next March and end in July 2017 — roughly the length of time it took to build the church.

Priests of Cincinnati’s Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri (Oratorians) oversee the parish. “With the Oratory being established at Old St. Mary’s, this would provide the clergy needed to staff a basilica and offer the liturgies, confessions, and spiritual guidance that the Vatican envisions basilicas offer,” said Father Jon-Paul Bevak, parochial administrator. “We believe this would be an honor to Old St. Mary’s with its anniversary, but also to the city and the Archdiocese, both of which are coming up on 200 years.”

Dan Andriacco, communications director of the archdiocese said Archbishop Schnurr “has given Old St. Mary’s his support and permission to pursue being named a minor basilica by the Holy Father. This will give Old St. Mary’s certain privileges, indulgences, and prominence. This is all part of planning for our parish’s 175th anniversary, which will kick off on the feast of the Annunciation 2016 and conclude on July 3, 2017.”

Father Bevak said the effort is in its initial stages. Basically, basilica designation “can be granted for a few reasons. First, because the particular church has a certain renown — because it was built for some historical or religious reason. Secondly, because there is the body or relics of a significant saint reserved there or because there is an image or statue of special veneration. Finally, the historical or artistic value of the church is also considered.” he said.

“The church should have enough clergy to see to the pastoral needs of the parish and parishioners. The church should also be an example in terms of its celebration of the liturgy and other sacraments,” Father Bevak said.

Not all of the criteria need to be met. “Rather, these are separate conditions which can be the basis for an application. Old St. Mary’s, while it does have several relics, including the remains of an early Roman martyr in the altar, would not be applying under that condition. We would mainly stick to the historical and artistic condition,” Father Bevak said.

“Application is first made to the Bishop’s Conference through one’s bishop — (in this case Archbishop Schnurr). Once the Bishop’s Conference is supportive, the application is forwarded on to the Congregation for Divine Worship. The Holy Father makes the final decision through the Congregation.

“Old St. Mary’s Church, the oldest standing house of worship in the city of Cincinnati, clearly meets many of the criteria for being named a minor basilica: It is prominent, it is beautiful, and the sacred music is outstanding,” said Archbishop Schnurr. “For these reasons, I am pleased to support the request that the Holy Father grant Old St. Mary’s this significant honor. The ultimate decision, of course, rests with the Holy See.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2015 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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