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Holy Cross Church in Dayton marks a century of faith

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A 100th anniversary Mass was celebrated at Holy Cross Church in Dayton on June 22. Pictured from left are Father Michael Halloran, former pastor, Marianist Father Johann Roten of the University of Dayton, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Binzer, and Father Eric Bowman, administrator of Holy Cross Church. (Courtesy Photo)

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Holy Cross Roman Catholic Lithuanian Church in Dayton has been celebrating a century of faith in a variety of ways.

The parish’s 100th anniversary Mass was held June 22, with Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Binzer as the main celebrant.  Concelebrants were Father Eric Bowman, Holy Cross Church administrator, Father Michael Holloran, former pastor, and Marianist Father Johann Roten of the Marianist Library at the University of Dayton. The Knights of Columbus Color Core will also participated. A special luncheon followed in Holy Cross Church hall.

Holy Cross Church is one of four parishes in the Old North Dayton cluster that also includes Our Lady of the Rosary, St.Stephen Hungarian Catholic Church, and St. Adalbert Polish Catholic Church. A four-parish picnic was held July 12 on the grounds of Holy Cross Church with food and entertainment. The Vejeliai Lithuanian Folk Dancers and the renowned Frank Moravik Polka Band from Cleveland performed.

On Aug. 10, following the 10:30 a.m. Mass, a special luncheon was held to conclude the celebration and to mark Aaron Geiger’s 25th year as organist of Holy Cross Church. Geiger began at the age of 15 and has been the prime organist for the past 25 years.

Holy Cross Church has been the center of Lithuanian culture and worship for a century. At the 10:30 a.m. Mass the readings are in English and Lithuanian. There are always two hymns in Lithuanian at every Mass. The parish’s roots go back to 1886 when the first Lithuanians immigrated to Dayton. There were originally five men. By 1889, Lithuanian families numbered 24, and by 1902, there were 300 Lithuanians in Dayton. They settled to what was known as North Dayton, now known as Old North Dayton.

In 1902, St. Peter’s Fraternal Society, the oldest organization of Holy Cross, began to actively concern itself with the establishment of a Lithuanian parish. Land was purchased at the corner of Leo and Rita streets at a cost of $1,500.00. Thrifty Lithuanians did not want to incur further debt until a Lithuanian priest was obtained. On May 1, 1914, which is considered the official date of the establishment of Holy Cross Parish, Father Joseph Gricius was appointed the first pastor. The name Holy Cross was chosen because Lithuania is known as the land of the crosses, and the Lithuanian people often reminisce about the wayside crosses of their native land.

After much effort, work and sacrifice the church building was completed early in 1915 at a cost of $17,048.00. The new church was blessed on March 21, 1915. Over the years, the church fell upon difficult times. In 1935 under the leadership of a new pastor, Father Leon J. Praspalius, the parish finally emerged from its financial difficulties. The debt was paid off by the end of 1941.

In 1960, Father Titas Narbutas was appointed administrator and than pastor of Holy Cross Church. He began planning the church renewal project. The older and newer Lithuanian immigrants and the American-born generation wished to see Lithuanian motifs incorporated into the church. Lithuanian designs were imbedded in the exterior brickwork of the front. Glass doors with Lithuanian emblems were installed. A new bell tower was erected incorporating Lithuanian motifs. Inside the church, walls were removed and partitions with faceted slab glass panels were erected on both sides of the altar. The floor down the center aisle incorporates Lithuanian designs. The thick stained glass used for the windows and picture behind the altar were imported from France. The picture behind the altar portrays a panorama of crosses typical of what appears in Lithuanian landscape. The windows show Lithuanian style shrines representing the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Mother, the Passion of the Redemption and the Seven Sacraments. The side altars are Our Lady of the Gates of Dawn and St. Casimir, patron saint of Lithuania.

The Shrine of the Three Crosses was erected in 1965 on the northeast corner of the parish grounds in honor of all the martyrs for the faith. The crosses are of  Our Lady of the Gates of Dawn, Christ of Sorrows, St. Casimir, Our Lady of Siluva, and the Crucifixion. The inscriptions read: “In memory of all living and eceased parishioners and friends of the parish. Three crosses destroyed by the communists in Vilnius, Lithuania. In honor of the martyrs for faith and freedom in Lithuania and the other captive nations. Remember and pray.”

The remodeled Holy Cross Church with its original Lithuanian motif stained glass designs is the only church of this style, with this original type of stained glass design, in the United States.

This story originally appeared in the September 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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