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Immaculate Conception Parish, Botkins, celebrates 150 years of faith

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Immaculate Conception in Botkins is celebrating its 150th anniversary. (Courtesy Photo)
Immaculate Conception in Botkins is celebrating its 150th anniversary. (Courtesy Photo)

As Immaculate Conception Parish in Botkins, Shelby County, celebrates 150 years, long-time parishioner Mike Gehrlich sees it as a time to remember, reflect and give thanks.

“As you work to compile all of the information about the parish, you realize how dependent we are on what went before us,” Gehrlich said “What we have today is so dependent upon our parents who were members and grandparents. They did their turn to be good stewards so we need to be prepared to be good stewards ourselves.

“For those of us who have been here so long, having lived in one place and not having to pick and move to another, you discover you have to deal with the challenges. You can’t run away from them. And that’s the real key to celebrating 150 years —the real key to the success of this or any other parish, or family or unit. You have to face the challenges.”

As the nation focused on the sacrifices and suffering of the Civil War, ambitions to build a church to serve the Botkinsville community — later shortened to Botkins — were set aside until 1865, when Father Joseph Goebbels, then pastor at nearby St. John in Fryburg, helped organize the congregation of Catholics at Botkins out of which came Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church. The cornerstone was laid in June, 1866, said parishioner Rachel Barber. “The first Mass was celebrated in the not-quite-completed building a year later. This church served until 1961, when it was replaced by the current structure, dedicated in August 1962.” she said.

The parish is now the faith home to more than 400 families. Barber told the history: Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Parish was the fourth and final parish to emerge from Sts. Peter and Paul and the settlement at Petersburg (1836). It followed St. Joseph at Wapakoneta (1839), St. John the Evangelist at Fryburg, and St. Lawrence at Rhine (1856).
The establishment of the parish in inextricably linked to the settlement at Botkins. Local farmer and landowner Richard Botkin arranged with the organizers of the coming Dayton & Michigan Railroad to give them a mile-long right of way through his property in exchange for a railroad station. Shortly before his death in 1858 Botkin requested that a town be formed; the village of Botkinsville was platted in July of that year.
With its promise of transportation opportunities for farmer and industrialist alike, the arrival of the Dayton & Michigan — the first railroad in the western part of Ohio —- assured the new village of economic opportunity, drawing settlers. The first Catholics are said to have arrived in the village itself in 1860, worshipping at Sts. Peter and Paul and the other area parishes.

The parish officially celebrated its anniversary Oct. 25 with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr with Father Patrick Sloneker, pastor, and Father Daniel Hunt, associate pastor concelebrating. Recognized were parishioners who received sacraments during the anniversary year — baptism, first Communion, confirmation and marriage — along with parishioners over 90 and couples married 60 years or more.

“A Future of Hope,” the closing hymn for the Mass, was written specifically for the occasion by nationally known contemporary Christian composer Curtis Stephan. The anniversary committee commissioned Stephan to create a hymn that would reflect the remarkable history of the parish, as well as the promise of the future. The refrain: “Your plans are for joy; Your plans are for peace; Your plans are for life in abundance for all who believe. As in ages past and in years to come, there’s a future of hope.”

Mary Louise Dietz, the oldest parishioner at 98, blew out candles on one of the birthday cakes with the assist of Father Sloneker, Father Hunt and former associate pastor Father Matt Lee. Some 150 oak trees were given out at the celebration

“It is a wonderful privilege and blessing to be pastor of such a vibrant parish,” said Father Sloneker. “It is a privilege because the people of God at Immaculate Conception are most generous, merciful, holy and loving. It is a blessing because the people of Immaculate Conception continue to help me be a holier man and a better priest and pastor The people of Immaculate Conception Church have adapted to the sacrifices and benefits of ‘regioning’ with St. Joseph and St. John parishes in a most admirable way, as did the people of St. Lawrence more than 25 years ago when they “regioned” with Immaculate Conception.”

This feature also appears in the December 2015 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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