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Scalabrinian presence in Cincinnati to end after 124 years

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The interior of Sacred Heart church as seen on the parish website. (Courtesy Photo)

By John Stegeman
The Catholic Telegraph

Just three years after their order was approved by Pope Leo XII, the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo (C.S.) made their way to Cincinnati.

A priest of the order, popularly referred to as Scalabrinians after their founder Bishop Giovanna Battista Scalabrini, helped found Sacred Heart Italian parish in downtown Cincinnati in 1890. When the current pastor of Sacred Heart, now in Camp Washington, retires, it will mark the end of the Scalabrini presence in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati after 124 years of service.

Father Vincent Cutrara C.S. is the present pastor of the church and said after his retirement in June, the order will be turning the parish back over to the archdiocese. Father Earl Fernandes has been named as the parish administrator after Father Cutrara retires.

The once 300-family strong Italian parish from 5th and Broadway in downtown Cincinnati eventually merged with the predominantly German Camp Washington church of the same name in 1970 but all along, the pastors and assistants who served there were Scalabrini Fathers. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form has been offered at Sacred Heart for the past couple of decades and the parish is also known for its nearly 100-year-old tradition of hosting annual Italian dinners.

The Scalabrinians original mission was to serve the Italian immigrants to the Americas and Cincinnati’s Italians were without a home parish in 1890. A meeting of Italian speakers gathered to discuss a parish and present among them was Father Angelo Chiariglione C.S., who had been sent by Bishop Scalabrini himself. Father Chiariglione would become Sacred Heart’s first pastor.

When the downtown church was sold to make room for Proctor and Gamble’s expansion, the parish merged with its present location. Numerous articles and Letters to the Editor exist in The Catholic Telegraph archives extolling the work of Scallabrini priests who have served Sacred Heart.

Demographic changes in the neighborhood surrounding the church, the construction of Interstate 75 and and the inculturation of Italian immigrants into mainstream culture has left Sacred Heart parish in a different state.

Former Pastor Father Mario Raulzi, C.S. retired in October and now lives in a California retirement home. He served Sacred Heart for 25 years and said the situation there is unique.

“There is a real difference from an ordinary parish because most of the faithful are coming from outside of the parish,” he said. “There might be approximately, if any, 15 families within the boundaries of the parish itself.”

Many people attend the 11:30 a.m. Sunday Mass in the Extraordinary Form, and others, Father Raulzi said, come to the 9:30 a.m. Sunday Mass in English because of past connections to the church. While Father Raulzi said few parishioners are Italian anymore, groups such as the United Italian Society of Cincinnati still use the parish auditorium as a meeting space.

The dispersion and inculturation of Italian immigrants throughout the United States has also shifted the focus of the Scalabrinians themselves.

“Our order initially was for the Italian immigrant but has now shifted in emphasis toward the Hispanic,” Father Cutrara said. “There are more demands to be made in that area. So our vocations are mainly coming from that community. We do have a number of parishes in the western United States that are predominantly Hispanic.

“The reason for our departure is because we don’t have any replacement for the work here,” he added.

“It boils down to lack of personnel,” Father Raulzi added. “Since the reason and the scope of our religious community is assistance to the migrants… We’ll, there are no migrants at Sacred Heart.”

Father Fernandez, an archdiocesan priest with a connection to the Scalabrinians, said the order will be missed.

“I’m going to miss the Scalabrinians,” he said. “They have been model priests, always showing hospitality and retaining their missionary charism. They have preserved the Italian ethnic heritage of the parish, while welcoming new parishioners. They inspired me to be a priest, mostly through their faithfulness to the Lord, but above all, through their love for their flock.”

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

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