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Springfield Catholics celebrate St. Bernard milestone

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

SPRINGFIELD DEANERY — The city of Springfield has witnessed many changes in the last century-and-a-half, but the faith of parishioners at St. Bernard Church has remained a constant.

It’s always been a very active faith community, says Dorothy Griggs, 74, who returned to her childhood parish after living in Chicago and Florida.  Her father was at one time the maintenance man at St. Bernard; the family lived behind the church, so Griggs saw families filling the church for Sunday Mass. A dozen Sisters of Charity ran the parish school, and Griggs’ mother, Almeda, did their laundry.

St. Bernard Church
St. Bernard Parish in Springfield celebrated its 150th anniversary Mass July 11. (CT/Jeff Unroe)

“The school was very busy and very strict,” remembered Griggs. “We didn’t have any lay teachers when I went to school here. It was well structured, gave us a good education and taught us how to live.”

Memories and stories flowed as parishioners and guests filled St. Bernard Church for the parish’s 150th anniversary Mass July 11.
 
In the mid-19th century Catholics in the Springfield area attended St. Raphael Parish, dedicated in 1850. But as the number of German Catholics in the area increased, they desired a church of their own. The group held their first Mass in the home of William Griblenhoffer. Descendants of the Griblenhoffer family still retain the chest of drawers used as an altar for that first Mass.
 
According to the March 13, 1867 issue of the Springfield Daily Republic: “The German Catholic congregation of this city has purchased all of the ground lying on the Lagonda Road between Columbia and North Streets, of the Warders. A large and beautiful edifice is to be built on the high ground at the point where the road turns northward at the end of Columbia Street. The building is to be 60 feet wide and 124 feet long; the walls will be 42 feet high above the basement. The spire will be 162 feet higher than the roof of the edifice. The entire cost will exceed $20,000.00.” The patron saint of the new parish would be St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

The cornerstone was laid in October of that year with Cincinnati Archbishop John Baptist Purcell in attendance. Archbishop Purcell urged parishioners to make inroads toward building a parish school.

 St. Bernard Church was dedicated on Independence Day in 1870 by Bishop Sylvester Rosecrans, the first Bishop of Columbus.
 
In his homily for the 150th anniversary Mass, Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr spoke of the early priests who ministered in the area, including Fathers Edward Fenwick and Harry Junker. Dominican Father Fenwick would become the first Bishop of Cincinnati, while Father Junker would be appointed the first bishop of Alton, Ill., now the Diocese of Springfield, Ill.
 
Joseph Link, Archbishop Schnurr noted, traveled from Springfield, Ill., to Springfield, Ohio, in 1870 to teach at St. Bernard. The parish children were educated in the rectory until a two-room school was opened in 1874.
 
“Our presence here today testifies to the fact that they did not labor in vain,” Archbishop Schnurr said. “We think of the sacrifices they made to bring the faith and to establish the faith in this area, and indeed, in all of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Our churches and schools are monuments to parents, grandparents, friends and relatives who, by their sacrifice and good example, steeped our parishes in the faith.”

The archbishop also spoke of the need for Catholics to work together to address the challenges facing the church in the future.

Jean Glendening
Jean Glendening, a lifelong member of St. Bernard Parish, meets Father Elmer Smith, pastor emeritus, for the first time after the anniversary Mass. (CT/Jeff Unroe) 

“If we are to be the church as Christ intends we must understand that status quo can have no place in our ecclesial vocabulary,” Archbishop Schnurr said. “The mission of the church, its role in bringing about the kingdom of God, requires that the church be forever young, forever dynamic, forever moving forward. We must always be asking ourselves ‘What in God’s plan must we do next?’”

More than 300 people attended the anniversary Mass, including a number of former parishioners. A hymn was composed in honor of the anniversary, and in a nod to the parish’s German heritage, the men of the choir sang the first verse of the recessional hymn in German.

Several priests with a connection to the parish concelebrated the Mass with Archbishop Schnurr. Among them was Father Gerald Haemmerle, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Kettering who grew up in St. Bernard Parish.

St. Bernard was “for me and for my family, in many ways, the center of our lives,” Father Haemmerle said.  “I’m sure my vocation came from there.”
 
When Father Haemmerle decided to enter the seminary after eighth grade, then-pastor Father Cletus Rieger was a source of support and encouragement for the young seminarian. During summers off from the seminary, Father Haemmerle worked at the parish.

“I was thinking of things of the past when I was sitting there during Mass,” Father Haemmerle said. “It brought back memories.”

Phil Bobay and his wife, Jan, who have been members of St. Bernard Parish for nearly 30 years, like the close-knit atmosphere of the faith community.

“It’s a wonderful parish,” Bobay said. “It’s just such a nice parish and an older parish [with] wonderful people, and we just enjoy being here.”

A reception and dinner followed the Mass.
 
Father Paul Hurst, pastor of St. Bernard, said the anniversary is “an encouragement that we’re doing OK and that God is with us.”

David Eck can be reached at deck@fuse.net.

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