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St. Boniface celebrates 150 years

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Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr celebrates Mass in commemoration of St. Boniface's 150th anniversary. Father Joseph Robinson, right, concelebrated. (CT PHOTO/E.L. Hubbard)

By Patricia McGeever
For The Catholic Telegraph 

When you’ve been a constant and comforting presence in a community for 150 years, a tall celebration is in order. That’s exactly what is happening at St. Boniface Parish in Northside. 

The opening Mass celebrating the sesquicentennial of the parish was held June 2, with Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr presiding and Father Joseph Robinson, pastor, concelebrating.

“It was beautiful, prayerful and inspiring,” Father Robinson said

The exterior of St. Boniface Church. (CT Photo/E.L. Hubbard)
The exterior of St. Boniface Church. (CT Photo/E.L. Hubbard)

A reception followed on the church lawn with food and drinks being served under canopies. About 200 people attended.

The Mass and reception are the first of many events that the parish has planned for the next 12 months. To prepare for the Jubilee year, the church was scrubbed from top to bottom. For six months, scaffolding was set up inside the church to paint the ceiling and touch up other spaces. A portable altar was used while the work was being done and was moved almost weekly.

“People were so good about it,” said Pastoral Administrator Carol Roosa, concerning the inconvenience to parishioners.

The entire tile floor was taken up and replaced. Pews at the back of the church were removed to create a gathering space that has been used for visitations prior to funeral Masses. The lower landing outside the front entrance to the church is being remade into an Anniversary Plaza. It will be a place to remember loved ones with an engraved brick. The bricks are for sale now and the parish hopes to be able to dedicate this new space in the spring, about the time the celebration comes to a close.

To appreciate the history of St. Boniface, one must first understand the history of the neighborhood. In the early 1800’s families began moving into Cumminsville. Many Catholic immigrants came in the 1840s to help build the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Railroad. To attend Sunday Mass, these new residents would have to either travel to St. James in White Oak or go downtown. Archbishop John Baptist Purcell decided this new population should have its own parish and a modest church was built on Delaney Street in 1853. The new parish was named St. Aloysius, but within a few years, it became too small for the influx of Irish and German immigrants. Instead of building a bigger church, the archbishop decided another parish would be formed. On April 6, 1861, the congregation unanimously approved that the parish should be divided along ethnic lines. A drawing of lots gave the existing parish to the Irish which they renamed St. Patrick. The German community received $1,500 to build a new church. Property was purchased at Blue Rock and Lakeman Streets in 1862 and the solemn blessing of the new St. Boniface parish church took place on November 13, 1863.

Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr processes in at the start of a Mass June 2 in commemoration of St. Boniface parish's 150th anniversary. (CT PHOTO/E.L. Hubbard)

A school was built in 1879, and expanded in later years. By the early 1900s, St. Boniface had grown so large that St. Clare in College Hill and St. Pius in Cumminsville were formed out of it.

In 1921, the property at Chase and Pitts Avenues was purchased to build the present day church. It was completed in 1927, with the school being completed in 1933.

The Irish and the Germans would continue to worship in their respective churches until 1991 when St. Patrick was closed and the congregation merged into St. Boniface.

“The people realized that it needed to happen,” said Father Robinson, who was pastor at the time of the merger. “They were expecting it to happen. Father (Robert) Stricker and I, we worked together very well. We had good leadership from both parishes. The people at St. Boniface were most welcoming to the St. Patrick people.”

Father Robinson was named pastor of the merged parish in 1991, and remains pastor today. His great-great uncle, Father Godfrey Topmoeller, was one of the earlier pastors of St. Boniface.

The parish plans to continue its Jubilee celebration all year long. It will be represented in the Northside July 4 parade with a float.  A pancake breakfast is scheduled for Sept. 8. The Fall Homecoming Festival is scheduled for Nov. 24. And, in a nod to its blended cultural heritage, the parish will host a Celtic Concert with Tom Kendzia in March. The conclusion of the celebration will coincide with Father Robinson’s 50th anniversary of his ordination in May.

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