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St. Denis parish celebrates 175 years of faith

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The current St. Denis Church. (CT Photo/Jeff Unroe)

By Jane Pierron
For The Catholic Telegraph 

Members of St. Denis Parish remembered the faith community’s humble beginnings and marked 175 years of faith during a special Mass on Sept. 14. Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr presided at the liturgy, which brought a yearlong celebration to a close. Joining him as concelebrants were past pastors, Father David Vincent and Father Oscar Seger, current pastor Father Jim Simons, and current parochial vicar Father Ronald Haft. It was fittingly the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, reminding parishioners of their faith in Jesus Christ who suffered and died for them and who calls them to follow Him.

French settlers began arriving in the Versailles-Frenchtown-Russia area in the 1830s. They had no place to participate in Mass and receive the sacraments. At the time then Bishop John Baptist Purcell was the shepherd for the entire region of Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. He was tireless in traveling the area celebrating Mass and the sacraments with the people.

Recognizing the need for a French-speaking priest in the area, the bishop traveled to France and recruited Father Louis Navarron. Father Navarron arrived in the Versailles area in 1838, and established a parish for the French community in a year later. A log church was built at the current St. Valbert cemetery property as it was located in the center of the French population. The parish was named St. Valbert. Thus the story of St. Denis began.

The parish has spent the past year remembering who they are as people of faith and the faith of all those who walked the journey before them.  Although the location of the church has changed three times and the faith community is its fourth building, they are one with those who lived before them.

In October 2013, they began the yearlong celebration with a parish mission. Fathers Gilbert Enderle and Richard Luberti, members of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, commonly called Redemptorists, led the mission.  The goal of the mission was two-fold:  1) To recall the first mission preached in January 1850 at Holy Family Parish by Father Louis Gillet, pastor from 1849 to 1852; 2) To renew their relationship with God and give thanks for the faith passed on for generations.

In addition, a group from the parish traveled to the Alsace and Lorraine areas of France, where they met relatives of families who had traveled to Ohio and visited churches and cemeteries of their family members. Jane Pierron, pastoral associate at St. Denis, had the opportunity to pray in the parish church where her great-great grandmother prayed 175 years before.

Throughout the winter months, there was a brief story in the parish bulletin about each of the stained glass windows of the current church. On the south side are eight French men and women who have been raised up as saints by the church. On the north side are eight windows depicting the story of the Mass as it was celebrated in 1962.

Another way the anniversary was commemorated was the sale of a cookbook. Parishioners were asked to submit their favorite recipes and those of their relatives. More than 200 recipes were collected and included in the book that also featured stories, history and pictures of the past.

On July 12, in collaboration with the Knights of Columbus and their anniversary, the parish hosted a Family Day that included volleyball, jumpy houses for the little ones, corn hole, refreshments include cold drinks, juices, beer, pork loin dinners, hamburgers, hot dogs, chips and cotton candy. Mass was celebrated at the K of C Hall.

In addition, Cynthia Vogel wrote articles about the parish and the school, detailing St. Denis’ rich history and recalling the sacrifices and giving of its members and their deep faith and love of God.

There was also a yearlong “Year of Giving” project.  Each month the parish collected supplies and money for various needs within their community and beyond. The project served as a reminder to the St. Denis faith community to reach out to others and give from what has so generously been given to them.

A dinner in the St. Denis Church basement followed the closing Mass. Approximately 400 people attended, enjoying food and fellowship.

This article originally appeared in the December 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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