St. Joseph in North Bend celebrates 150 years of faith
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
By Eileen Connelly, OSU
ST. LAWRENCE DEANERY — Throughout the past year, members of St. Joseph Church in North Bend marked their 150th anniversary with a variety of activities including a concert and a parish picnic. The anniversary celebration came to a close with a Mass on Sept. 19 at which Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr presided. Concelebrating were Father Mike Savino, pastor since 2003, and priests who have served at St. Joseph in the past, along with those from the St. Lawrence Deanery and other area parishes.
“We recall the generations of faith-filled people, our ancestors in faith, who brought our family and friends, and more importantly, our faith, to southwest Ohio,” Archbishop Schnurr said. “This responsibility, this mission, entrusted to them by Divine Providence, was undoubtedly marked by exhaustion and discouragement. As Catholic families that had settled near North Bend and Cleves approached Bishop John Purcell asking for a Catholic Church, they must have wondered whether their efforts on behalf of the faith, on behalf of the church, really made that much difference in the eyes of God and whether successive generations would, in fact, reap the spiritual benefits from their labors.”
“Our presence here today testifies to the fact that they did not labor in vain,” the archbishop continued. “Our churches and our schools are monuments to parents, grandparents, friends and relatives, who by their sacrifice and good example, steeped our parishes in the faith. They placed their efforts in the hands of the Lord and, as we witness today, their witness to the faith, though humble and, what at the time undoubtedly seemed ineffective, has contributed beyond human imagining to the extension of the kingdom of God in southwest Ohio well beyond their lifetime. We all owe debts of gratitude to those who have gone before us.”
Although St. Joseph Parish was formed in 1860, its first members were without a church and attended Mass at home or in neighboring Delhi. Priests from St. Aloysius-on-the-Ohio celebrated Mass in a one-story building which still stands today in Sayler Park.
It wasn’t until 1886 that property was purchased on Taylor Avenue for the construction of the first St. Joseph Church. Working for 96 cents a day, railroad laborers built the structure with stones from an Indiana quarry. The church was dedicated on July 31, 1887, and, while the number of Catholics initially living in the area was small, the parish served a large territory that bordered both Ohio and Indiana. That first church also served as a gateway into Cincinnati with its gleaming gold cross that could be seen by riverboat captains on the Ohio River as they approached the Queen City.
St. Joseph’s rectory was built in 1911 on Harrison Avenue, approximately 100 steps above the church, and an adjacent building and property were donated. In 1961, when renovations to the original church were no longer practical, plans were made to build a new facility on that property.
To pay for the structure, then-pastor Father Robert Leugers began a crusade to redeem Ohio sales tax stamps. In response, more than 200 volunteers mailed between 3,000 and 5,000 letters each day asking Ohio residents to donate their tax stamps, which could be redeemed by religious and charitable groups for a certain percent of face value. Over a six-year period the state reimbursed the parish $260,000. Although postage, paper ink and envelopes took about half of the money earned, the rest went toward the building of the new church and school, which cost $200,000. The building was dedicated in 1962, and, today, parishioners still boast of the “church that stamps built.”
In the late 1990s new housing developments and retail growth in and around North Bend, Cleves and Miami Township led to tremendous growth at the parish, and the need for expanded worship space became evident. Father Savino recalls arriving to begin his tenure at St. Joseph just as the parish was about to break ground on the present church in 2003; the new structure was dedicated the following year.
“My experience here has been great,” Father Savino said. “I immediately found the people to be so welcoming, and that’s one of the things we’re known for. Visitors will always walk away with the comment of how welcoming and friendly our parishioners are. That’s part of our mission statement. We want to include everyone.”
Currently serving more than 900 families, Father Savino said the diversity of the faith community adds to the richness of parish life. He believes what attracts people to St. Joseph is inspiring music, meaningful homilies and genuine hospitality.
The parish’s 150th anniversary is a “great reminder that the people here at St. Joe’s have tried to keep the message of Christ alive,” Father Savino said. “It’s important to them. It’s a reminder of their faith and their commitment as Catholics. There’s a remarkable spirit alive here at St. Joe’s.”
At the conclusion of the anniversary Mass, Father Savino thanked those gathered and expressed the parish’s gratitude for the ministry of the Sisters of Charity over the years.
Archbishop Schnurr praised St. Joseph’s choir, saying he found the music and the congregation’s response to be “very prayerful and inspiring.”
“I hope you realize that you have something very special here,” the archbishop said, commending the faith community’s commitment to fostering vocations and recalling how his own call to the priest was nurtured at the parish level.
“The seed is planted by God, but the parish plays an important role in seeing that seed is nourished and cultivated,” Archbishop Schnurr said.
Matt Robben, a fourth-year seminarian at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and St. Joseph parishioner for 16 years, agrees.
“My family and the members of St. Joseph have forced me to look at my life and what God is calling me to. Everyone is so involved here, from lectoring to hospitality, and under Father Mike’s leadership, you can’t help but become active in ministry. It makes you look at how you can keep improving and following God’s call,” he said.
Dan Leonhardt is another active parishioner, along with his wife, Janet, and has served as a euchartistic minister, lector and member of the anniversary committee. He remembers the warm greeting they received the first time they attended Mass at St. Joseph 10 years ago and has been happy to call the parish home since then.
“The anniversary Mass was beautiful, just extraordinary,” he said. “Our parish has a history of having a family atmosphere and of working together and we’re continuing to grow. That’s a reason to celebrate.”
“It’s been a very special time for us,” added fellow parishioner Judy Pittman. “We have a good bunch of people here and a pastor who gives 150 percent. His dedication and love for the church filters down to us. We are a family here, and this is the first church where I’ve felt that so strongly.”