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Cathedral pastor retires after many years of service

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July 13, 2011

By Mike Dyer

CATHEDRAL DEANERY — Father James Bramlage never expected to be pastor of the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains for 20 years, but he truly believes the experience has been the highlight of his priestly ministry.


His years of faith-filled service were recognized during a Mass at the cathedral July 3, as the longtime pastor marked his retirement and the completion of 47 years in the priesthood. Father Barry Windholtz has been named the new pastor of the cathedral.


Matt Schwarz, a longtime cathedral parishioner, presents Father Bramlage with a bicycle before the pastor receives actual retirement gifts — a new car and check from parishioners.  (CT/E.L. HUBBARD)

Father Bramlage, who started at the cathedral on July 1, 1991, has several significant memories of his time as pastor over the years and he has enjoyed being able to serve those in the downtown community as well as those who travel a great distance to attend Mass. Father Bramlage was ordained at the cathedral on May 30, 1964. He served for 12 years as pastor of St. Raphael Parish in Springfield before arriving at the cathedral and, prior to that, he was an associate pastor at Ascension Parish in Kettering; St. Andrew Parish in Milford; St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Covedale; and St. Louis Parish in downtown Cincinnati. He also held several positions in the archdiocese administration from 1973 to 1980.


In the April edition of “Links,” the cathedral’s newsletter, Father Bramlage recalls that the first time he ever saw the cathedral was the day of its solemn rededication on November 3, 1957. He was in his second year in the seminary and a member of the seminary choir that sang at the ceremony.


“It was the most splendid ceremony I had ever witnessed and I was, of course, in awe of the beauty of the restored cathedral,” he said, adding that when he was ordained seven years later, “I certainly never imagined that I would one day be the pastor of that cathedral. It has been a great privilege to have served as the cathedral’s pastor for these 20 years.”


His worst moment in those 20 years was on June 8, 1999, when he awoke at 4:30 a.m. to the sound of the fire alarm and discovered that the cathedral was on fire. “My heart sank as I saw flames in the chapel window,” he said. “I think every pastor’s worst fear is that of a fire that would devastate the church.”


Fortunately for him and for the cathedral, the fire was confined to a relatively small part of the chapel, although the smoke damage to the entire interior of the cathedral required extensive work and cost well over a million dollars.


“The thing I take the most pride in is the quality of the liturgy over the 20 years,” Father Bramlage during an interview in June. He said the music is included in that, and he has enjoyed the selection of traditional and contemporary pieces over the years. He believes it’s one of several ways the cathedral has engaged the church community.


Anthony DiCello, who has been the cathedral music director for the past 17 years, said it has been an “absolute joy” working with Father Bramlage.


“The thing I will most remember about Father Bramlage is the respect and kindness he has always shown to me,” DiCello said. “He has been an outstanding pastor and administrator of the cathedral.”


DiCello said Father Bramlage was responsible for hiring him as music director in 1994. The two have become very good friends since then, and Father Bramlage credited DiCello for the great music over the years.
“He entrusted to me the responsibility of developing the cathedral’s music program, and I think he is very proud of what we have achieved,” DiCello said. “Along the way, I could not have asked for a more supportive, caring and encouraging pastor. I have found him to be the same to all of us on the cathedral staff.”


Deacon David Klingshirn, a cathedral parishioner for 15 years, said Father Bramlage has been an excellent caretaker of the cathedral and its members. “I would say everyone who knows him would say they respect the man,” he said. “He is good, holy man first of all. He is devoted to his God and his church and has been a role model for what a priest should be.”


Father Bramlage has sought to make the cathedral a vibrant presence for all who have visited over the past 20 years. “I have tried to make the cathedral an integral part of the downtown community,” he said.
With a relatively small number of parishioners (250) for a church its size, the cathedral isn’t the typical area parish. Many people attend Mass while working downtown, while others will drive from as far as Centerville to attend Mass on the weekend. The cathedral has a parishioner base from 60 zip codes across the area.


Said DiCello: “I think Father Bramlage’s legacy will be the vision he led the cathedral to become — a hospitable and welcoming place for all people who may come to the cathedral on a regular basis or for special celebrations, concerts or ecumenical gatherings; a spiritual place where people can nourish their Catholic faith in quality celebrations of the liturgy, sacraments, devotions and study of Scripture; a place of beauty where people can experience the transcendent God in the quality of its music, art and architecture; a place for the faith community to demonstrate its care and concern for the poor and needy.”


“As an administrator, Father Bramlage has done a fine job in seeing that the physical structure of the cathedral is well maintained,” DiCello added. “He has been an excellent caretaker of all that has been entrusted to him.”


Father Bramlage has presided at numerous special Masses over the years, including those for police and fire personnel, as well as caregivers and nurses, said Deacon Klingshirn. He added that Father Bramlage always has the liturgy correct at the cathedral. “He doesn’t improvise,” said Deacon Klingshirn.


Father Bramlage said he learned over the years the ability to adjust quickly for the events of the day, especially given the cathedral’s place in the community. The cathedral has had unique Masses over the years, including a commemoration for Sept. 11, 2001 and funerals for two police officers.


“You do feel a greater responsibility simply because of the prominence of the cathedral,” Father Bramlage said.


Stephanie Bricker, who has been the cathedral secretary since November 2009 and a parishioner since 2006, said Father Bramlage has shown tremendous dedication to the parish over the years and been a great example to  the cathedral office staff and those who attend Mass there. She said Father Bramlage does his best to teach others about Christ’s example and is adept at thinking before he speaks.


“He really cares about these people,” Bricker said. “He wants them to know about the Catholic faith. He wants them to be knowledgeable about it.”


Looking to the future, Father Bramlage said he doesn’t have any specific plans yet, but he will be available to assist at area parishes in need of temporary help. As for the future of the cathedral, Father Bramlage said it would continue to be the center of archdiocesan liturgical life.

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