Oratorians boost Catholic culture in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine
By Walt Schaefer
For The Catholic Telegraph
The Catholic culture in Over-the-Rhine will soon see a boost.
The Cincinnati Oratory, a group of priests and brothers currently in formation, soon will begin renovation of the Pious House and 12th and Clay streets in Over-the-Rhine.
Cincinnati Oratorians oversee nearby Old St. Mary Church. The four-story, red brick Pious House, built in about 1850, will provide ample room to house Oratorians as the group grows in Cincinnati. Renovation plans call for a total of 12 rooms on the second, third and fourth floors to house Oratory members.
“Right now we are in formation. We are not an oratory yet,” said Father Jon-Paul Bevak, administrator at Old St. Mary’s and a chaplain at La Salle High School. “The important thing about the building is that we have to complete the renovation and be living there before we can be officially established.
“There is a period of time you have to live together and test the lifestyle of the Oratorian. We also have to have so many members and so many of them have to be priests. We have met the membership requirement of at least four members and at least two priests. We’re about to have our third priest ordained,” — Brother Adrian Hilton, currently studying at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, who is scheduled to be ordained in May. “The two priests we have now are me and Father Lawrence Juarez, from the Philippines, who has been in the United States for 11 to 12 years.
“But we need to be established and to do so we have to be in our own property,” Father Bevak said.” One of the hallmarks of what St. Philip did when he established the Oratory was that he mandated that the house has to be stable. That means when you join you join for life. You are strictly there for life. You don’t get transferred out of the house, and we don’t want any outside influences trying to close down the house. So, we have to own the property where we live in the name of the community itself.”
Presently, the group includes Brother Brent Stull. He is in his first year of philosophy study. Another potential member is unable to join the group until the building is finished since the rectory at Old St. Mary’s is full, Father Bevak said.
“Right now we are in the middle of securing permits,” Father Bevak said “We should have the permits within the next few weeks and …. as soon as we get those we are ready to get started construction. It will take about six months. We have a contractor and we’re finishing getting bids on windows, electric, plumbing and all sorts of things. Everything has to be new. We are down to the original brick walls everything is needed. We’re hoping the building is finished by July 21; the 500th birthday of St. Philip.”
While the building dates to the mid 19th century, its history is hazy.
“We are not entirely sure what the building was used for it’s difficult to tell. We know people lived there. We’re not sure what the first floor was — maybe some sort of store, possibly a brewery. Most recently it was low income housing,” Father Bevak said.
“A gentleman who owned the building approached us and said he had some building issues and he needed to move the tenants out to better housing. He offered us the building back in 2012 and we knew we were going to need space. We were going to have to be able to grow because we were quickly running out of space in the rectory. So we negotiated over a couple of months and we purchased the building in July 2013. It has 9,411 square feet of space. It’s in great condition and we are lucky. We had to take out the entire inside … and did not to find any surprises,” he said,
“We’re still trying to raise money. We have raised more than 60 percent of the funds. We have been going out and asking people for support and we are trying to talk to people we know who are generous and might be interested in helping us. We need to raise another $250,000 of the $650,000.We have the rest.
ABOUT THE ORATORY
The main apostolate of the local Oratorian community is the building up of a Catholic culture in Over-the-Rhine and metropolitan Cincinnati, as the means of promoting holiness and sanctity. The community accomplishes this through parish work, school work and in the future can see more involvement in chaplaincies in hospitals, prisons and the acceptance of additional parishes.
The Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri is a “society of Apostolic life” founded under the guidance of the Confederation of the Oratory (based in Rome) and with the permission of the local Ordinary. The definitive foundation of an Oratorian congregation is actually done by the Roman pontiff directly, which makes a Congregation what is called a “Pontifical Right” foundation. An Oratory provides an opportunity for priests to live their vocation in a more structured community than what is typically experienced by diocesan priests, but with more flexibility than a religious order. Above all, it is a community of charity in the spirit of St. Philip Neri, the “Joyful Saint”.
The Oratorian resides in an Oratory community of his choosing. He is not subject to transfer to other Oratories or communities, nor does he take the vows of poverty, chastity or obedience, though the Oratorian seeks these perfections through voluntary observance.
The Oratorian vocation allows greater flexibility in pastoral work than a religious order and allows the priest to live in the same community without being periodically transferred by the local bishop.
Posted March 16, 2015.