Rural life brings joys, challenges for area Catholics
By Walt Schaefer
For The Catholic Telegraph
Dan and Sharon Schmitz discovered Adams County in 1985, when his work at General Electric (GE) in Evendale brought him to the company’s jet engine test facility near Peebles.
“After I spent a week or two out here, I thought it would be a nice place to start a family. We came out right after we got engaged. People were laughing at me about bringing an 18-year-old girl out here to live in the country,” Dan Schmitz said. He has since left GE. With his wife, they own Schmitz Technologies, a computer and electronic sales and service company with stores in West Union and Hillsboro in neighboring Highland County. They’ve raised 12 children in Adams County
Dan and Sharon were raised on Cincinnati’s west side. He belonged to St. Ignatius Parish, Monfort Heights. and graduated from LaSalle High School; Sharon was in St. Jude Parish, Bridgetown, and graduated from Oak Hills High School .
Catholics from the big cities — most from Cincinnati with some from Columbus — account for about 50 percent of the Catholic population in Adams County, said Father Jason Bedel, pastor of the county’s two Catholic parishes. The remainderare native Adams County families.
Ironically, given that less than one percent of the population is Catholic, the county is also home to Presentation Ministries, a growing Catholic retreat center founded by the late Father Al Lauer and operated by a group of resident Catholics, led by Betty Orlando. They live on site.
When Dan Schmitz arrived about 28 years ago, there were challenges to living the faith in a heavily non- Catholic county
“I was born and raised on the west side of Cincinnati; born and raised a Catholic. I went to Catholic grade school, Catholic high school, church festivals, did all the extracurricular activities, scouting and all of that,” he explained “Everything I’ve ever known was overwhelmingly Catholic and so I moved out here and it was an eye-opener.”
“I took a job in electronic repair. I was working for General Electric. I was a young guy, 23, and I had this guy sitting beside me in his 40s when the guy started a conversation about evangelism. And I’m saying. ‘That’s nice’, being courteous. I could see where it was going. And he said, ‘We have a revival coming up why don’t you come out and be my guest.’ I said, ‘I’m happy in my faith and pretty secure in my faith and I’m not interested.’ I told him I went to St. Mary’s and this guy literally drops a screwdriver, looks at me and goes, ‘Your Catholic!” He spent 45 minutes trying evangelization me. And I asked myself, ‘is this representative of everyone?”
Then, “you got the closed community type thing. It wasn’t hostile confrontation, but there are a lot of people from the Bible Belt out here and they would challenge you. A lot of things they would say is the typical misguided stuff you hear. Questions like: “Why do you think Mary is the equivalent of God?” “Why do you pray to the pope?”Why do you worship statues?”
Things have changed.
“Today, it’s so much easier being Catholic here than it used to be, “ Schmitz said. “The pressure is gone. There are more Catholic families now. Holy Trinity Parish has a tremendous youth program. The biggest reason I teach high school religious education is because it is so important to the future of our parish and the future of our church here. We have a good group of people. All of the families are really nice socially and they are helpful in this community.
“A lot of the Catholics in Adams County have shown good example by the way they live , not so much by outward evangelization, but just by their nature,” he added.
And, not everyone remembers the past the same way.
Teresa Geeslin has lived in Adams County all of her 43 years —in the Winchester/Seaman area about 20 minutes away from West Union. She is the bookkeeper at Holy Trinity Parish and her husband operates W.C. Milling, a feed and farm supplies store in Seaman.
She does not remember significant issues growing up Catholic in a non-Catholic county. “I don’t recall anything. I had no one challenge me on it. I don’t remember school friends asking about it. But, my kids are telling me they are getting some curiosity. My 16-year-old, Mary Grace, was asked by school friends why she was eating fish on Friday. She told them it was Lent, so they all decided to do it, too. The schools have started serving that option on Friday during Lent.”
Not far from the tiny hamlet of Lawshe, growth is occurring — all because rural Adams County provides a solitude conducive to meditation one seldom finds in the bustle of city life.
Presentation Ministries is located on acreage donated by Vivian Jansen, a native Cincinnatian who, with her late husband, owned a dairy farm in Adams County. The ministry was originally located in Westwood and then moved to Old St. Mary’s Church, Over-the-Rhine. It was founded by Father Al Lauer, a charismatic priest who refused a salary, took public transportation, was an apostle for the poor and started a pregnancy center at Old St. Mary’s. His dream of founding a religious order of priests was cut short by his death.
Jansen was a volunteer for Father Lauer and decided to turn part of her dairy farm into the retreat center with the rest of the property given to family members who reside there.
Presentation Ministries, under the direction of Orlando, offers a series on 40-day discipleship seminars with 13 retreats in the program patterned by Father Lauer using the RCIA program as a guide. Also offered are retreats for defined groups such as those who are divorced or separated; widows and widowers; or special topics such as the Gospel of Mark. A Bible institute is another facet of the center.
A new building is being erected to house guests, Orlando said. “Our new building under construction will have 21 rooms, house 52 people with a nice chapel,” she said.
Presentation Ministries, under the auspices of the archdiocese, is funded solely by donations. The new chapel will be dedicated by Most Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr in June 2015.
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.