St. Bernard celebrates 150 years
Growing parish celebrates in stone church built by parishioners
Some 150 years ago, when St. Bernard Parish at Harrison Pike and Springdale Road was founded, the new parishioners looked across the pike to Taylor Creek where water cascaded over a stone creek bed.
It took a lot of sweat and time to quarry the stones from the creek to the building site across the pike, but the first stone church rose and lasted until 1935, when parishioners did the task anew to build the second church that still stands today, a testament to the labor of parishioners doing God’s work for generations.
It all started when George and Katherina Wingerter, owners of the Twelve Mile House on Harrison Pike, formed a committee and petitioned Archbishop John Baptist Purcell to create a new parish in Taylor Creek, said Ken Yoder, unofficial parish historian.
“Until then, St. Jacob Parish (now St. James, White Oak) was the closest Catholic church in the area,” Yoder explained. “St. Jacob was the mother church of the German Catholics in western Hamilton County.
The Wingerters donated three acres of land for a new church and cemetery. That first church cost $800, and the cornerstone was laid on Nov. 21, 1867. Father George Veith, pastor of the newly formed St. Aloysius Parish in Bridgetown, was also named pastor of St. Bernard. The next year 26 children were enrolled in the parish school, located in the basement and staffed by layman.
In 1922, “the long, hard road to financing a new church was begun,” Yoder said The plan called for a 40 by 90 foot building with a seating capacity of 350. It was to be constructed of native stone and finished with a handmade, flat-tile roof. The first Mass was celebrated just prior to Christmas 1935. That year, Yoder said, another building project was front and center. A basement addition was built on the site of the original church, adding two more classrooms, water storage (as city water had not yet arrived at Taylor Creek), and proper restrooms. This later served as the foundation for a 1963 addition, which added two more floors and eight classrooms.
“Over the years, our parish has been blessed by the leadership of so many good and holy pastors to lead us and strengthen our faith,” Yoder said. “Today we have a beautiful church, thanks to the sacrifice and perseverance of our parish ancestors. We must build on the foundation they laid to continue to make St. Bernard the special place it has been — centered on Jesus, led by faith.”
A 150th anniversary Mass on the Feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux last year began a year-long celebration, said current pastor Father Don Siciliano. “Bishop Joseph Binzer joined us to mark the occasion. In honor of the celebration and in thanksgiving to God, we renovated the church interior and many aspects of our beautiful church building,” he said. Over the year the parish held a family pig roast and volunteered a day of outreach to the larger community in gratitude to God for St. Bernard Parish. On the patron saint’s feast day this summer, Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr celebrated Mass and the parish held a banquet.
“One hundred fifty years serving the Lord is a great accomplishment and worthy of a great celebration, Father Siciliano said. “For the past 150 years, the mission of St. Bernard’s Parish has remained the same: to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ; care for the poor, the sick and the elderly; educate children in the ways of faith; and celebrate the sacraments.
“Few could have imagined that a small rural parish started by a small group of faithful Catholics would have grown into the 1,250 worshiping parish families that it is today,” he added. “When I arrived in 2009, there were 167 students in school. We now have 206. A lot of the West Side parishes are decreasing – we’re going in the other direction. It has to do with what we’re offering. We have a strong emphasis on teaching the Catholic faith, not simply or solely as the subject in a classroom, but throughout all subjects, basically making it the very air that we breathe here at the school. Our vision is to continue the mission of the Church and work of Jesus Christ to make Him known and loved to future generations, essentially to celebrate Christ in word and sacraments.”
Norma Mersch, 91, has called St. Bernard her parish for 63 years and cherishes fond memories, including 35 years in the choir.
“The church festivals every year were highlights,” she recalled. “We had very few modern facilities in our kitchen. We did our dishes in laundry tubs back in the 1950s and the 60s, and they would fry the chicken outside. During Mass, you could smell the chicken. One year we served 1,300 dinners. They came from far and wide like they do today to churches way out in Indiana —the rural places. The farmers brought in all of their corn and tomatoes and we had baked beans and all the other produce.”