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St. Clare Parish celebrates 100th anniversary

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

By Mike Dyer

ST. MARGARET MARY DEANERY — Bill Neus overheard a conversation that told him all he needed to know about how much the members of St. Clare Parish enjoyed the faith community’s centennial celebration on Oct. 4.

Neus said he heard an older gentleman jokingly tell his wife that he didn’t want to leave the parish center after the luncheon because he had so much fun and it meant he would have to go home and work.

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Father George Jacquemin, pastor of St. Clare, blesses parishioners as they prepare to process to the church. (Courtesy photo)

Neus, a parishioner since 1989, is a member of the parish history committee that helped organize the centennial celebration and make it enjoyable for hundreds of people. Neus also helped produce a DVD that details the 100-year history of the church in College Hill.

There were several events throughout this year that commemorated the parish’s centennial, but the Mass on Oct. 4 brought the largest group together. A procession attracted an estimated 200 people, who walked or rode the bus to a 10:30 a.m. Mass. The walk was a celebration of two events, according to Neus. Those occasions included the first Mass at Town Hall on Oct. 3, 1909, and the celebration of the first temporary church in May 1910. About 2,000 people gathered at Town Hall and walked in the rain to the new St. Clare Church on Cedar Avenue in 1910.

The modern-day version of the walk had much better weather but followed the same path.

“The actual procession was solemn and really heart-welcoming,” said Mary Ann Thomas, a parishioner of 35 years.

Neus said the procession went west on Llanfair, south on Belmont, north on Hamilton and east on Cedar to the church.

“It was a walk back in time,” said Neus, a College Hill resident. “It was neat doing the same things that happened 100 years ago.”

At the Mass, Father George Jacquemin, pastor, explained the reason for the procession to the 450-500 people who were in attendance.

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St. Clare parishioners Peter and Melanie Delgado and their daughter, Marissa, pose outside the church. (Courtesy photo)

“It was a very festive walk through the community,” Father Jacquemin said.

Father Jacquemin discussed the history of the church and said a prayer for those in attendance. The Mass was concelebrated by Father Bob Hater, priest  in residence, and former co-pastors — Father Thomas Axe and Father Robert B. Burning — both of whom served the church in the mid-1970s.

Father Jacquemin told the congregation during the Mass that “we thank God for the parishioners of the past, the parishioners of the present and the parishioners of the future.”

“It was a wonderful celebration,” said Dave Schwartz, a parishioner of 57 years. Schwartz helps to operate a longtime family-owned jewelry store in the area and remains active in the parish.

After Mass, everyone was invited to the parish center for a luncheon and anniversary cake celebration. There were tables for centennial shirts, DVDs and a history book, which had more than 80 pre-sale orders and should be available for the holidays.

The church has sold hundreds of shirts along with Christmas ornaments and DVDs — all showing significant pride for those with a connection to St. Clare Parish.

Ken Straub, who has been a parishioner for almost 30 years, is the centennial committee chairman. Straub said planning began in November 2007 for the year-long celebration. The parish had several other activities throughout the 2009, including a concert, a speaker series, a 40-hour devotion and programs for children and families.

“The message was we wanted to tell folks we have been a positive force in the community for over a century because of the volunteers, priests and Sisters before us,” Straub said. “We wanted to let members of the parish know we needed them, we appreciated them and most importantly that we love them.”

Straub said the centennial celebration has given parishioners another opportunity to meet others at the church and in the community. He believes the Oct. 4 celebration was significant in uplifting the spirit of members and those who have returned to reconnect with old friends.

“St. Clare Parish has been a proud member of the College Hill community for over 100 years,” Father Jacquemin wrote in the introduction of the history book. “During that time our church and congregation has touched the lives of so many people. St. Clare is here today, stronger than ever, because of the generosity of so many individuals.”

Straub said he believes the centennial celebration has had a significant impact on the interest in other activities this year, saying it has “really re-energized the parish.”

St. Clare Church held an “Evening for Excellence” on Oct. 24 — a major fundraiser that included dinner and a raffle. There are also plans for other volunteer projects, a time capsule and an Epiphany dinner in January.

The centennial has provided the opportunity for parishioners to communicate more with each other and gain a greater understanding of the faith community, Straub said.

The celebration has also given a unique perspective on the history of the church in the community. A large 12-foot display on the back wall of the undercroft offered a display of books, photographs and mementos from years past.

According to the parish website, in 1909 a committee of 20 families asked Archbishop Henry K. Moeller for a new parish to be established. Archbishop Moeller proposed the name of St. Clare for the parish and Father John G. Stein was the first pastor. The first Mass was celebrated Oct. 3, 1909, at Town Hall with about 125 people in attendance.

In 1910 Father Charles Diener took over as pastor and remained the church’s leader for 46 years. During that time, a new permanent church and school was built. The parish served 1,016 families in 1943.

Father Jacquemin, who became pastor in 1998, said he has “great respect for those that took the initiative to start the parish and keep it growing.” He said parishioners have shown a deep commitment to the parish, the Catholic faith and College Hill and that spirit continues today.

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