St. Columbkille Parish celebrates 150th anniversary
Father John O’Donoghue saddled his horse outside his home church in Morrow and began to make frequent visits to Wilmington — the Quaker-founded seat of Clinton County.
A group of Irish farmers had requested a priest come to say Mass and eventually Father O’Donoghue fulfilled their wish on a more regular schedule.
“It’s interesting that Catholics were probably the second-largest denomination here after the Quakers because the town was founded by the Quakers. There’s a tremendous Irish heritage here,” said Carolyn Warner, who helped coordinate the 150th anniversary celebration of St. Columbkille Parish in June.
“Mostly Irish from the old country had settled in this area. They had come from Ireland escaping famine and other tribulations and they were indeed immigrants. At the first Mass, there were 11 people representing seven families. They had petitioned a priest in Xenia to come and say Mass in their homes in 1852. It went on until St. Columbkille was founded 1866.”
Cincinnati Bishop John Baptist Purcell “had a priest in Morrow who would come once a month to say Mass — Father John O’Donoghue. He was the founding pastor if you will and he founded quite a few parishes in the area. He was a traveling priest and came to us a couple of years after our first Mass in 1852. He would come up here on horseback,” Warner said.
It was Father O’Donoghue who petitioned the bishop to establish a parish. “We were named St. Columbkille because Bishop Purcell said ground was broken on the feast day of St. Columbkille. In Ireland he would rank up there with St. Patrick. He was a bit younger than St. Patrick and was of royal blood. He lived in the 500s and became a monk. He was a prince before becoming a monk and a priest. He was exiled to Scotland, so the Scots claim him as much as the Irish. He was there 30 years until he died. He founded an abbey and a lot of monasteries. He is credited with bringing Christianity to Scotland.
After the parish was founded, German immigrants joined the Irish in discovering the fertile land of Clinton County and the parish grew.
Ground for the first church was broken on June 9, 1866, and paid for within four years. The second church —still in use today — is of a far grander scale. Ground was broken 1916. It was paid for some time in the early 1920s. Warner said the June celebration centered on the 150th anniversary of the parish and the 100th anniversary of breaking ground on the existing church.
Even war has played a role in the history of the parish and its church, which remains one of Wilmington’s architectural gems.
“The furnishings for the church were all donated by parishioners so they were paid for. The stained-glass windows — the famous ones are the eight in the nave — total 31,” Warner said. “The interesting thing is that they were bought and paid for with a company in Germany in 1916. It was simply called the Munich Studio. Before they could finish the windows, we went to war with Germany. The marvelous thing is this company was very honorable. When the church was dedicated the holes for the stained-glass were there but they were just glass windows. When the war ended the Munich Studio honored the commitment and finished the windows and shipped them to us. They were installed in 1920.”
Long-time parishioner Doris Pease said the church accommodates 500 to 600 people and the parish numbers about 900 families. It covers all of Clinton County. “There are business people and farmers. There is a significant number of young families. It’s a nice mix between young and old. It’s a vibrant parish. More and more people want to get involved. We do not have a parish festival but we do have a Knights of Columbus Council Oktoberfest. It’s an older K of C Council. My parents moved here in 1948, and my father joined the Knights. They are very active as is the Ladies of the Sacred Heart Sodality. We do a lot of things for the parish, too.”
Father Mike Holloran, pastor, noted: “One hundred and fifty years is a significant milestone, but the true significance is more than the number of years. Parishioners alive today have been present for more than half of it, and Catholics in Europe worship in churches in use more than a thousand years. The real significance of our anniversary is in the persevering faith of our people, the love of God and neighbor put into action, the witness to Christ, the hundreds who have been helped into eternal life. As we celebrate that history, we rely on God’s grace to keep us faithful, for the salvation of souls.”
Warner, a St. Columbkille parishioner for 16 years, said descendants of founding families remain members of the parish.
“I have been, my whole life, moving around to different the parishes and churches but we have families in our parish today who are descendents of the original families and they can trace the church history and tell you about it all the way back. It’s interesting and I certainly enjoyed visiting with these people when we began organizing the celebration,” she said. Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr celebrated the anniversary Mass. It was followed by a reception.
Colleen Germann, a parishioner called the celebration a reminder of “what a blessing (it is) to be able to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with our brethren in Clinton County for that span of time… Sharing this mission over the years, through many works, the sharing of our gifts, faith, love and devotion has brought our church family ever so closer. Celebrating the Sesquicentennial Mass, with all the prior pastors of St. Columbkille, Archbishop Schnurr, Bishop (James) Garland, was a testament to the strength of our Church that it will stand the test of time, and we will always bring Christ to the families of Clinton County.”
This story first appeared in the September 2016 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.