St. Henry Parish celebrates 175 years of community and faith
By Eileen Connelly, OSU
The Catholic Telegraph
In the “Land of Cross Tipped Churches,” the region in the northern part of the archdiocese where Catholic churches dot the rural landscape, their steeples are visible from miles away. They rise above the cornfields and small towns as a testament to the faith of their founders, a faith remains steadfast to this day.
Such is the case with St. Henry Parish in St. Henry. The faith community has been marking a milestone anniversary — 175 years — in a variety of ways, including a special Mass on July 13, the feast day of their patron. Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Binzer was the primary celebrant, with many priests, brothers and sisters who have ties to St. Henry also in attendance.
The day honored the faith and dedication of the founding families of the parish, who traveled to Mass in neighboring Minster on foot or by horseback before St. Henry was established in 1839. With permission from then Bishop of Cincinnati John Baptist Purcell, the German immigrants built the first 50 by 25 log building just west of the current church, and the parish was named in honor of Henry II, Bavarian duke, German king and emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
Missionary of the Precious Blood Father Thomas Hemm, pastor of St. Henry since 2008, said the strong faith of the founders remains an inspiration for parishioners, young and old. “Those immigrant settlers were very proactive,” said Father Hemm, whose religious community has long served the parish. “They brought a strong sense of faith with them, a strong sense of involvement and hunger to worship together. They faced many hardships at the beginning, but kept their faith. What that does for us is reinvigorate our own faith and gives us hope for the future.”
Today, the parish is part of the St. Henry Cluster, along with St. Aloysius Parish in Carthagena; St. Bernard Parish in Burkettsville; St. Francis Parish in Cranberry Prairie; and St. Wendelin Parish in St. Wendelin. The entire cluster is a part of the St. Marys Deanery. Father Hemm spoke of the significance St. Henry continues to play in the local community. “There’s a real interaction between parish and community,” he said. “This is very strong rural community, a community where the faith of the people is very grounded and rooted in farming. The community is so strong because of the strong Catholic values. The church gives witness to that.”
Those values have been passed down from generation to generation, he said. “There is a very strong sense of family, of sharing the faith, and an ethic of hard work that comes from the rural tradition. I think there is a closeness to God that’s very much present in daily life because of being surrounded by nature, being at the mercy of the weather. It creates an environment that is friendly toward faithful living and religious values.”
“Our Catholic roots run deep here and in the surrounding area,” said Jane Woods, a lifelong St. Henry parishioner and co-chairperson of the anniversary celebration committee.
She noted that the group kicked off the celebration last summer with the completion of renovations that included new carpeting, refinished pews and some restructuring at the front of church. Other anniversary events have included architectural tours of the church, a display of religious artifacts, and the presentation of specially designed commemorative holy cards to various groups of parishioners to recognize their contributions to the parish.
The anniversary celebration has been an opportunity to “remember what our ancestors did to get us where we are today,” said Woods. “Our parish is a testament to their labor, their faith. We have been remembering the past and celebrating the present and future, and St. Henry will continue to be an important part of our community.”
The Mass was a particularly joyous celebration, she said, bringing together longtime members of the parish and special guests, including Father Larry Hemmelgarn, provincial director of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood in the eastern United States, and Father Benedict Magabe, who spent the past six years as associate pastor of St. Henry and was recently reassigned. St. Henry Parish already had a strong missionary spirit due to a longtime relationship with a faith community in Haiti, but the Tanzanian priests’ presence further strengthened their appreciation for other cultures.
“We may be a small, rural community, but definitely have a global sense,” said Father Hemm. “The missionary spirit has affected the prayerfulness and dedication our parish.”
This story originally appeared in the September 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.