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St. Henry Parish celebrates golden anniversary

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

By David Eck

DAYTON DEANERY — St. Henry Church in Dayton was filled with about 600 people Oct. 3 for a special Mass celebrated by Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr in honor of the parish’s 50th anniversary.

Father Thomas Shearer, pastor, and Father Ron Combs, parochial vicar, concelebrated.

Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr
Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr celebrates the 50th anniversary Mass at St. Henry Parish in Dayton Oct. 3. (CT/Jeff Unroe)

“We are all part of the Lord’s plan for His kingdom,” Archbishop Schnurr said. “We all have a role to play in the present and future of the church, even as our parents and grandparents had a part to play in the church’s past . . . . We all have something to express, something to portray, something to contribute in this anniversary celebration.

“The purpose of anniversary celebrations is remembrance and thanksgiving,” Archbishop Schnurr said in his homily. “I invite all of us gathered here this morning to remember…what the Lord has done for each and all of us; to remember how the Lord is working in our midst today; to remember what the Lord has promised us for the future. I invite all of us gathered here this morning to offer gratitude for what has been given us from the past, for the gifts we enjoy now and for what lies ahead and for our successors. For the ongoing presence and action of Christ in this parish, we give thanks.”

Charter members of the parish were recognized at the start of the Mass, and a reception offered parishioners and visitors the opportunity to view a slideshow of parish photos from the past 50 years.
The anniversary celebration kicked off with a pig roast on July 13, St. Henry’s feast day, and  priests and seminarians who have served the parish returned for the event.
During a speaker series next Lent priests who have served the parish will return to talk of their time there. Parishioner Eric Wathan, a candidate for Eagle Scout, is compiling video interviews of parishioners talking about their experiences.

“We’ll have quite an extensive history when he’s done,” said Mary Ehret, pastoral associate at St. Henry and a charter member of the parish. “I think it’s a wonderful idea.”

The parish was formed in July 1960 to serve the areas south of Dayton and what is now Riverside. The population was also expanding north along Ohio 741 at the time. St. Henry had its inception with 150 families.

“When this parish started, this was out in the middle of nowhere,” Ehret said. “This was an area of growth and more potential growth.”

Weekday Masses were held in a chapel in the rectory, and Sunday Masses were held at a nearby school. The original site intended for the church was found to be prone to flooding, so the parish moved about a mile south. A combination school and church building opened in 1962, with the church on the second floor.

“We had many beautiful memories of the church,” said Jack Schockman, a charter member of the parish. “It was as simple as it could be. It’s what started the St. Henry family.”

The parish built a convent for the Ursulines of Cincinnati, who taught at St. Henry School. A rectory, which now houses the parish offices, was also constructed.

The parish boasted 1,000 families by 1970, and the 600 students were enrolled in the religion program. St. Henry School was consolidated with Our Lady of Good Hope School in Miamisburg in 1973 to form Bishop Leibold School, one of the first consolidated schools in the Cincinnati archdiocese.

A fund drive to build a new church began in January 1980, and the current church was dedicated in 1982. Parishioners actively supported the project; the debt was paid off in about six years. A parish activity center, named after Father Lawrence Mierenfeld, a former pastor, opened in 1996.

The parish retains its family atmosphere, parishioners said. At 2,000 families, it’s large enough to be vibrant and support active ministries but still small enough that parishioners can get to know one another.

“It’s just been such an integral part of my own life,” Ehret said. “I got married here. My kids were baptized here. It really is my whole church. It’s just such a deep connection. Most of my friends are people from the parish.”

Father Tom Shearer
Father Tom Shearer enjoys the reception after the anniversary Mass.(CT/Jeff Unroe)

When Father Shearer was newly ordained, he visited St. Henry and then-pastor Father Martin Gilligan, who helped younger priests. Father Shearer, assigned as St. Henry’s pastor in 2003, said he has always felt comfortable at the parish.

Outreach is important to the faith community. The parish has committed to building a medical clinic in Haiti and has raised more than $200,000 for the project.
Parishioners also give of the their time and talent, donating food and supplies to the anniversary celebration; Jack Schockman photographed the festivities. He has served on parish council, assisted at Mass, and in the 1960s helped start a parish blood bank.

“We have been involved in everything up there. The reason we got involved is because you get out of it what you put in it,” Schockman said. “I’ll be there until the day I die.”

David Eck can be reached at [email protected].

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