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Witnessing to Christ’s presence in Dry Ridge

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Friday, July 2, 2010

St. John the Baptist Parish celebrates 150th anniversary

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ST. MARGARET MARY DEANERY — The stifling heat and humidity of a summer day didn’t stop the celebration as members of St. John the Baptist Parish in Dry Ridge gathered on June 26 for the closing of a year of festivities marking the faith community’s 150th anniversary.
 
The church was filled to capacity for the Mass, at which Father Timothy Kallaher, pastor, presided. Fathers William Dorrmann and Clarence Heis, who attended St. John the Baptist School, concelebrated. After the joyous liturgy, parishioners gathered for a reception on the front lawn of the church, followed by a special dinner.

Members of St. John the Baptist Parish
Members of St. John the Baptist Parish in Dry Ridge gather on the church lawn for a reception following the 150th anniversary Mass. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

The parish’s beginnings date back to the mid-19th century. In 1844 St. James Parish in White Oak was established to serve Catholics in the northern part of Hamilton County. The founding of Assumption Parish in Mt. Healthy followed 10 years later. Meanwhile, the number of Catholics in Colerain Township continued to increase, and though the nearest church was only five to six miles away, they longed for parish and school in their own community.
 
In 1860 Father Engelbert Stehle was tasked with organizing the Catholics of Dry Ridge into a parish. A tract of 6.11 acres was purchased on the west side of Dry Ridge Road from area resident Melchoir Betscher, and another resident, Henry Klein, proposed the name for the church. The cornerstone of the first church was blessed by Archbishop John Baptist Purcell on Sept. 2, 1860, and the structure, which cost approximately $5,000 to build, was completed the following year.
 
Around the same time, a one-room log school was moved to the site from a mile away and relocated near the church. It was soon replaced by a frame building that served as both a school and teacher’s residence. A new school was dedicated in 1923.
 
St. John the Baptist School has undergone various renovations and updates through the years, adapting to growth and meeting the needs of its students. The Sisters of Divine Providence served there continuously from 1912 until the retirement of Sister Elizabeth Kelemen in 2008.
 
In 2006 plans were developed by church and school leaders to form a pastoral area school to serve St. John the Baptist, Corpus Christi and St. John Neumann parishes. With approval from the archdiocese, the 2008-09 academic year marked the official start of the school serving all three parishes. Located on the campus of St. John the Baptist, the school serves students in preschool through the eighth grade.
 
After some early financial struggles, the parish grew and flourished under the faith and leadership of many dedicated pastors. A new church and rectory were dedicated in 1915 during the pastorate of Father Charles Wirtz. By all accounts, parishioners were overjoyed with the structure, which could hold 250 people.
 
By the time St. John the Baptist Church celebrated its centennial in 1960, membership at the parish exceeded 400 families, thanks to rapid growth and expansion in suburban Cincinnati. The occasion of the 100th anniversary was marked with a special Mass celebrated by Archbishop Karl J. Alter.
 
One highlight in St. John the Baptist’s recent history was the  dedication of the present church in March 1997. For more than 20 years prior to that, parishioners had assembled for Mass in different buildings, either the parish’s small church or the converted school gym. The new church, built during the tenure of the late Father Charles Bowes, who served as pastor for 15 years, provided seating for 900 to 1000 people, enabling St. John members the opportunity to finally worship together.
 
As members of St. John the Baptist look back on the years of prayer and community that brought them this far, they had many fond memories to reflect on and much to be grateful for. Some of parishioner Janet Geier’s family history is closely tied to that of the parish. Her relatives purchased property on Dry Ridge Road and became part of the parish in 1869. Geier and her husband, Gerry, have been actively involved in the parish since 1968 and saw their two sons baptized there, along with receiving first Communion and the sacrament of confirmation. Both were involved in activities surrounding the anniversary, which kicked off with a special Mass on June 28, 2009.
 
“I am proud to be part of a parish that has such wonderful people giving of their time and committed to the betterment of the church, its members and the area community,” Geier wrote in the parish’s anniversary blog.
 
A lifelong member of the parish, Mabel Busam remembers attending St. John the Baptist School when there were only three classrooms and outdoor plumbing. “The Sisters of Divine Providence were wonderful teachers,” she said.
 
She admits that times have changed at St. John the Baptist and many people she knew have come and gone, but said what has remained constant is the spirit of the parish. “Everyone cooperates, works together and gets along,” she said. “That’s what makes the parish so special.”

“The anniversary Mass was wonderful,” she added. “There were many memories shared and a lot of good food.”
 
Henry Schultz, who joined the parish in 1951, said, “My experience here has always been nice. It’s a great parish. The people make it that way. Everyone is very friendly and, when something needs to be done, there’s no problem getting volunteers.”

“I remember a lot of good times here,” said Bill Rumpke, a St. John member since 1947. “Back then the parish was considered to be out in the country. It was a real nice setting for a kid to be raised in.”
 
“I think the parish has stayed together so long and is thriving now because of the people,” he added. “It’s the strong faith of the parishioners that keeps St. John going.”
 
The parish has grown considerably in the past 40 or 50 years and currently serves some 1350 families, Father Kallaher said, but has not lost its “small parish feel — the friendliness and spirit of cooperation.”
 
“One hundred and fifty years is a milestone in the life of any parish,” he said. “It affords an opportunity to look back and see how God has been active in and through the parishioners. While one is tempted to look at the buildings and grounds and see great development, it is really the parishioners that show the true beauty of the parish — the welcoming attitude and willingness to reach out to help others spirituality and materially.”
 
“The anniversary also affords us an opportunity to look forward,” Father Kallaher said. “Like any parish, we want to grow in our relationship with God and each other, through, with and in Christ. We want to worship God in liturgy and service.”
 
Father Kallaher noted that St. John the Baptist has a “great praying and working relationship” with its neighboring parishes, Corpus Christi and St. John Neumann. “We collaborate on several different levels — our pastoral area Catholic school, joint sacramental and prayer services and other endeavors,” he said. “St. John’s looks forward to deepening and increasing our collaboration so that, through God’s grace, the three parishioners together will give greater support to our parishioners and strong witness to Christ’s presence to all.”
 

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