A Church for Our Lady’s BirthSeptember 8th, 2016
September 8 marks the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, her Immaculate Conception having been celebrated nine months prior. Many churches are given various titles to Our Lady, but one alone in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is dedicated to her birth. This is St. Mary, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Cassella, Mercer County.
Missionaries of the Precious Blood have chiefly been the main ministers of St. Mary, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church. In the early years, diocesan priests would sometimes attend the needs of the parishioners, predominately German immigrants. The Catholic Church in St. Henry, Ohio was founded in 1839 and the church in St. Rose, Ohio, was founded in 1844. Three years after this, residents of Cassella who attended either church, requested a church in their own town. 1847 is the year of the founding of the mission St. Mary, as that is the date of the first recorded baptism. At this time there were approximately 1,100 persons living in Mercer County. The log chapel, called Maria-Kapelle, soon became too small and a new church was necessary.
As a side note, the town was originally called “Kappelle,” after the title given to the small mission chapel. When the townspeople wrote to Washington D.C., the postal authorities misread the name, thinking it was written in German script. And so, Kappelle became Cassella.
Gruenwald Convent was built in 1854, just half a mile from Cassella, to be the home for the members of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. While on a tour of Auglaize and Mercer Counties in August 1862, Bp. Sylvester Rosecrans visited and dedicated the new chapel. The Catholic Telegraph reports:
August 19 – This day the children received their first communion at the Mass of the Right Rev. Bishop at 6 ½ o’clock. At nine the procession was formed at the convent-chapel and marched about half a mile to the church, which was blessed by the Bishop under the dedication of the Nativity of Mary. High Mass was then celebrated by the Pastor, Rev. Henry Dreese, C.PP.S., and a sermon given by the Very Rev. A. Kunckler, superior of the same. Eighteen were confirmed after Mass and an English discourse. There are upwards of thirty sisters in Greenwood [sic] convent.
As a mission of other nearby churches since its founding, St. Mary did not receive its own pastor until 1862 with the appointment of Rev. Henry Drees, C.PP.S. In an 1873 letter to Abp. John B. Purcell, the pastor Rev. Frank Nigsch states simply, “Your Grace had given permission, I hope, to Rev. J. Marte for the decoration of St. Mary’s Church, Cassella, Mercer Co. It is painted in oil by Mr. Wallicheck of St. Peter’s Church, M. Co. It is a very neat, little church. The altars are especially handsome.”
An 1888 fire nearly destroyed the church. The walls remained, but the woodwork, pictures, and altars were lost. The restored church was dedicated by Abp. Henry Elder on 17 March 1889. Again, trouble came to the church structure in 1914 while digging a basement at the south side of the church in order to construct a sacristy above it. In the early morning of May 13 the south wall collapsed, taking with it the altars and other sacred art. As it was the early morning, no one was yet present on the work site.
The Catholic Knights of America were an active part of the life of St. Mary Church for many the decades. Through the donations of time and materials, in 1929 the Catholic Knights remodeled an abandoned school house in back of the church to be used as a parish hall for socials and other gatherings. This left the Catholic Knights in $1000 debt. To settle this debt, the parish hosted a social for young people and evenly divided the proceeds with the Catholic Knights. Thirty years later, the parish school building which had been vacated in 1958 for the consolidation of small schools in the district, was purchased by the Knights to be razed for a recreational area for the parish. Another fraternal organization at the parish is the Confraternity of Christian Mothers. Originally started as an Altar Sodality, in 1908 it took on its new name. Members would pledge to raise their children “after the example of Jesus Christ and His teachings and daily say the prayer of the Sodality.” In addition to other activities, they would support the various events and fundraisers of the parish.
St. Mary is among several churches in Mercer County with tall, Gothic towers. For this reason, the region is called the “Land of the Cross-Tipped Churches.” In the second half of the twentieth century, St. Mary would share a pastor with St. Rose, and eventually several other churches in Mercer County. Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a part of the Marion Catholic Community, which includes St. John the Baptist, Precious Blood, St. Rose, and St. Sebastian Churches.
Laboring on the Mission is a blog of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Archives. The title is taken from a letter written by Bishop Edward Fenwick, OP, describing his mission work in Ohio. Whether in the wilds of the 19th century or the baby boom of the 1950s, the Catholic Church continues the mission entrusted to her by Jesus Christ. Here we tell that story.