BRIEF HISTORY OF SAINT MARY'S CHURCH,
NEAR MINERTON, VINTON COUNTY, OHIO
Philip Keck, Hawk, Ohio
June 1, 1903
Early strength and hardships endured by the Pastor.
Their work a blessing to the present generations.
In tracing the early history of Saint Mary's Church, we find that Patrick Quinn and wife, with their son, Daniel and wife and small family, Bridget Dolan, daughter of Patrick Quinn and husband, Simon Dolan, P. K. Dolan and daughter, Katherine, and James Kerr (afterwards known as Uncle Jimmie), and son John, left New York City where they owned valuable property, on an inspection tour of the country, and in the year 1837, they settled in the neighborhood of the old Saint Mary's Church.
Patrick Quinn, being of a speculative nature, purchased quite a large tract of land, chiefly for the timber, in Wilkesville Township and vicinity. In order to dispose of part of his investments, he built a small frame church (24x30 feet) and named it Saint Mary's. Mr. Quinn also donated part of a section of land for the exclusive benefit of Saint Mary's Church.
The first priest that ever visited this place was Reverend Joseph O'Mealy from Portsmouth, Ohio. His visits were only of an occasional nature and continued till the year 1844. He afterwards went to Pittsburgh and Saint Vincent's Monastery in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. From these two places, he spread the news of this new Catholic settlement and the cheap lands which settlers could purchase.
It is a matter of very interesting history that the year 1846 found only six Catholic families belonging to Saint Mary's Church. From 1844 to 1851, the small Catholic membership of the first Saint Mary's Church was visited by Reverend Emanuel Thienpont of Portsmouth, Ohio. He was a most earnest, interesting, true missionary priest, making his quarterly visits on horseback and the old citizens who lived at Pine Grove Furnace and Gallipolis always gave him a hearty welcome as he rode past in the fulfillment of his mission. In those early days we had no telephone or anything of the sort to tell the glad news that the priest had come but there were many little boys and girls to run over the settlement to notify everybody that the priest was here. On these occasions, every member rushed to the confessional and Communion for fear it might be the last chance.
At this time in the history of our church, quite a large number of families emigrated from Pittsburgh and settled in the neighborhood of Saint Mary's Church and became useful members of our church.
Reverend David Kelly was our first resident priest: he came among us in 1857. When Father Kelly came here it was under most trying circumstances. We had no accommodation for him, not even a respectable house in which to live. He was content however, to move into a miserable round log hut where there was but one large room, which answered for parlor, sitting room, study, dining room, kitchen, and bed chamber. The chimney connected with the hearth was an old-fashioned stick chimney made of split sticks and dried clay. Something came to my mind I heard that happened that time which will show the young generation how the people lived in early days.
Someone gave the alarm that the stick chimney was on fire and about to set fire to the old hut. All in the house rushed for buckets and water to put the fire out. Father Kelly rushed out with a bucket of water to help extinguish the fire. The aged housekeeper now assisting the priest's sister in doing the work rushed after him, demanding the bucket of water and that he not waste it, because she wanted to use it in preparing the supper. Think of it!
Father Kelly was content however, to move into this miserable round long hut, way out in an open field, where he, his sister and brother, spent several years struggling to build up our church and secure better living facilities.
During Father Kelly's stay, he built a house and remodeled and enlarged the first church, making it sufficiently commodious for the congregation at that time.
Father Kelly's duties became most laborious. He had so many small missions to attend to and was not able to buy himself a riding horse. About once a month he visited Gallipolis; 24 miles; Jackson, 16 miles; Latrobe Furnace, 9 miles; Iron Valley Furnace, 8 miles; Zaleski, 18 miles; Vinton Furnace, 12 miles; Eagle Furnace, 8 miles. Here he put up with a rich farmer, now a Catholic, who gave him permission to say Mass in his parlor for the accommodation of the nearby Catholics. I have this from one of Mr. Jones' sons, Homer C. Jones, since an attorney in Vinton County. He told me: "We always welcomed the day when Father Kelly came to visit us. We all thought so well of him." Mr. Jones ran for Auditor of Vinton County and the Catholics didn't forget Mr. Jones for the kindness shown to Father Kelly and he was elected.
In 1857, Father Kelly was sent to Dayton, Ohio, notwithstanding the earnest desire of his congregation to still keep him. They felt keenly their loss, and where the good priest did go he bore away with him from the little flock of faithful followers.
From 1857 to 1864, Reverend Father McMahon was resident priest. Also Father Fierny assisted us with the church work during part of this time. From 1864 to 1965, Reverend J. C. Albrink from Pomeroy, Ohio, and Reverend James Donahoe of Chillicothe made occasional visits to our church, and on several occasions Father Gilmore (afterwards Bishop of Cleveland) came to visit us.
Reverend Michael Ahern was the regular pastor of Saint Mary's from 1865 to 1872. He came from Cincinnati, Ohio. From 1872 to 1873, Reverend Daniel Cull had charge as pastor of the church. Reverend Thomas Darcy came to Saint Mary's in November, 1873. Unfortunately, his pastorship of the first Saint Mary's Church was of but one week's duration, as Saint Mary's Church took fire from a defective flue at 9 o'clock in the morning on a Sunday, and was burned to the ground. As the cruel flames destroyed the church and everything with it, and no insurance on it, the little bank of faithful members stood silently by watching their sacred place of worship being reduced to ashes, a total loss. Father Darcy felt keenly their loss. He called his flock about him and over the ashes of the burned structure they all agreed that Mass should be held in the open air. It was a beautiful sight to behold the entire congregation kneeling upon the frosty ground holding Mass.
Father Darcy was a man who knew no such thing as failure. Through kindness he gave up the little parsonage every Sunday to the congregation for Divine Worship. Services were conducted in this manner till the new Saint Mary's was enclosed. In the winter of 1874, money was raised by subscription to build the new church, the contract being awarded to Nicholas Fagan. The work on the new church was started in the spring of 1874. Services were held in the new edifice as soon as it was enclosed without plastering or pews, the entire congregation being required to stand or kneel during Mass.
We have now arrived at the early history of the second Saint Mary's Church. Reverend Luis Grimmer on the first day of June, 1878, assumed the official capacity as resident pastor in which capacity he served the people faithfully for thirteen years. During his stay, he made many needed improvements in and about the church property such as plastering the church, erecting pews and altars, a new organ and church requisites. He also had built a new and commodious parsonage which cost about fifteen hundred dollars. All of these improvements, Father Grimmer had paid for in full when he died in July 19, 1891. It has been said of this distinguished priest that he was a most splendid financier, and no occasion ever presented itself where money for the church was required that Father Grimmer could not in very short order raise the same by liberal donations. The people liked him, and were ready to give freely to any cause in which he was interested.
Reverend J. J. McCann assumed pastoral charge of Saint Mary's on July 19, 1891, and remained in charge till June, 1899. During his stay among us it was soon learned that he, like a number of the preceeding priests felt it his duty to make substantial improvements. He had an addition built to the church in the shape of a beautiful tower costing some $1,200.00 and placed a beautiful bell in the tower (the first bell being damaged by fire) which morning, noon and night can be heard for a distance of miles around reminding the people of the sacredness and duty of religious worship. Saint Mary's congregation was most flourishing as well as prosperous and numerous in membership in 1889 at which time its regular communicants numbered over 400, some 75 families. The Iron Furnace nearby going out of business naturally took a great many families to seek homes and employment elsewhere.
Father D. E. Meara, a young and brilliant priest lately ordained in Cincinnati, was sent among us to take charge of Saint Mary's congregation in June, 1899. Father Meara officiated among us till January 19, 1901, when his health failed and he had to give up his charge, which left us without a priest for some time. During Father Meara's stay, he was not idle. He made many necessary improvements in and out of the buildings such as painting the building and placing stone sills at the windows and fine stained glass windows and frames to take the place of the old wooden ones. He also bought a new organ and placed it in the gallery. During January 19, 1901, to April 12th, we were visited several times by priests from Columbus.
Father Lewis Kessler came among us April 12, 1902 but not to be our resident pastor as he had been sent to Gallipolis to live there and visit us every alternate Sunday and give us all the festival days. It was quite a shock to the congregation to be so deprived of a resident pastor. The change was quite a hardship to the congregation besides the hardships Father Kessler had to endure, leaving home Saturday and bringing the necessary things he needed to last him two or three days and walk about a mile through mud and snow and there find a big building without fire or any comfort awaiting him.
We hope and pray for a resident pastor in the near future for there is a great opening here for a large congregation. We hope the day will come that Saint Mary's Church will be so full of faithful worshippers that every nook and corner will be crowded.
The surrounding country is the richest in the state for its mineral resources, three veins of the best coal, averaging from 3½ to 5 feet thick, besides any amount of the best of limestone for cement, fine clay and oil. Geologists say we are right in the oil field. The best fire clay can be found here without much effort.
The Toledo and Hocking Valley Railroad runs through this part of Wilkesville Township.
In conclusion with the history I gave, I further desire to mention one other fact and that is this: Mr. James Durbin a former resident of Zanesville, an old gentleman and wife living in the northeast of Wilkesville Township six miles from Saint Mary's, asked permission from Bishop J. B. Purcell (afterwards Archbishop of Cincinnati) to build a new church on his farm. Permission was given. Sometime in the year 1858, Mr. Durbin and the nearby Catholics commenced to erect the new church. In the fall of 1858, the cornerstone was laid by Right Reverend Sylvester Rosecrans of Columbus, and he christened the new church Saint James. Reverend Father Ahern gave Saint James one Sunday out of every month for awhile but it did not continue to prosper as was expected and Father Ahern, being needed at Saint Mary's, discontinued services.
In the meantime, Mr. Durbin and wife passed to the silent beyond having at least made the world better by living among us. The Durbin Church, not being of sufficient numbers to conduct a separate congregation, was neglected and in the course of time crumbled into ruin. Father Grimmer thought it best to sell the building and the 35 acres of land that Mr. Durbin had donated as a gift to the church. This was done and the money realized was appropriated for the benefit of
Saint Mary's to pay a balance due on the church debt.
Before finishing my narrative, I must mention a few more facts without which my history would be incomplete. I must mention the names of a few more worthy priests that visited us occasionally. Reverend Patrick McClory, O.F.M., in his youth a member of Saint Mary's and who served as an altar boy quite awhile till his parents moved near Effingham, Illinois where he studied for the priesthood. He visited us on different occasions to assist Father Grimmer at devotions.
Three other priests came at different times to visit the aged Germans to make their Easter Duty: Reverend Father Gerke of Portsmouth and Fathers Wachter and Dilz of Pomeroy. Father Dilz gave us quite a surprise one Sunday morning after reading the Epistle and Gospel of the day in English and German. He started out and gave us a most elegant sermon in German. It was quite a treat to the few that understood him. He was a most forceful preacher. I remember his text to this very day, although over 30 years ago. Although the majority of the congregation did not understand him, they could see from his gestures and the rise and fall of his voice that he gave us a very interesting sermon: the first and only German sermon ever preached at Saint Mary's. The first settlers and pioneers are nearly all gone and are laid to rest at the nearby cemetery to await the resurrection. My dear readers who are interested in their welfare, do not forget to offer up some prayers daily for their repose.
With my best wishes to all, I will bring my history to a close.
Philip Keck, Hawk, Ohio
June 1, 1903
(Original in the possession of Beatrice Oden.)
There has been quite a change in St. Mary's since Grandfather wrote this history. He passed away July 13, 1903. As their time came, all the older people were laid to rest in nearby cemetery. The young folks left for better work most of them went to Columbus or Marion. We were without a resident priest for some time.
Father Kessler came up from Gallipolis. He married George and I on Aug. 31, 1903. Father Pullman came as resident in 1905 & stayed until 1912.
Father Vonville came in 1913. While he was there we had the misfortune of the church burning down on Dec. (Sat) 1921. It was quite a shock to the congregation to go to church on Sunday morning and find the church burned to the ground.
Father Gressel came from Gallipolis every Sat. from 1921 to 1923 and he oversaw the building of a new church in 1923 and a very nice church it is.
Fatber Conno1y came 192? and stayed unti1 1927. Fr. Dowd came in 1928 and stayed until 1931. He was the one that took Sr. Celine to the convent in Huntington.
Father Dunn came from in 1931. He had poor health and stayed only eight or nine months.
Father Ryan came from 1931 to 1945. He enjoyed the trip up here from Gallipolis and also took care of the epilipetic at Gallipolis Hospital. Father Ryan was a young priest. He married Tom and Adela which was his first marriage. While he was here we had a homecoming to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the church. The day was enjoyed by all, visiting, dancing and having good eats. While he was here the diocese was divided, St Mary's was put in Jackson Diocese.
Father Reihl was our first priest from Jackson from 1945 to 1947. Like the others he came every Sat.
Father Sullivant came in 1947. He had poor health and was found dead in bed.
Father Hakel was there from 1948 to 1952.
Father Meads came in 1953 to 1955.
Father Simons came in 1955. He was the last priest to make regular trips to St. Mary's. Now they have homecoming once a year and have Mass that day. The priests house was demolished in 1957.
At the time of Mr. McCormick funeral we were having Mass in the priests house. It was not large enough for the funeral so we had Mass on the front porch.
BY MINNIE KECK