A HISTORY OF SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS CHURCH
Roman Catholics were few in number at the birth of our nation. They only numbered about six-tenths of one percent – 25,000 out of 4,000,000 of the population. Most were located in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and it was a son of Maryland that was the lone Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence – Charles Carroll. Soon after the Revolutionary War ended, two great migrations swept the new nation.
The treaty that ended America’s War for Independence clarified American claims to vast territories and bounty lands outside the original thirteen colonies. Large numbers from the eastern seaboard began to cross the mountains into Tennessee, Kentucky and the Northwest Territory (i.e., the territory north and west of the Ohio River). The next factor was an increased immigration from Europe into the United States, which started as a trickle, but soon became a flood.
Ohio, the first state of the "Old Northwest," received a number of persons from the east coast and others from Europe. Catholics were still few in number and scattered. Although Mass had been celebrated as early as 1749 by missionaries to Native American Indians in the northern part of the present state of Ohio and later in the century in the colony at Gallipolis, the first permanent Catholic community in Ohio was centered around Somerset. In 1808, Father (later Bishop) Edward Dominic Fenwick of the Order of Preachers -- Dominican Friars -- visited that area and returned periodically to the small group of Catholics. A log Church, the first Catholic Church in Ohio, was dedicated by Father Fenwick and Father Nicholas Dominic Young, O.P., his nephew and co-worker, on December 6, 1818. The church building was constructed on land donated to the Dominican friars by the Dittoe and Fink families. The church was named in honor of Saint Joseph, the patron of the Universal Church and special patron of the Dominican Order in America.
In the spring of 1819, Father Young passed through Zanesville, then a small village. There he met three Catholic families and celebrated Mass -- the first Mass in Zanesville -- at the Green Tree Tavern, an Inn owned by John S. Dugan, which stood at the corner of the present Fifth and Main Streets. Later that same year Mass was celebrated in the Burnham Hotel in Putnam, then a village distinct from Zanesville. Nineteen people constituted the Catholic community in Zanesville in those early days but soon the number increased. In November 1820, John Dugan purchased a lot with a small brick warehouse (20 x 50 feet) for the sum of $2000 located at the corner of Fifth Street and Locust Alley, and converted it into a church. That Church, dedicated a few months later, was called Trinity Church or "the brick chapel," the first Catholic Church in this area. Father Young, O.P. came twice each month (from Somerset) to Trinity Church in Zanesville but great feasts such as Easter presented a special problem. Father Young could not leave his larger congregation in Somerset. Consequently Catholics from the Zanesville area would have to make the difficult trip (nearly twenty five miles each way) on horseback or by carriage on poor roads. The situation was eased in 1823 when the first resident pastor, Father Stephen Hyacinth Montgomery, a Dominican Friar, was named for Trinity Church in Zanesville.
The population in the area continued to grow and Catholics were attracted by the presence of a church. The converted brick warehouse proved too small for the growing congregation but funds for a larger church were scarce. John Dugan again showed his generosity when he purchased a lot at the corner of Fifth Street and Spruce Alley, the site of the present church. A further donation by Mr. Dugan as well as the generosity of many other local people -- both Catholics and Protestants -- allowed Father Montgomery to begin construction of a new church of stone and brick. The cornerstone of the new structure, almost three times the size of the original warehouse-church, was laid on March 4, 1825. It was dedicated by Bishop Edward Dominic Fenwick, O.P. (the first Bishop of Cincinnati) and named in honor of Saint John. The church building did not completely fill the lot, so a small Catholic cemetery was established at the rear of the plot.
In 1825, Mr. Dugan and Father Nicholas D. Young, O.P. went in Mr. Dugan's stagecoach to Maryland to meet Bishop Fenwick (who had been in Rome) to bring him back to Ohio. In Washington, they were joined by Father Gabriel Richard from Detroit, then a member of Congress. On their return trip a tragic accident occurred near Cumberland, Maryland. While they were descending a mountain the horses became unmanageable and the stagecoach overturned. Bishop Fenwick and the two priests received only minor injuries but Mr. Dugan suffered serious injuries and died a few hours later in the arms of Bishop Fenwick on March 11. His body was brought back to Zanesville and he was the first buried in the new Catholic cemetery on the land he had purchased for the new church. His body now rests under the
present Church of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
The Need for a New Church
In the decade of the 1830's, about 600,000 people came to this country as immigrants, which was about 50% more than had come in the fifty years before 1830. In the next decade, about three times as many came as in the1830's. A significant number of those immigrants were Catholics. Experts estimate that of the five million people who came as immigrants before the Civil War, 40% were Irish and 30% were German. Many of these immigrants clustered in the growing cities of the East but many headed West. With the opening of the National Road through Zanesville about 1830 and the development of the steamboat travel on the Muskingum River, the population in this area increased rapidly. Many of the new residents were German speaking immigrants. The first meeting of German speaking Catholics was reported in the
Catholic Telegraph of 1836. Bishop Purcell (who had succeeded Bishop Fenwick in Cincinnati), in company with a German speaking priest, Father Joseph Stahlschmidt, visited Zanesville on July 11. The Germans wanted their own parish where preaching and devotional exercises could be in their own language. After a few years, the Germans formed their own parish and dedicated their own church in honor of Saint Nicholas on December 1, 1842.
Meanwhile the congregation at Saint John recognized the need for a new and larger church but money was scarce. Father Stephen Hyacinth Montgomery, O.P. had been influential in the building and furnishing of the Church of Saint John. Now another Father Montgomery – Charles Pius Montgomery, O.P. -- had a similar role with regard to the Church of Saint Thomas Aquinas. He first came to Zanesville in 1832. He succeeded Father Richard Pius Miles, O.P. who left Zanesville to become Prior of Saint Rose Priory in Springfield, Kentucky. In 1836, Fr. Miles became Provincial (the head of the Dominicans in the United States) and, in 1838, became the first Bishop of Nashville, Tennessee. Father Charles P. Montgomery, O.P. became Provincial in 1838 but seems to have continued to spend much of his time in Zanesville. When Father Montgomery became Provincial he was succeeded as Pastor by Father George A. J. Wilson, O.P. Father Wilson had lived in the parish before he entered the Dominican Order and now returned to the parish as its pastor.
Plans for the New Church (Saint Thomas Aquinas)
Both Catholics and Protestants contributed to the building of the Church of Saint Thomas Aquinas (the present church). A Quaker, John C. Howard, made a generous offer with regard to the new church. He spoke to Father Montgomery and offered the building stone for the new structure from land that he owned about two miles down the river. The offer was most gratefully accepted as was the gift of the plans for the new church from Patrick Keely of Brooklyn, New York. The architectural style was described as "English Gothic."
Most of the bodies in the small Catholic Cemetery behind Saint John’s Church were moved to the new Saint Thomas Cemetery on Greenwood Avenue. Some remain interred under the present church, including the body of John S. Dugan.
The Church of Saint John was razed to make room for the new church. For the time being, services were held on the third floor of the Blocksom Building on Main Street. The cornerstone of Saint Thomas Aquinas Church was laid on March 17, 1842, and the first Mass was celebrated in the basement of the building on the following Christmas. The Church was dedicated in 1844 and consecrated on December 14, 1851, by Archbishop Purcell of Cincinnati. At that time Saint Thomas Aquinas Church was the only consecrated church of the Archdiocese except for the Cathedral in Cincinnati.
The cost of the building was $40,000 -- a very large sum of money in 1842. The interior of the building at its opening however was very bare. Benches were used instead of pews. A parishioner, Mr. William Mattingly, donated $3,000 for furnishing the interior of the Church. A few years later, Mr. Mattingly generously donated a bell for the church. This bell, which weighed 1200 pounds, was made in Cincinnati and cost $1,200. It was three feet tall and had a diameter of forty-six inches. It continued to serve the congregation until 1928 when a crack in the bell became so serious that it was considered dangerous to continue using it.
In 1843, Father Wilson became Provincial, although he maintained his residence in Zanesville. Father C.P. Montgomery resumed the office of Pastor which he held until 1857. Father Bokel succeeded him but in 1859, he returned as Pastor for the third time. He died suddenly in Zanesville in 1860. About ten years earlier Father Montgomery had been nominated as Bishop of Monterey in California but he refused the office. Instead, another Dominican, Spanish by birth but working in the United States, Joseph Sadoc Alemany was appointed Bishop of Monterey and later the first Archbishop of San Francisco.
The Present Church of Saint Thomas Aquinas
The new Church in Zanesville was a remarkable structure when it was built. At this period some described it as one of the most impressive Catholic Churches in the Midwest. The donations of Mr. Mattingly had done much to assure appropriate interior furnishings but in 1851, the women of the parish had a dinner to raise money for a new organ. The history of the parish reads like a litany of redecorations, repairs and improvements. When the church was about 25 years old it
was redecorated. On Christmas 1865 the parish celebrated the reopening with great ceremony. Mozart's Twelfth Mass (first performance in Zanesville) was sung by a choir of thirty voices with organ and orchestra accompanying.
A notable addition was made in 1871 when a steeple of wooden timbers covered with slate was built on the tower of the Church. At the same time a clock was installed in the tower. The steeple added a dramatic impact to the building for the cross atop it was about 160 feet above the level of the street. The Pastor at that time, Father J.V. Edelen, O.P., also improved the interior of the Church by the installation of a pipe organ. In 1881 the completion of new decorations was celebrated with a concert of sacred music. Most Reverend Jose Maria Larroca, O.P., Master General of the Order of Friars Preachers, attended the program. This was the first time the head of the Dominican Order throughout the world had visited Zanesville.
The Golden Jubilee of the Church drew a capacity crowd; some, in fact, were turned away. Bishop Watterson of Columbus celebrated the 7:00 a.m. Pontifical Mass on October 8, 1892. The hour might seem a strange one for a celebration but at that time the Eucharistic Fast was from midnight and liturgical celebrations were often early in the morning.
In 1894, Father Lawrence F. Kearney, O.P. was named Pastor of Saint Thomas Aquinas Parish and began a 30 year connection with Saint Thomas Aquinas in Zanesville. After serving as Prior at Saint Joseph, Somerset (1891-1894) he served as Pastor of Saint Thomas Aquinas from 1894 until 1897. He then became Provincial of the Province of Saint Joseph from 1897 until 1909 but remained at Zanesville while serving as Provincial. In 1911 he again became Pastor and held this position until 1924.
Father Kearney was a builder. During his time as Provincial he had supervised the construction of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC, and Aquinas High School in Columbus, Ohio. He used these same talents in Zanesville where he built a new school and new Rectory. He renovated the convent and twice refurbished the Church. He installed steam heat in the church and built a building next to the church as a boiler house and laundry. The building served in the 1940's as a classroom.
Tragedy struck the church on June 16, 1912, when a cyclone swept through Zanesville. Saint Thomas Aquinas Church was a kind of midpoint on its path of destruction. It toppled the steeple of the church during an early 6:30 a.m. Sunday morning Mass. About six hundred people were in attendance, and Father J. P. Roach was the celebrant.
The Daily Courier reported that Father Roach, by virtue of his voice and gesture was able to stop the terrible panic. He then hurried to the sides of those who were injured and dying, and ministered to them. Three men in the congregation were killed and twenty-eight other persons were injured. Besides the human toll, the cyclone caused much physical damage to the building. The steeple was totally destroyed and never rebuilt. As it fell it made a huge hole in the roof of the church. The balcony was damaged and the pipe organ totally destroyed.
Less than a year later another catastrophe struck. The flood waters of 1913 were five feet deep in front of the church. Water reached all of the parish buildings but the most extensive damage was to the basement of the church. The parish responded vigorously and repairs costing about $25,000 -- including a new pipe organ -- were made after the cyclone and again after the flood.
Father Kearney saw the need for more extensive renovations, especially to the windows. In 1914 new stained glass windows were ordered from Joseph Osterrath of Liege, Belgium, but their completion was delayed by the war. Mr. Osterrath was imprisoned by the Germans in 1915 but eventually escaped and returned quietly to Liege. With a few workmen he secretly completed the windows but they had to be buried twice to avoid their confiscation. Mr. Osterrath, who later joined the Belgium Army, was able to fulfill the project soon after the war.
The work of renovation was continued by Father Kearney's successor, Father J.P. Roach, O.P. He had been an associate in the parish for years under Father Kearney and succeeded him as Pastor. In the years 1926-29 renovations were planned and executed: a new altar and altar rail, remodeling of the 1912 organ with a new console, a new clock in the tower and a new bell to replace the cracked bell dating from 1851 with structural improvements to the tower. The new bell and clock were the gift of L. J. Luby. First used at Christmas 1928, this third bell weighs 2300 pounds and is named in honor of Saint Brigid of Ireland. "Vocor Brigida et plebem congrego" -- "I am called Brigid and into a flock I gather the people."
Repairs and extensive redecoration prepared for the week long celebration of the centennial of the Church: December 9-15, 1942.
The celebration of the 125th anniversary of the church building was not held within the church itself but in the Municipal (Secrest) Auditorium. About 2,000 people -- Catholics and representatives of other faiths --joined on December 31, 1967 to celebrate the 125
th anniversary of two events: the building of Saint Thomas Aquinas Church and the establishment
of Saint Nicholas Parish.
Some adaptations of the sanctuary were made during the pastorate of Father Camillus Musselman, O.P. a native son of the parish, and more extensive modifications, in keeping with the liturgical changes of Vatican Council II, were made when Father Paul J.D. Scanlon, O.P. was pastor. At this time a side entrance to the church was added with a ramp for the handicapped. The most visible change in recent decades, however, came during the pastorate of Father Michael Ciccone, O.P. The stone of the church had darkened over the years, largely due to the various industries that had existed in Zanesville and Muskingum County, so that parishioners knew it as an almost black building. A newly developed washing process took away the grime of decades and restored the original light color of the building.
A building of this age needs regular maintenance and small modifications from time to time to make it more attractive and useful, for it is not a museum piece but a center of prayerful activity of a vital, believing community. Under the previous pastoral leadership of Fr. Jordan McConway, O.P., significant work was done to the interior of the Church, including a complete repainting of the interior, a new slate floor, and a new carved wood backdrop for the sanctuary.
Heart of the Complex
The parish church is, in a real sense, the center of a variety of activities. Physically too, it must stand in the midst of things, for all of the activities of the parish do not center in the church building but other places are necessary for instruction, community building, et cetera.
It is difficult for a parish to flourish without a resident priest. Consequently the Rectory takes on great significance. The first rectory for the Catholic parish of Zanesville was a large, two-story building on Fifth Street, next to the church. It was built in 1827 and served the parish for about a century. The need for a new rectory was seen and so two lots on Fifth Street, across Spruce Alley, on the other side of the church were purchased. Work began on the three story brick
structure (the present rectory) in May 1920 and was completed in March 1921.
A Catholic School was begun in the parish in 1830 in the basement of the Church of Saint John. When this building was torn down to make way for the Church of Saint Thomas Aquinas, temporary quarters were found for the school across the street. Somewhat later a two room school was built on leased land at Sixth and Elberon (then Center) Street. It was the first building built as a Catholic School in Zanesville. It was used for about ten years before a new and larger school was built across the street from the church. In this early period, instruction was given by laymen to the boys and by laywomen to the girls.
In 1853, Dominican Sisters took charge of the school. Because their rule discouraged the teaching of boys, two brothers of the Holy Cross from Notre Dame taught the boys in the years 1857-59. When the Brothers left, laymen took their place until 1866. At that time, the Sisters started to teach the younger boys and -- with a modification of their rule -- in the 1870's took over the instructional responsibility for all the children of the parish. The Sisters had also conducted a private academy for girls -- Saint Columba's Female Academy -- for about twenty years but when they took over the parish entirely they closed the academy and used the building as a convent. That convent continued to serve the Sisters for about a century. Ground was broken for a new parish convent on July 2, 1961, and Bishop Clarence Issenmann of Columbus dedicated the building on September 16, 1962.
Father Kearney had recognized that the school building built in the 1850's could no longer meet the needs of the parish. In March 1921, the old building was razed and the new school, on the same site, was blessed on May 1, 1922. Within a few months a four year High School program was begun. About 1950, with the merger of Saint Thomas Aquinas High School and Saint Nicholas High School into Bishop Rosecrans High School, the building was given over entirely to Saint Thomas Elementary School. In 2006, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Nicholas elementary schools merged and became a new entity named in honor of Bishop Edward Dominic Fenwick, O.P.
The number of Sisters available for the school decreased and eventually the parish returned to the situation of 1830: all instruction was by laymen and laywomen. The Convent became the Parish Center with various parish offices and meeting rooms located in the former convent. During the summers of 1990 and 1991, it has also served for the Affiliate Program for men preparing to enter the Novitiate for the Dominican Province of Saint Joseph, the Province of Friars that serve the Parish.
The need for suitable space for meetings and other activities had long been experienced in the parish. The school cafeteria has been used for this purpose and at times the church basement fulfills that role. Father Michael Ciccone led the parish in building a new Activities Center adjacent to the school so that the facilities of each may be used separately or together. For the school itself, the Activities Center serves as a Physical Education gymnasium and athletic facility.
The first burial ground as mentioned previously was the small space behind the Church of Saint John. Since the new Church of Saint Thomas Aquinas would occupy that space, most of the bodies buried there were moved to Saint Thomas Cemetery -- a plot of land about two acres purchased in 1835 for $160 -- on Greenwood Avenue adjacent to Greenwood Cemetery. This cemetery is still cared for but not in use. On December 24, 1881, the Mount Calvary Cemetery Association was formed and it purchased sixty-two acres off West Main Street. Mount Calvary Cemetery is still in use. In 1991, a Cemetery Committee was formed to develop improvements to Mount Calvary, and in the fall of 1991, an outdoor Altar was constructed. Current pastor, Father Jordan Turano, O.P. has plans formulated for a new section and a new roadway in the cemetery.
Melanie A. Von Gunten
Resources: Ralph T. Bunting; Sylvia Smedley Hargrove; Fr. Robert Justin Hennessey, O.P.;
The Daily Courier, June 17,1912;
Illustrated History of the Diocese of Columbus – Donald M. Schlegel;
Edward Dominic Fenwick: Papers 1803-1832 – Fr. Luke Tancrell, O.P.