(Continued from Saturday)
Fort Jennings First Communion
In preparation of the Parish Sesquicentennial, Father Schilling requested a hand carved statue of St. Joseph the Worker, from Germany. It was presented during the parish celebration. He also requested a history of the parish, the Blue Book of 1998, which was compiled by Imogene Elwer and Judy Wieging. The parish celebrated with a dinner in March and a picnic in the park in August. In recent years Saturday evening Mass has often been celebrated in the park once a year. The number of parish families had grown to 529. The number of members of the parish declined from the 1980 high of 1975 to 1585 in 1994. Father Schelling served the parish well from 1994 to 2000.
Things really livened up in July of 2000, when Father Tony arrived in town to replace Father Schelling. His full name was Rev. Anthony Borgia. He soon became well acquainted with parishioners and loved to socialize with parish Christmas parties in the basement of the rectory.
This became a time of great change for the parish. Talk of a new church began….causing much controversy. The official announcement was made in July of 2003. Bob Heitmeyer was chosen as chairman of the building committee of several parishioners. The old church seated approximately 425 persons. The new church would have a seating capacity of 750-800. At that time about 750 people attended the week-end Masses. The committee did a great deal of traveling to see other new churches. After over 40 meetings they settled on plans that give Fort Jennings one of the most beautiful modern churches of the time.
The Solemn Closing Mass of the old church was held on 11 May 2003. During the service several representatives of the parish brought forth symbols of the past.
This old church had seen much history: Two World Wars, Korean War, Vietnam, Gulf Wars, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, the advent of electricity and automobiles, the Second Vatican Council, 12 Pastors, approximately 346l Baptisms, 3538 First Communions, 3126 Confirmations, 1169 Marriages, 1357 funerals, along with countless Masses and Celebrations.
About a week later a parish auction has held, which included many wooden items, statues, candle holders, the bell mechanism, clock frame and gears which dated to 1874, and the glass front doors. One newspaper article said the front doors were officially locked after the last Mass. Tradition has it that the doors were never locked because there was no key.
On the 27th Day of May in 2003 many parishioners and visitors gathered for the demolition of the old church. It was very sad to see the steeple come down. Many people saved bricks for memoirs of their church.
From the last Mass in the old church until the dedication of the new church, the Parish Masses were offered at the Immaculate Conception Church in Ottoville.
The stained glass windows, light fixtures, choir loft pillars, Corpus, organ, bricks, bells and much more were saved from the building to be used in the new church.
In a one year time span the old church was demolished and the new church built at a cost of 2,948,000. The new church was dedicated on 23 May 2004.
Many parishioners of St. Joseph donated hours of labor to build the present church. The wooden fixtures were built and carved by members of the parish. Behind the altar and ambo is the Crucified Christ. The Corpus from the old church was attached to a new wooden cross made by parishioners.
The stained glass windows, which were purchased in 1921, grace the brick altar wall. The window on the left is the Last Supper. The one on the right is Melchizedek, presenting bread and wine to Abraham. One window from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.
The clearstory, above the Sanctuary represents the Crown of God. The windows, being in a circle have no beginning and no end, as does the reign of God. The flames in those windows represent God’s fiery love for us, his appearance to Moses in the Burning Bush and the Holy Spirit appearing in tongues of fire at Pentecost.
The Blessed Sacrament Chapel provides a space for quiet reflection and prayer. It is truly a holy place. The hand carved statue of St. Joseph is in the chapel as is the Fifteenth Station, which represents the Resurrection.
The basement can be accessed from the Narthex, either by the stairway or elevator. These lead to the Heritage Hall, dedicated to our ancestors. Many sacred items from the old church are on display in this entrance hall.
The Blessed Virgin statue stands on a pedestal of bricks, used in the old church. The opposite wall of bricks is also created from the former church bricks, which were made and burned from Auglaize River clay in 1883 – 1884.
Items on display include the old Monstrance, which have been used in years gone by. On another wall the display includes the old newspapers found in the time capsule of the old church. The official Bishop’s chair is also on display.
Many gatherings are held in the Fellowship Hall, which seats around 300. The basement also has a large modern kitchen, office, library, restrooms and several class rooms. The CCD classes are conducted here weekly. The K-6 group has an enrollment of 160 in 2011. About 125 high school and junior high students are regulars for the program.
Mary Maag has taken on the challenge of Youth Ministry. The parish sponsors CYO and Hearthstone. They had 14 boys and 15 girls in CYO basketball for the 2011 season. The girls won the state championship in 2003. The Hearthstone program includes Battle of the Youth, with 30 current participants, Junior High Gathering (Retreat), Senior Prom, where Florence Hughes was Queen in 2011 and the YES Weekend, which is a service week-end.
The nursery school is held for 3-5 year olds during the 9:30 Mass. Currently there are 23 children in the program with 3 alternating teachers, who are assisted by 2 parents each Sunday.
Vacation Bible School has been recently re-introduced the theme for 2010 was High Seas Voyage. It was very well attended. The theme for 2011 was Panda Mania. A team of volunteers, led by Janelle Knippen, conducts this program
Father Joseph Przybysz has been serving St. Joseph’s Parish as pastor since 2005. He arrived in Fort Jennings shortly after the new church was built. He is a native of Buffalo, NY. Father Tony was transferred to Mansfield at that time.
Father Joe has introduced new liturgical rituals to the parish. Unique to this area is the Blue Mass, when the firemen attend Mass as a group, where they are honored with special prayers said for their safety. Father Joe and Deacon Larry wear special blue vestments, made by Jane Schimmoeller. The fireman insignia is embroidered on the vestments. On the feast of St. Francis, in October, many adults and children bring their pets for the blessing with holy water by Father Joe. He also has a special anointing Mass each year for the sick, where participants are given an individual anointing.
Becoming a Deacon in the Catholic Church requires years of study and dedication, along with support of the family. Larry Schimmoeller, by the Grace of God, achieved this goal in 2007.
Lay persons serve on the parish council and various committees, which include Director of Music and Liturgy, High School Youth Co-coordinator, Sacristan, Friends of Hope, Prayer Line, Parish Secretary, Cemetery, Maintenance, Funeral Luncheon and Religious Ed. Shirley Hammond is Director of Religious Education, among other duties. A group of volunteers also cares for the beautifully landscaped area surrounding the church. This includes the “Mary’s Garden” near the Chapel.
Many parishioners served their parish for years. Mrs. Ben (Mary) Miehls was an early organist. Joe Wittler served as organist 1921-1958. His daughter Sylvia took over for about six months, while he was ill. Felicia Dickman was the church organist for 40 years, beginning in 1959. Janice Gasser was hired as assistant in 1980 and became full time in November 1999. Bill Bieber and Carl Wieging also served as organists. Jeri Kaverman was recently given recognition for 35 years as a religious education teacher.
As of the last census, the Parish had 560 households, which included 1587 parishioners. There were 19 in the 2010 First Communion Class and 26 in the 2011 class. The 2012 statistics were not available at this time.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since the days when Catholics had to fast from Midnight before receiving the Eucharist. Gone are the days of the strict Lenten fasts and the practice of women having to wear hats to church. A Chapel cap or hankie could be used if you didn’t bring a hat. Many farmers remember the days when they called the priest to get permission to make hay on Sundays.
During the year 2012, Father Joe experienced some serious health problems, which required lengthly stays in the hospital. During his rehabilitation, Father Charles was assigned by the Bishop to be the temporary pastor. Father Howell often offered wee-end Masses during this time.
During the Bicentennial Celebration in August of 2012, there was a special Veteran’s Mass in St. Joseph’s Church on Saturday night. Father Howell, assisted by Deacon Larry Schimmoeller, celebrated the Mass for a packed church. Veterans served as Mass Servers. Everything about the Service was special and very touching. Many tears were shed. All veterans were asked to stand and given special recognition. A group picture was taken after Mass.
Changes are still coming. Due to the shortage of priests the Diocese of Toledo has made a proposal for the “twinning of the Ottoville and Fort Jennings Catholic Parishes in 2013.