WAPAKONETA — This year, St. Joseph Catholic Church celebrates its 175th year as a congregation. As part of its year-long remembrance, the church will hold a special event at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, will celebrate the anniversary Mass, with a dinner afterwards.
“We hope there is a full house,” said Rachel Barber, the regional life coordinator of the Petersburg Parish, of which St. Joseph Catholic Church is a part and also a member of the planning committee for the St. Joseph Church 175-year anniversary. “We’ve also invited all the former pastors and associate pastors, and also former staff members.”
The special Mass is just one of many events the church members will be holding to celebrate this special anniversary.
They had a series of special speakers in March and also observed St. Joseph’s Feast with a twist.
“We called it St. Joseph’s Table,” explained Barber, “and we collected non-perishable items to donate.”
Other upcoming events will include exhibits, various lectures by historians and concerts.
St. Joseph Catholic Church also extensively renovated the building, which took from mid-May until December.
During the renovation, everything was taken out.
“They ripped out the old carpeting and put in new flooring,” Barber said. “They repaired the plaster and painted. They moved the pipe organs, and those are now in balconettes. They replaced all the pews and lighting.”
Several companies worked on the renovations, including Michael and Ann Blanck from Wisconsin, who did much of the finish painting.
“They painted the murals and did the trim around the windows,” Barber said. “They highlighted the architectural details of the church.”
The $1.6 million cost for the renovation was raised through a capital campaign.
“They started that around this time two years ago,” said the Rev. Patrick Sloneker, senior pastor at St. Joseph Church.
Sloneker is also the pastor for Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Botkins and St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Rhine. On July 1, he will become the pastor of St. John Catholic Church in Fryburg.
The four parishes make up the Petersburg Perish, so named for the historic town of Petersburg, which was once located not far from Wapakoneta and from which St. Joseph Catholic Church has its roots.
St. Joseph Catholic Church began in 1839, when the residents of a newly formed Wapakoneta established their own parish instead of travelling several miles to the Petersburg parish. Although the congregations of the area met weekly, an itinerant priest travelled throughout the West Central Ohio area to celebrate Mass once a month.
In 1850, St. Joseph Catholic Church officially came under the service of the Missionaries of the Society of the Precious Blood, where it stayed until it was returned to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2003.
The very first church building, made of brick, was built in 1858 on the corner of Pearl and Perry Streets. In 1910, that building was demolished to make room for a new church building, which doubled the congregation’s seating capacity. The church building was dedicated on Oct. 8, 1911.
It wasn’t until 1968 that the entire interior of the church was remodeled. St. Joseph Catholic Church and the school, which opened in 1853 and closed its doors in 2010, were put on the National Registry of Historic Places as part of the “Land of the Cross-Tipped Churches.”
“The Land of the Cross-tipped Churches” includes 42 parishes within a 22-mile radius of Maria Stein. Located in Auglaize, Darke, Mercer and Shelby counties, the churches are distinctive because of the towering spires topped by crosses that adorn each church. Anton DeCurtins, whose family was well-known for their architectural contributions to ecclesiastical structures, is attributed with designing the first of these distinctive churches.
While St. Joseph Church had close ties to the other Catholic churches in the area, it was not until 2009 that it became a part of the Petersburg parish.
With 175 years of history, St. Joseph Catholic Church’s past leaves a rich legacy.
“Its legacy is the same as the legacy of the Catholic Church throughout the world,” Sloneker said, “to bring Jesus’ presence to the world. We estimated that Jesus became present to the people of Wapakoneta at least 14 million times in reception of the Holy Communion during its 175 years. Jesus has also touched the hearts and minds of so many children educated and formed at the St. Joseph School, as well as countless services to the poor and those in need of counsel.”
As St. Joseph Catholic Church looks toward the future, that legacy will continue.
“Wonderfully,” said Sloneker, “that legacy continues as the people of God at St. Joseph continue to grow closer to Jesus and minister his presence and good news.”