History of St. Wendelin Parish

By John Pocs

Our church family of St. Wendelin had its beginnings when Fostoria was still the separate villages of Risdon and Rome.

The village square of Risdon was centered at what is now the corner of Countyline and Summit streets, where a plaque marks the site. Both villages were platted within two weeks of each other in September 1832, but despite their proximity it would not be until 1854 that the two merged. The census for the area that comprised the villages was listed as 80 in 1840 and had grown to 300 in 1850.

Among these pioneers was a group of predominantly German Catholics who settled in Rome. These faithful were attended by Father Joseph McNamee pastor of St. Mary’s, Tiffin, one of the earliest mission centers in this territory.

Among these German settlers was an Irishman, James McDonel, reputed to be the first Catholic in Rome, and it was in his log cabin on West Tiffin Street near Main Street that Mass was first celebrated, by Father McNamee, in 1844.

The faithful that were to become St. Wendelin were the second church to organize and build in Rome (after the Methodist Church on the corner of Wood and Tiffin). It was Charles W. Foster himself, entrepreneur and philanthropist from whom the city was to take its name, who donated the land. On August 3, 1847, an acre at the corner of Wood and North streets was deeded to the faithful. It was not until 1849, however, that construction of a church building began, and it was not completed until 1851, due to lack of funds.

While the church was being built, Mass was celebrated at the home of John Portz. A wagon maker who settled in Rome in 1840, he was a close friend and business associate of Foster.

The first church was a modest frame structure, 30 x 40 feet, with simple altar and furnishings. Yet it was to serve the faithful for the next 28 years, with some enlargement and improvement. Men erecting that first building were Franz Dillery, John Omlor, Diobold Omlor, John Bick, John Shoen, John Portz, his son Nicholas Portz, Michael Lynch, James McDonel, among others. These workers may include some additional settlers who migrated from the Civinity of Treves, Prussia. The congregation in 1851 is given as 80 souls.

St. Wendelin was chosen as patron of the new church, probably because some settlers had migrated from the town of Wendel, in the Saar District of Germany.

Because Father McNamee had left Tiffin in 1847, the faithful were attended one a month by Precious Blood Fathers (Sanguinists) from New Riegel, then known as Wolf Creek. Their ministry lasted from 1847-1859.

St. Wendelin baptismal records begin in 1850. In that year there were ten baptisms administered by Father Andrew Herbstritt, C.PP.S. and Engelbert Ruf, C.PP.S. Names of other Precious Blood priests serving St. Wendelin are in parish records. A history of Seneca County provides names of some “St. Wendelin Church members prior to 1855.” These include Franz Dillery, Jr., Martin Schalk, Philip Schalk, Jacob Bick, Hubert Bettinger, Nicholas and George Emerine, John Lamberjack (sic), John Persh *(sic), Philip Burcher, George Ziegman, Michael Clancey, George Huth, and Jacob Huth.

On January 2, 1854, Risdon’s petition for annexation to the incorporated village of Rome was granted, and the two were at last united. On July 11, 1854, the name was officially changed to Fostoria, as there was already a post office in Ohio with a prior claim to the Rome name, but, more importantly, to honor Charles W. Foster – founder, leading citizen, and first mayor of Rome. His son was later to serve two terms as governor of Ohio.

The ground to the south of the church had been the parish cemetery. This land became a line of the Lake Erie and Western Railroad, the first of five railroads to pass through Fostoria, which necessitated a move of the cemetery. In 1856 Martin Kingseed, a parishioner, purchased for the church one acre on the present Buckley Street from John Bick. The remains of the ten persons interred “including Mrs. Telford and her daughter” were transferred to the new cemetery that same year.

When the Precious Blood Fathers relinquished care of St. Wendelin in June, 1859, it was assigned as a mission to the care of the pastor of St. Michael Church, Findlay. Reverend J.H. Roetzer was the first in a series of four priests of record who ministered to the spiritual welfare of Fostoria Catholics until 1869.

In April, 1869, Reverend Michael Puetz was appointed the first resident pastor – with charge of Findlay and Millersville! Father Puetz had been newly ordained March 7, 1869, by Bishop Amadeus Rappe in St. John’s Cathedral, Cleveland, and so this was his first assignment.

To accommodate their new resident pastor, the parishioners set about building the first rectory. This was a frame structure built just north of the church at a cost of about $1500.

But the young priest was not to enjoy his new rectory for long because he was transferred to Napoleon in October, 1870. He had been appointed pastor of St. Augustine Church. St. Wendelin was thus returned its status of mission to Findlay. (The 1870 census revealed the population of Fostoria to be 1,743).

Father John B. Jung, the Findlay pastor, now administered St. Wendelin, and the growing parish established a school in 1873, beginning its long and firm commitment to Catholic education. A wooden structure was built on Wood Street just north of the rectory and was staffed by lay teachers. It opened its doors to ninety children!

Then at last St. Wendelin was made an independent parish. On July 29, 1875, Father Jacob Arnoldi arrived as first permanent pastor.

By 1879 the congregation had grown to 65 families (from approximately 18 families in 1863). Twenty of these families were living on farms near Fostoria. The original frame church outgrown, the faithful desired a new and more enduring edifice. Therefore, on July 6, 1879, the cornerstone was laid for a new brick building.

Right Reverend Richard Gilmour, Bishop of Cleveland, presided at the ceremonies, assisted by priests of the neighboring congregations. A Fostoria newspaper was quoted: “The laying of the cornerstone of the new Catholic Church furnished considerable interest here last Sunday. Our neighboring towns and cities each poured in its delegation, which together made a vast crowd. Bishop Gilmour of Cleveland conducted the services, and the New Riegel band furnished with music. It was a very interesting and orderly affair.”

The church, measuring 46 x 100 feet, was under roof in less than six months. Because the old church was in a dilapidated condition, the new building had to be used before the interior was completed. The new church cost about $10,000 exclusive of altars, pews, and stained glass windows.

The first Mass was celebrated, doubtless with great joy and prayers of thanksgiving by the faithful, on December 21, 1879.

Perhaps as part of inauguration observances, on January 11 th to 18 th of 1880, three Jesuit priests gave a Mission in the new church. (In 1880 the population of Fostoria was listed at 3,569).

Upon completion of the new church there remained a debt of only $800 of which there was “nearly enough from the unpaid collectible subscriptions.” This fact reflects the early and continuing generosity of the parishioners of St. Wendelin. The new church was dedicated by Bishop Gilmour on July 2, 1882. After the dedication, the bishop confirmed a class of 65.

(In 1885 there were 210 horses in Fostoria and 137 carriages.)

In 1886 the Reverend Joseph Gloden succeeded Father Arnoldi as the second pastor of St. Wendelin. The old frame school building now inadequate for a growing parish, the parishioners undertook a new building project. The foundation for a new brick school was set in 1886 on the site of the old and was completed in September of the same year, at a cost of $3,000. The stage was set for the entrance of the teaching Sisters. In 1887, the Sisters of Notre Dame staffed the school and have continued an unbroken length of service to this day.

In August, eight Sisters came from Cleveland at the invitation of Bishop Gilmour. They were Sisters Mary Ositha, Pazzis, Ligoura, Philipinne, Valeria, Gabriele, Aloys, and Clementia – quaint sounding names to the modern ear.

A Notre Dame history tells us that living conditions were most austere, the Sisters sleeping on straw until bedding arrived. But the people of St. Wendelin have always loved their Sisters, and soon they were comfortably provided for and the produce of parishioners generously shared, as has remained the practice through the years.

In 1888 the discovery of vast resources of natural gas west of Fostoria in Wood County resulted in a boom to the area including an increase in the population of the town from 3,000 to 9,000 in two years. Many of the newcomers included Belgian and Irish glassworkers who manned the many glass works (up to thirteen plants and shops through the years!) were Roman Catholics. During this time the congregation has increased to 200 families.

Due to this rapid increase of the faithful, it was deemed necessary to enlarge the church. In the summer of 1890, a larger sanctuary was added, and the interior of the church was entirely remodeled with increased seating and was frescoed. These improvements cost about $3,000.

Father Gloden’s transfer in March 1891 was “a severe and painful trial for himself as well as his devoted parishioners. During his pastorate the sudden increase of the faithful – though of “diverse tongues” – had resulted in a unified church family. They had built the brick school now staffed with Sisters, had doubled the school grounds by purchase, and in less than five years had contributed $20,000, :a large sum considering the financial condition of the great majority of parishioners.” Father Gloden was presented a gold watch, “an elegant time-piece and appropriately engraved.”

Father Charles Griss succeeded Fr. Gloden, and the faithful continued to improve the expand parish facilities. A new pipe organ was installed at a cost of $2,500. Father Griss himself was an outstanding musician with a great appreciation of church music. The rectory and Sisters’ residence were enlarged at a cost of $1,200. Once again the parish cemetery changed locations. In June, 1897, a five-acre tract on Van Buren street was purchased for $1,500. The old cemetery on Buckley Street (1858-1899) was abandoned and the graves relocated t the new site. Father Griss died October 13, 1899.

Father Dominic Shunk, a Sanguinists, succeeded him until Father John H. Kleekamp became pastor later in 1899. The new pastor challenged the people to help him in paying off the parish debt of $2,000, and at the end of 1900 half of the debt was paid. Father Kleekamp departed July 1, 1900. At this time the parish numbered about 250 families.

The new pastor was the Reverend Gustav H. Rieken. The faithful continued improvements to the church. An entire new front was added, including the two domed towers and interior decoration was made. The cost involved about $10,000. The cornerstone date on the new façade is 1902.

A time of renewed growth and development ensued with the coming of the Reverend Ambrose A. Weber to the pastorate in May of 1904. Father Weber and St. Wendelin enjoyed tenure of 37 years – the longest in its history. It was a period of great increase in the numbers of the faithful and in the physical plant of the parish.

A new rectory was built about 1905 – the house that remains to this day – a substantial brick building to replace the small frame house. (The original rectory was moved behind the Sisters’ house on the playground and was not razed until 1948).

Parishioners built a new school in 1909, the large redbrick structure with a neo-Tudor façade and red tile roof that we look upon today. It consisted of six spacious rooms – four on the first floor and two with an auditorium on the second. Eventually, the auditorium had to be partitioned and used for space for two more classrooms – one on the stage and the other at the south end of the floor.

Secondary education at St. Wendelin dates back to 1909. The first graduate, Raymond Carroll – the only graduate – comprised the class of 1910. He had completed a two-year commercial course. In 1911 the high school graduated three students. The curriculum included religion, typing, shorthand, bookkeeping, spelling, and mathematics. From this class Sister Rosella Ziegman was the first daughter of the parish to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame. (The parish census in 1911 was 1,990).

In 1920 the Reverend G. W. Dunne became the first priest principal of the high school. Three Sisters of Notre Dame made up the faculty. That year the roomy two-story brick home across from the grade school at the northwest corner of Wood Street and College Avenue was purchased for high school classes. Also a third year was added, and in 1921 a four-year program was begun. In 1922 a domestic sciences course was introduced to an otherwise all-business curriculum.

In 1922, at the urging of the Most Reverend Samuel (later Cardinal) Stritch, newly appointed Bishop of Toledo, plans were begun for a new brick convent (now the parish office) to be erected on the site of the old frame Sisters’ house. In the meantime “six sister sought repose on the second floor of the high school.” The convent was completed in May, 1923, at a cost of $40,000. Parishioners helped in furnishing, led by the Circle of Mercy and the Daughters of Isabella. When Bishop Stritch blessed and dedicated the new structure, he said in part to the assembled faithful: “In turning over this splendid Sisters’ home to the service of God for which it was built, you are completing another chapter in the history of the parish…It is not the brick and mortar, which are the outward symbols, but the sacrifice and anxious self-denial of the people which make it worthy of the use for which it is intended.”

In 1924 the first St. Wendelin football team was organized with Cyril Scharf its coach. The first game played was with its city rival, Fostoria High School.

In 1926 land was purchased on Countyline Street for a new high school building.

Tragedy struck in the summer of 1926 when Father Benedict L. Burger, principal the past three years, drowned in Lake Erie Thursday, July 8, on an outing of young people of the parish. The parish and city mourned the loss of this respected priest.

Father Robert V. O’Connor succeeded Father Burger as principal in August, 1926, and continued with the parish in its plans for the new high school.

The high school cornerstone, laid on September 28, 1930, by Bishop Stritch, reads “Teach me goodness, discipline, and learning,” as any alumnus should remember. These words symbolize the commitment of the faithful to Catholic education through the years. (During that difficult year for the economy, the Bonhi Club – acronym for Boost Our New High – raised $60,000 for the new school.)

The building was completed on February 23, 1931, “the dream school of the Diocese of Toledo.” Measuring 173 x 73 feet and designed to accommodate 200 students, the building cost $130,000. The enrollment was 108 students. Bishop Stritch dedicated the school on May 18, 1931.

In June of 1936 the parish celebrated the golden jubilee of its pastor of 32 years, the Reverend Ambrose A. Weber. Pomp and circumstance marked the week-long celebration, relatives attending even from Father Weber’s birthplace of Rust and Ringsheim, Germany.

Father Weber was to serve as pastor for five more years. The church bell tolled his death August 22, 1941, after 37 years at St. Wendelin, a tenure not likely to be equaled. He had been popularly known among the clergy as “Ohio’s bicycle priest,” as he ministered to seventeen missions by bicycle in his early years at Warren, Ohio. He lived under the reign of six popes from Pius IX to Pius XII. He was 88 years old and is buried in the circle at St. Wendelin Cemetery.

The Reverend Raymond G. Kirsch succeeded Father Weber. During the following decade of his pastorate St. Wendelin was to undergo another period of expansion of its facilities.

In 1944 the church was redecorated throughout. The pulpit and numerous statues were removed, as were the ornate wooden frames of stations. Cathedral lights replaced the two large chandeliers, and the church was brightly painted.

In 1947 the parish spent $30,000 in land acquisition and another $7,500 in 1948.

The grade school was filled beyond capacity. Part of the overflow – one classroom – was housed in “the portable,” a frame building on the corner beside the old high school building then the home of Mr. Loeffler, long-time custodian, and his family. The addition to the grade school was completed in 1948 at a cost of $200,000.

In 1951 the rectory was completely remodeled. The big front porch was filled in with offices and a vestibule, and a two story addition was built on to the rear. The total cost of this improvement was $50,000.

Father Firsch died suddenly in 1952, and the parish and city mourned his passing. He was buried in the circle in the parish cemetery.

The Reverend Robert Ruffing succeeded in 1953. As more Sisters were assigned to St. Wendelin, the 1923 convent became inadequate. The parish bought a frame house across the street as a supplementary residence. Later a house next door to the convent was purchased and used instead of the one across the street. From 1950 to 1960 the parish census increased from 3,750 to 5,568.

Father (later Monsignor) Louis Walter was appointed pastor in 1959. The high school was filled to bursting, with even the stage being used as a classroom. And so the building was transformed with an extensive addition completed in 1961. This included 18 classrooms, library, cafeteria, and auxiliary rooms. A large gymnasium was included, a “new gym” to replace the “old gym”, as they are still designated. Major renovation of the original structure was carried out to complete the project.

Monsignor Walter died in 1965 and is also buried the circle of St. Wendelin Cemetery. Monsignor Clarence J. Yeager succeeded as pastor until 1967. Upon his transfer, Monsignor Leo F. Griffin was appointed. Construction had already started on a new and spacious convent at the corner of Wood and Fremont streets, previously the site of the historic Mickey home. But in September, 1967, an explosion resulting in a $43,000 fire delayed construction, and it was not until Holy Week of 1968 that the Sisters moved in to their new residence, designed to accommodate 25.

The church was carpeted and repainted in 1968 at a cost of $20,000. In 1970 the parish census was 6,047 souls.

After Monsignor Griffin’s transfer, the succession of pastors included Reverend Ralph Reichert (1972-1974), Reverend Emery Ignacz (1974-1979), and Reverend Raymond Sheperd (1979-1990).

In 1987 the Sisters of Notre Dame observed their centenary in ministry to the faithful of St. Wendelin. On Sunday, November 8, Auxiliary Bishop Robert W. Donnelly, for whom St. Wendelin had been his first assignment as a young associate, celebrated Mass in the afternoon. A reception followed in the high school, during which Sisters visited with many of their students and other friends from past years. The sisters had prepared and distributed a 24-page centennial booklet listing, among other rich detail, the names and dates of service of all their Sisters who had ministered here.

The Reverend Daniel Ring, our current pastor, succeeded Father Sheperd in 1991, and plans continued for the building of the new church.

Father Ring became pastor of a parish with a very strong sense of Church as being of the People of God. Parishioners are actively involved in almost every aspect of the functioning of our parish. There is a multiplicity of committees and organizations working. The Sunday bingo games generate funds for the operation of the schools as does the St. Wendelin Festival, which was grown into perhaps the biggest social event of the area. Hundreds of the St. Wendelin faithful work together to support their parish. And the influence of parishioners extends beyond parish bounds into business, education, city government, health services, and relief programs.

The decision to build a third St. Wendelin Church was made in 1990 after the completion of a parish master plan and an exploration of various sites. The new building would be tied into the present convent with the intent of using it for pastoral purposes in the future.

The Steering committee guided both the fundraising and the 18 planning committees involved in the project. During this time each family was asked to renew their membership with the parish through a covenant document that expressed the mutual responsibilities of members and the parish.

Ground was broken with the help of about 400 members in August, 1992, followed by a potluck meal. The new stone and brick edifice was dedicated by Bishop Hoffman on December 18, 1993 with a thousand people in attendance. Through out the next two months, special events to celebrate the organ, parish organizations, the baptistery, etc. were held. The newspapers mention that this new $3.3 million building and parish hall of 22,000 square feet was the first new church to be built in the diocese since ten years ago.

The major accomplishment of the parish is that they moved into a new worship space that was debt free.

An open house was held in 1994 for the Fostoria area community during which 2000 people visited the new church. The old church was removed in July of this year. The elementary school formed its first technology committee, and an ecumenical social group called Just Friends Singles was formed.

In December of 1995, Fr. Ring and the St. Wendelin Associate Pastors were given the sacramental ministry of the North Baltimore and Cygnet parishes. This would continue until the summer of 2004 when St. Wendelin would be reduced to only one Associate Pastor.

Mary Anne Nopper was hired as Development Director for the schools and parish in 1995. With the Educational Foundation was at $300,000 she began work by organizing the capital effort called “Continuing the Vision…” (The Foundation grew by 2007 to $2, 400,000.) New windows for the schools and numerous physical improvements were made on the schools with the campaign resources. Planning was also begun on the updating of the convent for pastoral ministry and administrative functions.

St. Wendelin Adult Choir, with Music Director Kathy Mumy and Choir Director Shellie Gabel, visited Rome in December, 1996, and sang for the Holy Father. John Paul II blessed 20 month old Davy Smith.

Arlen Lowery, who had guided the building of the church and the Parish Life Center, retired partially in 1997, but continued to serve specific oversight tasks for the parish.

On April 19, a fire was started by children in a grade school stair well which breached the door and caused $30,000 worth of damage. The school children were off three days to allow for cleaning and the beginning of repair. In September, Roland and Anna Geiger of St. Wendel, Germany visited and brought gifts and greetings from the town of the tomb of our patron saint.

St. Wendelin joined in the deanery planning in 1999. Projections for greater cooperation and collaboration were made, especially in the light of fewer clergy. The Schools with scores of participants formulated the Strategic Plan, View 2004, for the next five years,

The end of the century brought significant activity for the parish: Kathy Holman was brought on to the staff as Community Health Coordinator, and parish nurse; Rev Robert J Baker, parish son who attended out elementary school was ordained Bishop of Charleston on September 29, 1999; the parish life center was dedicated and blessed by Bishop Hoffman September 12, after the expenditure of $770,000. Eventually, the old convent that had been used for administration was demolished, and a new green space parking lot was funded and constructed.

After establishing that 1850 was the founding date of the parish since we have parish books for baptism beginning then, St. Wendelin celebrated our One Hundred Fiftieth anniversary in 2000 with a Mass January 11. A new parish photo book was done; the Toledo symphony played at church in September; a medal of St. Wendelin was cast; the high school chapel was remodeled; three new buses and a garage built for them was blessed in August. The schools dress shifted to uniforms in the fall.

A tornado ran northeast through Fostoria at about 6:00 pm November 10, 2002.

The roof of the west wing of the high school was partially removed, and the walls of the building had some structural damage. Many people cam quickly to the school to try to save library materials and other movable items as water poured in. The damage was repaired at a cost of $1.2 million over the next 4 months through the targeted repair work of our construction workers. The public school board gave us Lowell school which had been recently moth-balled, and high school and junior high classes were conducted there until April.

The Pastoral Council was remodeled in 2004 to meet guidelines for planning. As a result, “Keeping the Faith” program was initiated with 10 teams of visitors who will call on all members of the parish in the months and years to come so as to extend our fellowship and strengthen our community. Then in 2006, a new relationship with St. Vincent Mission in David, Kentucky, was established through the action of the council. 20 volunteers will spend a week at the mission in summer 2007.

A bronze statue of the Holy Family with the parents helping the child study was dedicated through their kindness of Ed and Joyce Shultz on the feast of St. Wendelin, 2006.