St. Boniface History
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St. Boniface Church
1750 Chase Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45223
Cumminsville is one of the oldest suburbs in Cincinnati. Colonel Israel Ludlow built a blockhouse for protection against the Indians about 1792 and made his home here in 1795. In the early 1800's families began to move into the area. By 1825 the digging of the Miami Canal brought many workers and settlers. In 1838 a post office was established and the area was named Cumminsville after David Cummins - an early settler. Cumminsville assumed the proportions of a good sized village in the late forties when the construction of the Cincinnati, Hamilton, and Dayton Railroad brought many Catholic emigrants, especially from the Emerald Isle, to southern Ohio. The villagers at that time had no place of worship, and in order to attend Mass they were obliged to journey to White Oak, where St. James Church had recently been erected, or travel five miles to downtown Cincinnati. They were, therefore, overjoyed when Archbishop Purcell decided they should have a church of their own. In 1853 a modest church was built on Delany Street (originally Linn) not far from Blue Rock. Tradition has it the new parish was named after the patron saint of a child in the neighborhood - Aloysius.

Rev. H. Lange was appointed the first pastor; one year later he was followed by Rev. Joseph Paul Wittler. Within a few years the parish had grown so large the little church could no longer accommodate the parishioners. The increased membership owed much to the influx of immigrants. Instead of building a larger church, the Archbishop favored the formation of another parish. On April 6, 1861, the congregation unanimously resolved that a division of the parish should be effected along ethnic lines: German and Irish. It was decided by the drawing of lots that the Irish would retain the original church property, renaming the parish St. Patrick, and the German community was to receive the sum of fifteen hundred dollars to build a new church. This was an immense task. Fr. Wittler was appointed pastor of the new parish, St. Boniface, and on June 15, 1862, the first formal steps were taken when a committee was formed to raise subscription to a building fund. After much discussion on August 31, 1862, it was decided to purchase a lot at the corner of Blue Rock and Lakerman streets, 100 x 150 feet, from Timothy Kirby for $600. There has been a great difference of opinion as to where the church should be located. The Vicar General suggested the church might be built on wheels and drawn to a new place each day of worship, so everyone's wishes could be satisfied.

Architect John Bast submitted plans and specifications for a church and adjoining parsonage. The brick building would be 90 feet long by 50 feet wide and 36 feet high; the priest's house would consists of two stories with three rooms on each floor. Father Wittler and Joseph Menke, in the name of the committee, entered into a contact with John Herman Sanning on February 7, 1863, for the erection of the buildings. After the foundation was laid, the superstructure, including the tower and two turrets, was built at a cost of $9, 039. The entire building was to be finished enough for dedication by the first day of November, 1863. Work was begun immediately, and on May 4, 1863, the cornerstone was blessed.

To the great satisfaction of Father Wittler and the people, the construction of the church progressed favorably; there were no strikes, etc., to cause delay and the builder finished his work as it was stipulated in the contract. The solemn blessing of the church took place on November 13, 1863, on a beautiful autumn morning. The heavens smiled on the jubilant mass of people who had gathered to witness the sacred function. Bishop Rosecrans performed the ceremony, and at its conclusion, Father Wittler celebrated solemn High Mass, coram episcopo, assisted by the Rev. David B. Walker, his successor at St. Aloysius and Rev. W.T. Bigelow, Mr. John Everhady, organist of the new parish, presided over the music.

A month later a sufficient number of pews were placed in the church to accommodate the faithful. There were hardly forty families, and the auditorium, no doubt, seemed to them an immense space. Yet they showed their faith, foresight, and courage by building for the future. Before the end of the year two bells were placed in the tower along with a tower clock. The high alter was contracted for on August 2, 1864, and was built by Gestreen and Steiner for the sum of $800. The church stood completed in 1864, and the pastor, in spite of the many worries connected with it, could look with pleasures and satisfaction upon the grand work he and his people has achieved.

Father Wittler literally wore himself out in the service of his people and in trying to raise funds to pay the debt resting on the new church. He became a familiar figure on the streets of Cincinnati where he was seen day after day, week after week, soliciting contributions from those better circumstanced than his parishioners who had contributed $1,881. Father Wittler collected $6,350 from people in Cincinnati and the vicinity. A man of wonderful energy, Father Wittler was frail in health. On Monday, May 14, 1866, Father Wittler died after having contracted pneumonia. He was 37 years old and in the 12th year of his priesthood.

Rev. Godfrey Topmoeller was appointed his successor and took charge of St. Boniface in September of the same year. He appeared among his newly assigned flock in the freshness of early manhood and full of zeal and energy. His pastorate was a long and successful one. The debt which rested on the parish as of January 1867 amounted to $4,065; yet in that same year, the parish bought 15 feet of ground on Blue Rock, next to the church, at $50 per foot from Jacob Hoffner, and 30 feet on Lakeman, in the rear of the church, at $20 per foot from Joseph Menke. This additional ground was purchased to build a school. With the steady increase in the number of pupils, it was felt the existing "school", which was held in the parsonage, was no longer adequate space. By 1870 an ornate, solidly constructed two-story brick building, consisting of four school rooms, was erected on Blue Rock Street at a cost of $7,800. By 1885 it was necessary to provide more schoolrooms. An addition was built to the school which gave it two more rooms on the second floor and a chapel and meeting room on the ground floor. After 21 years as pastor, Father Topmoeller suffered a stroke in August 1887. He died a few days later at the age of 47.

Rev. John Dominic Kress became pastor in September 1887 and served until January 1900. His pastorate saw the addition of yet another two-room school building as well as the assignment of the first assistant pastor of the parish. By 1907 Rev. Joseph A. Meyer came in as pastor. Although he served only seven years, he added a large addition to the school and also built a substantial and commodious residence on Lakeman Street for the sisters of Charity who taught in the parish school.

Next in our succession of pastors came Rev. George X. Schmidt in April 1907. He had served the parish earlier when he was the first assistant pastor to be named to St. Boniface. By this time the parish had grown so large that two new parishes branched off; St. Clare in College Hill and St. Pius in South Cumminsville. (St. Clare is still in existence today, but St. Pius closed in 1998). Even with the split, the school has 600 pupils by 1913. It was also under Father Schmidt that the parish debt was finally paid - at least for a while. By 1921 Father Schmidt had purchased the Banning property at Chase and Pitts Avenues with plans for a new and much larger church to accommodate a burgeoning congregation.

Although grading the new site was begun almost immediately, it was Rev. John H. Schwartz, named pastor in March 1924, who was commissioned by archbishop John. T. McNicholas to build an entirely new plant. He succeeded brilliantly with the wholehearted support of his parishioners. He is responsible for the present magnificent church and rectory completed in 1927 as well as the present school building completed in 1933. Under Father Schwartz the property on the north corner of Pitts and Pullan Avenues was purchased for the convent. Father Schwartz was pastor until his death in September 1961.

Rev. John B. Reichert was named pastor in October 1961. His goal was to modernize, improve, and accomplish necessary repairs to the church, rectory, school, and grounds of the parish property. It was at this time the church interior was renovated and changed to the existing scheme we have today. A full athletic program for the children and young adults was initiated, a parish bulletin was published, an annual parish festival was inaugurated, and a program of scouting was begun. Father Reichert served until June 1973.

Rev, Francis J. Buerger was named pastor in June 1973. He had served as both assistant and administrator before being appointed pastor. He was named administrator after Father Reichert lost his sight. Although the Vatican II Council occurred during the pastorate of Father Reichert, it was under Father Buerger that the parish moved ahead with many of the changes we have today. Eucharistic ministers, lectors, and the guitar choir were added. The Four Chaplains' Mass, honoring the four chaplains of different denominations who died during World War II when their ship was sunk, was begun. This is another tradition we still observe today.

Rev. Robert A. Stricker was appointed pastor in September 1977. One of the first projects undertaken was to move the beautiful bronze-covered marble baptismal font and the matching bronze Easter candle holder from the baptistry to the sanctuary. The baptistry became the brides' room. The rectory basement became a place for both meeting rooms and a chapel for daily Mass during the winter season. The confessionals were remodeled to allow face-to-face reconciliation; one side of the sacristy became a cry room when glass panels were installed in the door and pews and sound were added to the room. The organ had some much needed maintenance work done to it, ceiling fans were added to the church, a handicapped ramp was installed, a restroom was added to the back of the church, and other improvements were made. It was under Father Stricker's guidance that many activities, commissions, and liturgies were begun or nurtured. It was also during this time, in 1979, that the parish school became a combined school with St. Boniface and St. Leo participating. Father Stricker served as pastor until he retired in December 1991.

One hundred thirty years after the decision was made to divide St. Aloysius Parish, St. Boniface and St. Patrick were reunited. It was in December 1991 that the people of St. Patrick Parish closed its doors for the last time and processed behind the statue of their beloved patron to the doors of St. Boniface, where they were welcomed with open arms. Besides the statue of St. Patrick and one of St. John Vianney, the parishioners of St. Patrick also brought their magnificent marble altar with them. These welcome additions to the furnishings of the church also served to make the new parishioners feel right at home.

Rev. Joseph A. Robinson, who had served as pastor of St. Patrick for the year before the merger, became the new pastor of St. Boniface. And shortly after the merger, another new face was added to the staff when Deacon Ted Schmidt, St. Boniface's first permanent deacon, came on board.

Like his predecessors before him, including his great-great uncle, Father Godfrey Topmoeller, Father Robinson has instigated some changes while he continues with the ever-busy daily running of the parish. Besides installing a new boiler system, there has been extensive work done on the buildings and grounds to keep them in good repair. Father Robinson had a new sound system installed and recently spent over $80,000 (original cost was $15,750) was spent to overhaul the magnificent pipe organ. Work has begun on restoring the stained glass windows, and in the year 2000, additional parking and air-conditioning the church was completed. The generous parishioners of St. Boniface come through time and again to keep their parish a living viable entity. Proof of this lies in the involvement of so many people in the various liturgies and activities of the parish.

The school now provides an education for 150 pupils -- less than 1/3 from St. Boniface. It was a sad occasion in 1999 to lose our principal of 18 years; Sister Joanne Geis was the last Sister of Charity to serve our school. Sister Ann Gorman, a Sister of Mercy, is now our current principal.

Unfortunately, over the last 25 years, more and more people are moving away from the city and into the suburbs. St. Boniface Parish is feeling the effects as dwindling numbers come to Mass each Sunday. Sunday attendance at the four Masses totals less than 600. Yet there still is a great deal of pride and unity in this small and diverse community. People from all walks of life, from different cultures and races and backgrounds, of a wide range of incomes, all belong to the parish. And they're not just those who live right here in Northside; some of our parishioners travel over 20 miles each way to come here on Sunday. That says a lot for the faith of this community and for the pastor who leads it.

What lies ahead for St. Boniface is only for God to know, but her history is such that the promise of the future shines brightly. The staff and many parishioners work hard to draw people to her welcoming warmth, and it is with great confidence that she looks forward to this new millennium..............


........To Be Continued......