St. Boniface has been part of many thousands of lives over its long history. People of different economic and cultural backgrounds have come together to worship and receive the sacraments since 1853, when St. Aloysius was established. It is an interesting story of how the parish divided into two new churches—St. Boniface and St. Patrick—and then merged back together again in 1991. (pdf)
Through the years, St. Boniface has been blessed with devoted pastors. Our current beloved pastor, Fr. Joseph Robinson, has been serving St. Boniface since 1992, and he served as pastor of St. Patrick for a year before the merger. His great-great uncle, Fr. Godfrey Topmoeller, was also a pastor of St. Boniface, serving from 1866 to 1887.
A Historical Sketch of St. Boniface Parish
Cumminsville (now our area is known as Northside) is one of the oldest suburbs in Cincinnati. Around 1792 Colonel Israel Ludlow built a blockhouse for protection against the Indians 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 Mini 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 1840s when the construction of the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Railroad brought many Catholic immigrants, especially from the Emerald Isle, to southern Ohio. The villagers at the time had no place to worship In order to attend Mass they were obliged to journey to White Oak, where St. James Church had been recently 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 Delaney 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 the 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 take place 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. 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 pledges for a building fund. After much discussion on August 31, 1862, it was decided to purchase a lot at the corner of Blue Rock and Lakeman streets, 100 x 150 feet, from Timothy Kirby for $600. There had been a great difference of opinion as to where the church should be located. So everyone’s wishes could be satisfied, the Vicar General suggested the church might be built on wheels and drawn to a new place each day of worship.
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 to consist of two stories with three rooms on each floor. Father Wittler and Joseph Menke, in the name of the committee, entered into a contract with John Herman Sanning of February 7, 1863, for the erection of the buildings. After the foundation was laid, the superstructure (including the tower and two turrets) was build 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; 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. 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 Everhardy, 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. 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 altar was contracted on August 2, 1864, and was built by Gestreen and Steiner for the sum of $800. The church stoop completed in 1864. The pastor, in spite of the many worries connected with it, could look with pleasure and satisfaction upon the grand work he and his people had 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 their 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. 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 1879 an ornate, solidly constructed two-story brick building, consisting of four schoolrooms, 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 1900 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 school had 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 G. 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 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 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 that the church interior was renovated and changed to the existing scheme we have today. A full athletic program for children and young adults was initiated, a parish bulletin was published, an annul 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 a 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 baptistery to the sanctuary. The baptistery 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 on it, ceiling fans were added to the church, a handicapped ramp was installed, a restroom was added to the back of 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 combine 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. 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 initiated some changes while he continues with his 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 over $80,000 was spent to overhaul the magnificent pipe organ (original cost was $15,750). Since 2000, the stained glass windows have been restored, additional parking added and central air was added to the church. In 2012 we replaced the flat roof over the church and cleaned/painted the interior of church
Beginning with the Feast of St. Boniface in June 2013 and ending with his feast in 2014, the parish celebrated our 150th anniversary. In preparation for the celebration, the entire interior of church was cleaned and polished. Pews were removed from the back of church to create a gathering space, the restrooms were completely remodeled, and display cases were built to house artifacts of parish history.
St. Boniface School
During the 1850s the Sisters of Charity sent Sisters to the Cumminsville area to begin a school. They served St. Boniface school children until 1999 when our last Sister of Charity, Sister Joanne Geis, retired due to health reasons. It was indeed a very sad occasion for our school.
The school now provides an education for 200+ pupils (preschool through eighth grade). Less than 1/5 of the children are parishioners of St. Boniface and 90% of our children come from poverty-stricken families. Many of these children receive Education Choice vouchers to pay for their education. These vouchers as well as the generosity of the Sisters of Mercy, the Catholic Inner-City School Education (CISE) fund, parishioners, parish staff, and very kind donors all work together to provide a quality education for our children.
Today we are very grateful to the Sisters of Mercy who generously share in our ministry of educating the children in our area. We are also grateful to the lay people who teach, guide, encourage, and protect our students. It is through our staff’s dedication, hard work, and creativity that we have an excellent school. Besides the regular curriculum, we have fine art and music departments and offer a Tae Kwon Do class as part of our gym class.
Unfortunately, over the last 30 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 weekend Masses totals less than 400. Yet there is still 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 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 Parish 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 the next 150 years ………to be continued………….