“The people are wonderful, it’s a warm and friendly church.”
“Everybody is like family here, that’s the way they treat you.”
“It’s the people, it’s just like family.”
“The people here are all family. Coming here, it’s kind of like coming home.”
What should be obvious from the quotes above is the theme that ran through all the comments various parishioners made when asked to describe what their church means to them, why they keep coming back.
That church, St. Mary’s Catholic Church of the Annunciation, marked its 150th anniversary this weekend, highlighted by a mass presided over Sunday by Columbus Bishop Robert Brennan.
The church had plenty of other visitors over the weekend as, though opinions seem to differ as to the age of the celebration, St. Mary’s also held its – let’s just say, 50th plus – annual International Festival. According to Barbara Glockner, who served as St. Mary’s choir director for quarter of a century, the International Festival launched, appropriately for a church which began life as a German congregation, as an Oktoberfest. Glockner and others said it was changed to its present form many years ago to represent the changing nature of the Portsmouth congregation.
According to one parishioner, who insisted the following is not completely legend, the change also came about at least partly because the pastor at the time wanted the festival to feature Middle Eastern cuisine reflecting his roots. This past weekend, visitors still could taste some kibby and meat pies.
Besides being choir director for many years, Glockner also has taken on the task of being parish historian. She currently is working on a book on the history of St. Mary’s, shooting for completing the project sometime next summer. According to Glockner, St. Mary’s school preceded St. Mary’s church, but nevertheless the foundation for the church was laid May 9, 1869. The church was dedicated about a year later on July 31, 1870. Total cost: $50,000. By way of comparison, St. Mary’s congregation completed a $1 million restoration just a few years ago.
Glockner added St. Mary’s parish largely came about as local Germans wanted a place where they could go and understand the mass. They broke away from a largely Irish parish and launched St. Mary’s. Born in Austria and ordained in 1834, Glockner said Fr. Francis Karge specifically requested he be sent to America to aid German speaking congregations. He was the first pastor of St. Mary’s, riding around Portsmouth on horseback collecting money from families to help build the church.
“Originally it was just a brick building,” Glockner said. “No altar, no stained-glass.”
St. Mary’s school initially consisted of four rooms: three classrooms and one room used as home to the school’s nuns, who were also its teachers. Built in 1926, the more modern grade school was torn down two years ago, Glockner said. There also existed for many years St. Mary’s High School, attended by, among plenty of others, Glockner’s husband Andy.
The church itself has grown over time. A large pipe organ arrived in 1879. Three German Gothic altars, the middle one being 34 feet in height, were installed in 1880. Fourteen terra-cotta Stations of the Cross also were installed. Counting from the church’s dedication, for the building’s 25th anniversary in 1895, parishioners added what was then, and apparently still is, at 217 feet, the highest steeple in Portsmouth.
These days, St. Mary’s of the Annunciation actually is part of a sort of conglomeration of Catholic churches in Portsmouth and nearby towns including Wheelersburg.
“We are all one big family now,” said current St. Mary’s pastor Fr. Joseph Yokum.
Yokum stated he serves all of the various churches, using St. Mary’s as his home base. He said the Scioto County parishes have become sort of a training ground for newly ordained Catholic ministers prior to their moving on to becoming pastors in other areas.
Yokum described the reach of the Catholic Church in this area as having been very powerful throughout the years. He said although the population is only about 7 percent Catholic, one can easily find parishioners from various Catholic churches on charitable boards, commissions and civic organizations all over the area. Over the long history of the church in Scioto County, Yokum added the Catholic Church has supported many and varied undertakings ranging from education to hospitals.
For St. Mary’s unofficial photographer and longtime member, the value of the church is a lot more personal. While she didn’t volunteer and wasn’t asked to provide any details, Barbara Fowler-Steele said at one point many years ago, someone was threatening her life. St. Mary’s then-pastor Monsignor Bill Maroon stepped in.
“He helped me in ways I probably didn’t even know of at the time and this has been my family ever since.”
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370-0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.