Bishop Monforton 07/17/13
07/17/2013 Press release of Saint Mary’s Church Marietta being granted the title of minor basilica
STEUBENVILLE – St. Mary Church, Marietta, has been granted the title of minor basilica, announced Diocese of Steubenville Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton.
Bishop Monforton had requested the designation. The application was sent Jan. 13 to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome. Bishop Monforton was informed of the mailing by Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in his capacity as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
On July 17, Bishop Monforton said, “I received word from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments that my request for St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Marietta to become a minor basilica was accepted.”
The letter to Bishop Monforton was signed by Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He wrote, “Such honorific title is intended to strengthen the relation of this important church with the Chair of Peter and to make it an ideal center of special liturgical and pastoral ministry in the diocese.”
“I congratulate Msgr. John Michael Campbell (pastor of St. Mary Parish) for his steadfast work in the necessary preparations to make this initiative a successful endeavor,” Bishop Monforton said. “I am grateful, also, to my predecessor Bishop R. Daniel Conlon who began this process. …” Bishop Conlon rededicated St. Mary Church during its 100th anniversary celebration in 2009, after it had been restored during a multimillion renovation.
“With the dignity of minor basilica comes the responsibility for St. Mary Church to further galvanize its efforts in support of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, as well as to be the location for special liturgical celebrations when needed and of course, not withstanding, to provide pastoral outreach to all the people of God. This designation is not simply an honor for a particular parish community, for this day the Diocese of Steubenville as well as all the good people in the Ohio Valley celebrate God’s grace,” Bishop Monforton said on learning of the granting of the title.
The present St. Mary Church dates to 1903. It replaced buildings ravaged by floods in the 1800s. Though the church foundation was completed in 1903 and its cornerstone put in place the following year, construction continued until 1905. Then, work was halted for two years while money was raised, church history reads. At the time of its Dec. 12, 1909, dedication by Columbus Bishop James J. Hartley, a Marietta newspaper read: “The church is of marvelous beauty, no pains having been spared to make it a place worthy of dedication to the services of God.”
The dedication was reported to have been the “largest assemblage, both of Catholics and non-Catholics, ever brought together by a church function” in Marietta. The church was filled to capacity, and an estimated 1,000 persons were turned away, it was reported in the secular publication.
At the time the church was completed, it reportedly cost slightly less than $129,000, of which almost $100,000 came from subscriptions by individuals and societies of the parish. The smallest recorded contribution was 10 cents, the largest, from its pastor, Father Francis M. Woesman, more than $4,000.
St. Mary’s restoration began in 2006 when murals – thought to date to the early 1900s – on the walls of the church were returned to their original grandeur. Then, outside the Fourth Street church, work on the stone was done. Inside, wiring was updated. Repaired plaster, along with the rest of the church, was painted. A permanent altar, made mostly of carved Italian marble and encircled by statues of the Twelve Apostles, was installed to replace a portable one. A crucifix and image of the Holy Family were added. The gathering space was enlarged. The number of confessionals was increased. Art
glass restoration and wall reinforcement were done.
There is a lot of history in the Catholic Church in Marietta, said Msgr. Campbell. Initially, missionaries are reported to have traveled from place to place for miles on horseback and brought together scattered families into small congregations. The Mass, he said, was the first instance of Christian worship ever offered in Marietta, the oldest city of the Northwest Territory. A Jesuit missionary, Father Joseph Peter de Bonnecamp, is said to have accompanied French troops inspecting the territory. As chaplain, he held services for the troops and preached to the Indians in the mid-1700s. The next records reveal Mass being celebrated in a house in what is now the area of Marietta’s Hart and Fifth streets.
The first resident pastor was Father James McCaffrey, who converted a storeroom into a church, above which he resided.
Construction on a first church began in 1850. Bricks for the new building were said to have been taken from an old Indian mound. Efforts to move the church out of the path of floodwaters came when a new church site, the present location, was purchased Feb. 22, 1900.
The history of St. Mary Parish and pictures of the church were part of the multipage petition sent to Rome, as St. Mary’s status as a minor basilica was contemplated, Msgr. Campbell said.
A Mass to celebrate the designation will be planned, probably for the fall, Msgr. Campbell said. He informed Massgoers July 20-21 of the receipt of the title.
There are only two other minor basilicas in the state of Ohio, Msgr. Campbell said.
The Basilica of St. John the Baptist, Canton, was made a minor basilica in 2012. It claims to be the oldest Catholic parish in northeastern Ohio. The second minor basilica is the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation, Carey.