Sunday, June 10, 2012

St. Martin

This morning we attended the last Mass at little Saint Martin Chapel in St. Martin, Brown County Ohio. It is said to be the oldest chapel in the Cincinnati Archdiocese.

St. Martin is important in the early Christian settlement of the area we call home. I found it in the 70's when I took my Ohio Real Estate Licenseure Class at Chatfield College on the St. Ursuline Academy grounds. It is a beautiful old convent built in the early history of Ohio.

"The Archdiocese of Cincinnati (Cincinnatiensis) comprises that part of the State of Ohio lying south of 40 degrees, 41 minutes, being the counties south of the northern line of Mercer, Auglaize, Hardin, all west of the eastern line of Marion, Union, and Madison counties, and all west of the Scioto River to the Ohio River, an area of 12,043 square miles. The see was erected 19 June, 1821; the archdiocese created 19 July, 1850.

Early missionary life
As early as 1749 a Jesuit, Joseph de Bonnecamp, had traversed Northern and Eastern Ohio with De Blainville, who at the time was taking possession of the Valley of the Ohio in the name of France. In 1751 another Jesuit, Armand de la Richardie, established a mission station at Sandusky. In 1795 Rev. Edmund Burke (afterwards first Bishop of Halifax) spent a short time among the Indians along the Maumee, but with little success. In 1790 a colony of French settlers located at Gallipolis on the Ohio, and Dom Peter Joseph Didier, a Benedictine monk, built a church, but growing discouraged left after a few years. The Rev. Stephen T. Badin visited Gallipolis in 1796. Bishop Flaget of Bardstown had charge at this time of Kentucky and Tennessee and the territory divided today into the States of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio. In company with Father Badin he made a tour of Northern Ohio, passing through Chilicothe, Lancaster, and Somerset.

The country was nothing but primeval forest. He met the first Catholics at what is today known as Somerset, and in response to their earnest appeal he asked the Dominicans to come to their spiritual aid. In this way Father Fenwick, in later years the first Bishop of Cincinnati, was commissioned to take charge. It was here that he met John Fink, and in the latter's house, on the spot now occupied by the Somerset High School, the Sacrifice of the Mass was first offered for the asembled thirteen families. Some two years later Father Fenwick visited Somerset a second time, and secured from the Dittoe family a tract of three hundred acres for the Dominican Order on condition that a church and monastery be erected as early as possible.

The buildings, at first small and primitive, have since been replaced by the more beautiful and commodious structure of St. Joseph's Priory. It was early in 1811 that the first attempt was made to organize a congregation in Cincinnati. The Catholics interested in the work met on 13 December in the house of Joseph Fabler, but no definite action was taken. Bishop Flaget was passing through Cincinnati in 1814 on one of his episcopal visitations. The city, which today numbers within its corporate limits 400,000 people, and is one of the great centres of art, commerce, education, and religion, was at the time practically a wilderness dotted here and there with a small number of log-cabins reared by the sturdy settlers. On this occasion he met the representatives of the Catholic families of Cincinnati. Their names, recorded in the early annals of the church, were Michael Scott, Patrick Reilly, Edward Lynch, Patrick Gohegan, John McMahon, John White, P. Walsh, and Robert Ward.

Mr. Scott was one of the earliest Catholic settlers in Ohio, coming from Baltimore in 1805 and eventually moving to Cincinnati. It was in his house that Bishop Flaget, on the occasion of his first visit, celebrated the first Mass in Cincinnati; on this occasion the bishop urged the erection of a church as soon as means would permit. Their faith, courage, and spirit of sacrifice can be truly appreciated when one remembers the obstacles which confronted them, and the spirit of religious bigotry with which they were obliged to contend.

A city ordinance forbade the erection of a Catholic church within the city limits. An appeal for assistance to the Catholics in the East met with a ready and generous response, property was secured on the north-west corner of Vine and Liberty Streets, and with logs cut in the timberland of William Reilly, in Mayslick, Ky., rafted to Cincinnati, and carted by oxen to the site outside the corporate limits, they constructed in 1822 the first Catholic Church in Cincinnati, a plain, barn-like structure. On the recommendation of Bishop Flaget, Ohio was made a diocese 19 June, 1821, with Cincinnati as the see."

I find this history fascinating. I prayed for the little church today that will only be used for weddings and funerals from now on. We went there often in the past ten years but now it will be a memory.

Thank you little St. Martin for being a part of my church home. As Father Hank said this morning, thanks for teaching us "for being valued who you are, not what you do."

Ed Winkle


  1. An interesting bit of history. Sorry you're losing it as a regular place of worship; I much prefer smaller churches.

  2. I know the church council searched every possibility before they came to this conclusion. Having served on such councils and knowing the members, I assume they did what was best for the parish. It's an awfully nice little church to attend and it is sad to see it closed for Mass.