By Mary Jo Dangel
During the summer of 1909, some Catholics living in Cheviot discussed the need for a parish in their community. They had grown weary of their families needing to walk the distance to St. Aloysius in Bridgetown or St. Catherine’s in Westwood for church services in all kinds of weather. Not many people owned cars in those days, and Harrison Avenue was dusty in dry weather and muddy in rainy seasons.
Their first meeting was held at Krollmann’s Garden, with 26 men in attendance. The next meeting was attended by about 100 men and women at the old Cheviot Town Hall. They formed a committee of 13, known as the “Baker’s Dozen,” consisting of John Lacher, Joseph Schneider, William Carroll, Henry Tepe, John Molengraft, William Brogle, Henry Brockhoff, Bernard Bruns, Fred Dietrich, Joseph Volz, Charles Schaible, John Hengehold and Jacob Krollmann.
This committee, representing about 80 Catholic families, petitioned Cincinnati’s Archbishop Henry Moeller for a parish in Cheviot. The archbishop affectionately called the persistent committee, "the most pestiferous committee" he had to deal with. He granted permission for the group to acquire land and capital for a temporary building. However, no priest was available yet for the new position, said Moeller, due to an abnormally high number of recent deaths among the clergy. The land for the new parish was a tract of pasture 600 feet deep with 300 feet of frontage on Glenmore Avenue, purchased from Henry Hardinghaus for $9,000.
Early in 1911 Father Otto B. Auer was appointed pastor. Parishoner Anthony Kunz designed plans for a temporary church: a small, frame structure. On February 26, 1911, Father Auer said the first Mass at St. Martin's in the new church, even though the belfry was not completed and the interior was bare of pews.
Plans were already underway for a church-school combination, also drawn by Kunz. But since work wasn't completed in time for the opening of school in September 1912, half-day classes were held in the chapel and in the nearby Gibbons home on Glenmore, under the direction of two Sisters of Notre Dame who came daily from Covington, Kentucky.
Archbishop Moeller dedicated the first permanent church (now known as the red school building) on October 20, 1912, with about 5,000 people in attendance. The basement of the building served as the church, the first floor had four classrooms for elementary school children, and the second floor was living quarters for Sisters Mary Brigitta, Liguori, Ancitus and Edmund. The temporary church then became "Martin Hall" and was used for meetings and social gatherings. Father Auer's financial report for 1912-13 states a debt of $38,525. During that year there were 196 families in the young parish, 44 Baptisms, five first Communions (adults), 17 deaths and four marriages.
Growth of Parish
Father Henry Schuer became pastor in 1914, and in 1917 the newly-ordained Father George Grunkemeyer became the parish’s first assistant priest. The steady growth of the parish required a larger church (the current church). The building committee consisted of Albert Bruns, H. Brockhoff, Fred Dietrich, Cliff Kopp, Frank Krollmann, Charles Schaible, Joseph Schockman and Theobald Westrich. J. C. Grunkemeyer was the architect, and Joseph Neyer was the general contractor. Total cost of the building was about $200,000. Groundbreaking was on Memorial Day 1921, and the church was dedicated by Archbishop Moeller on August 5, 1923.
The 1920s also saw construction of the convent (1926), a wooden school building (1927) that no longer exists and the rectory (1929).
Architectural Details of Church
According to the plans of the architect, J. C. Grunkemeyer, and other historic documents, St. Martin church is the Lombard style of Romanesque architecture. The exterior is salmon-colored rough brick on concrete foundation, lined with Indiana free stone. The “simple and massive construction suggests a quiet retreat, and at the same time costs less than the ancient Gothic and other styles of architecture more common in this vicinity,” wrote Grunkemeyer.
He compared the belfry of the campaniles to the “towers of the early Christian Basilica of St. Maria in Cosmedin at Rome” and the two columns in the portico to the “Corinthian columns from the Pantheon at Rome.” The historic bells in the twin towers, cast in 1846, are from the closed St. Philomena Church that was on Third Street. The six columns supporting the clerestory walls are limestone, and the ceiling of the nave is a beamed barrel vault, rising 52 feet above the floor.
The aisles and sanctuary floors are terrazzo, containing Sienna marble. Three Vermont marble steps lead to the Communion rail, which is made of Betticine marble. The altar table is white carrara marble, supported by Corinthian columns of Brescia violet carrara marble. White marble Seraphim grace each end of the altar.
Oidtmann, a company in Linnich, Germany, was contracted in 1925 to create the transept windows, at a cost of $3,500 per window: These windows represent the procession of Corpus Christi and the Communion of Saints respectively. Father Schuer wrote that “an order for the rest of the windows for this church depends on quality and workmanship of these two windows.”
The eight stained-glass windows in the nave depict the beatitudes; the seven oriel windows above the sanctuary symbolize the sacraments; the oriel window above the organ depicts St. Cecilia, patroness of music
The “Q. S. white oak” pews and wainscoting are “stained a restful silver gray.” In designing the structure, the acoustics were studied carefully, and the church was “as near fireproof as possible.” Even the coal room was situated so “that coal trucks can easily dump the coal into coal room below requiring no labor in handling same.”
More Classrooms Needed
Father Schuer died in 1931, and Father John Metzdorf was appointed pastor. Around this time “Professor Joseph Fehring was engaged as choirmaster, the post he held until his death in 1956,” states a booklet published for the parish’s golden jubilee.
Despite the Depression and a $153,000 debt, improvements were made in preparation for the parish's silver jubilee in 1936. Clergy members in attendance included Fathers Auer and Grunkemeyer, and the first young man in the parish ordained to the priesthood: Father Hubert Umberg, O.S.B.
In 1941 homes adjacent to church property were acquired for future expansion. In the late 1940s, a two-week mission “accounted for 17,000 communions,” indicating the growth of the parish and the need for an additional eight-room school building. “Edward Schulte’s design for a $200,000 building was awarded to contractor Edward Honnert and Sons,” says the jubilee booklet. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the yellow-brick building “took place February 20, 1950, and the cornerstone was laid by Monsignor Metzdorf on May 14 after May Crowning services. The Most Rev. Karl J. Alter dedicated the new building…on August 4, 1951.”
After several years of failing health, Monsignor Metzdorf died on November 25, 1955, after being anointed by Father Heskamp, “while the assistant priests, four sisters and Monsignor’s housekeepers were again kneeling around his bed in prayer.” Father Albert Kroum was appointed to succeed him as pastor.
In the early 1960s, school enrollment was 885, causing crowded classrooms: Young couples with large families were moving into the parish. Thus, the yellow-brick school was expanded to eight new classrooms, an assembly hall, meeting rooms, library and a faculty room. The architect was Edward J. Schulte.
This expansion took place around the time of the golden jubilee of the parish. Additional changes included air conditioning of the church and some renovations made to the interior of the church. Around this time, the parish became known as St. Martin of Tours, no doubt to distinguish it from St. Martin de Porres, another Cincinnati parish. St. Martin of Tours is noted for the high number of alums who have entered religious life.
Post Vatican II Years
Following the Second Vatican Council, St. Martin of Tours witnessed many changes, including Mass celebrated in English with the priest facing the people, the beginning of parish councils and inviting lay people to become active in ministry.
In 1972 Father Robert Mick became pastor. (Following his retirement he returned to the parish in 1997.) The remodeled church basement was named “Father Mick Hall” in his honor. Due to the rising cost of tuition and financial difficulties some parents experienced, financial-aid forms and tuition assistance began at St. Martin’s elementary school.
In 1986, Father Robert Wolfer was pastor when the parish celebrated its diamond anniversary. The parish was growing due to the number of younger families buying the homes of older people. In 1990 the cold lunchroom of the yellow school building was converted into three classrooms for the needs of the growing school. Eventually, one of those classrooms became a computer lab.
Continuing Our Parish Journey
In 1993, Father George Kunkel became pastor of the middle-class parish, which had grown to 2,400 households. The parish experienced many changes as it moved forward during the 1990s. In 1995 Lois Borgemenke Sundrup, an alum of St. Martin’s, was appointed the parish’s first business manager. The school began its first kindergarten class during the 1995-96 school year. Sister Reinette, S.N.D., a 1954 graduate of St. Martin’s school, ended her term as principal in 1998. The following school year, Kathryn Lawrence became the first lay principal of the parish’s elementary school, and Donna Broerman became the first development administrator.
In 1997 a capital campaign raised over $1,000,000 to construct a handicapped-accessible multi-purpose building with a modern gym, and restore the interior of the church, which had been damaged from a long-leaking roof. On May 31, 1998, a large crowd witnessed Father Kunkel break ground for the Parish Center, which was completed in March 1999. Englelhard was selected as the architect and Beischel as general contractor. Work began in December 1998 on the renovation of the church interior. Martin Painting & Coating Company is the general contractor.
In 1999, Father Kunkel reported that the cost of the new parish center was $1,273,363. The projected cost of the extensive church restoration was $874,092 and restoration of the church organ was estimated to be $115,842.
Before the end of the 20th century, the parish website (www.saintmartin.org) premiered.
The New Millennium
In 2006, Father Terrence Hamilton was appointed pastor of St. Martin of Tours. Father Hamilton, who graduated from St. Martin school in 1961, celebrated his first Mass after ordination at St. Martin on June 3, 1973.
The changing demographics in the Cheviot-Westwood area saw a decline in the number of parishioners and students. Due to declining enrollment, the red school building closed in June 2004. The yellow school building became known as the Notre Dame Building in honor of the sisters who taught at the parish for so many years.
The last Sisters of Notre Dame to live in the convent were Sister Mary Bernard Clare and Sister Mary Ancille, who left in June 2000. The former convent was used for storage until it was razed in 2009, due to deterioration. The last brick came down at 12:54p.m. on August 4.
In 2008 repairs totaling $67,650 were made to preserve the historic church bells and windows.
Celebrating 100 Years
By 2010, as the parish was preparing for its 100th anniversary, Father Hamilton is the only priest serving the needs of parishioners. Patricia Dieckman is principal of the school, which has 12 teachers and 219 students. Tuition for the 2010-11 school year is $2,950.
The parish staff includes: Marti Barnes, pastoral associate; Laurie Huff, director of religious education; Marietta Dalessandro, PSR coordinator; Angela Birhead-Flight, music and liturgy director and Beth Emery, Business Manager.
Although the number of households has declined to 1,305, St. Martin of Tours continues to be a vibrant parish that provides spiritual, educational and social opportunities for all parishioners. The church is a westside landmark, known as one of the most splendid churches in Cincinnati.
(updated 5-3-2010 mjd)