St. Peter Parish in Loudonville had plenty to celebrate on June 26.
Father Vincent Hawk, pastor since February 2006, welcomed Bishop Edward Malesic to the parish, which is concluding a yearlong, pandemic-interrupted celebration of its 150th anniversary and the interior renovation of the nearly 90-year-old church building. As part of that project, four new stained-glass windows were installed and the gold cross on top of the church was regilded with a special gold paint.
St. Peter’s, which Father Hawk said has nearly 200 families and serves the lower one-third of Ashland County, was established in 1870. In the beginning, the parish was a mission with priests on horseback ministering to the German Catholic farm families in the area. There were reports of a mission in the area in the early 1840s. A small, log building was erected to serve as a church and the mission was assigned to St. Peter’s, Mansfield in 1870. The log building was demolished between 1872-1874.
The site of the current church, 220 E. Butler St., Loudonville, was purchased in the spring of 1870. The cornerstone for a new church was laid on June 25, 1870 and the parish was placed under the patronage of St. Peter. The church, 40 feet wide by 70 feet long, was completed in 1872 at a cost of $12,000. Mass was celebrated in the home of John Yuncker, who sold the land for the church, until the new structure was completed.
The first resident pastor, was appointed in 1872. He furnished the church and Bishop Richard Gilmour, second bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland, dedicated the structure on Oct. 21, 1880. Land also was purchased for a parish cemetery, a rectory was built and the parish bought Haskell Academy, a large brick building at 130 North Union St. that housed the Education Center and a large piece of land. Later, the brick building was used as a rectory and for other parish needs, including as a convent.
Over the years, the church was renovated. In 1935, while excavating for a basement, the west wall of the church started crumbling and early in the morning of Oct. 23, 1935, it caved in, which resulted in the building being condemned.
The cornerstone for the current church was laid in October 1938. It was larger – 80 feet by 70 feet with a seating capacity of 170 – and was completed in October 1939. A parish hall beneath the church provided space for religious education, social functions and church meetings. Later, a wing was added to increase seating capacity and two classrooms were added downstairs behind the altar. The hall also was outfitted with two kitchen areas.
In 1986, the parish had a building fund to restore the exterior of the church. A new rectory was built in 1994 at 204 N. Butler St.
Despite the lack of a parish school, several orders of religious sisters ministered at St. Peter’s teaching religious education.
As part of its 150th anniversary, the interior of the church was completely renovated. Work began in early January and was completed before Easter. The finishing touch – regilding of the gold cross atop the stone church – was completed just before the June 26 celebration. The renovation included painting the interior, installing a new tile floor, retouching the original sacred artwork and adding four stained glass windows: Divine Mercy in the reconciliation chapel and three others – St. Teresa of Calcutta, Isidore and Maria, patron saints of farmers, and St. Paul – in the nave. Bishop Malesic blessed the new windows during the anniversary Mass on June 26.
In his homily, the bishop congratulated St. Peter Parish for being a place “where God has been worshipped, the faith has been proclaimed and those in need have been served” for 150 years. He reminded the parishioners that none of them started the parish. “It was given to you by others and all of us must be ready to build up the community of faith in this part of God’s world and pass it on to the future. Thank you for being good stewards of this parish and for wanting it to be the best when you hand it on. That is why I am so pleased with the renovation of your sacred home,” he added, noting that as creations of God, “we’re living pieces of art.”
The bishop said the work is a witness to the love they have for their faith, their parish and God. “Thanks for using God’s gifts to build up so wonderful a place to worship for all who come here.”
Reflecting on the Gospel, Bishop Malesic mentioned how Jesus was in the middle of a large crowd, yet he knew someone had touched his clothing. It was a woman who had been suffering hemorrhages for 12 years and was unable to find relief, even after visiting numerous doctors.
“She had come to the divine physician,” the bishop said, noting that perhaps she had heard stories of his healing power. “So, with some trepidation, to be sure, she touched his cloak and immediately the blood stopped flowing and she felt in her body that she was healed. She was different.”
Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.” The bishop said calling her “daughter” was sign of great compassion. He also wondered aloud how many healings – spiritual and physical – occurred at St. Peter’s during the past 150 years.
A second story in the Gospel focused on the dying, 12-year-old daughter of Jairus, a synagogue official who was at odds with some of the Jewish leadership because of his views on Jesus. The girl was dead by the time Jesus arrived at her house. Yet, he took her hand, told her to arise and she did, standing up and walking around.
“Jesus came to defeat death. And today, we get a glimpse of his ability to do what he was sent to do. He resuscitates a girl, just like he will lift up our bodies at the end of time, if we have faith,” Bishop Malesic said. He expanded on that by reminding us that each of us will die, but as Catholics, we believe in the Resurrection, and that gives us hope. He referred to Jesus as “a spiritual chiropractor who bring us back into line with God,” our heavenly Father, who he said goes to extreme lengths to save us, even sending Jesus to die for us so that we might live.
“Just like the women with the flow of blood, we should take the risk to reach out to Jesus for our healing. There is healing in his blood,” the bishop said.
“But it takes faith – faith enough to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, faith enough to enter into a conversation with him in prayer, faith enough to believe that with him, all things are possible – even life itself and especially everlasting life.”
After Mass, all were invited to a social gathering under a large tent on the parish grounds. There were displays about the parish history, photos during the recent church renovation/restoration and descriptions of the various pieces of sacred art, the windows and religious paintings in the church.