Friday, June 20th, 2014
By Amy Kronenberger
IC celebrates 150th anniversary
  CELINA - Sunday begins a six-month celebration marking the 150th anniversary of Immaculate Conception Catholic parish.
The church was founded in 1864 by 20 Catholic families who had settled in Celina. The city's first Catholic resident was Owen Gallagher, who emigrated in 1860, according to an article written by parishioner Charlie Mescher for the St. Marys Deanery newsletter "Northern Lights."
The group first met for Mass at a local factory. The congregation quickly grew, and the first church was constructed on the southwest corner of Anthony and Walnut streets, across the street from the current church. It's cornerstone was laid by Archbishop Joseph Purcell on Aug. 3, 1864, Mescher wrote.
"In spite of several additions, the original building soon became too small for the growing congregation, and plans were inaugurated for a newer and larger building," Mescher wrote.
Construction of the new building began in 1900; it was completed and dedicated in June 1903.
"The imposing structure still stands on the corner of Walnut and Anthony streets in Celina and currently is the house of worship for nearly 1,400 families," according to Mescher.
The school was first constructed in 1878, and a new building was built in 1918. A high school was built in 1937, and an addition to the grade school was completed in 1959.
The high school closed in 1972, but the building is still used by several parish organizations and serves as a parish activity center. The school's enrollment for the 2013-2014 year for preschool through sixth grade was 156.
"What started as a flicker of faith among a handful of families 150 years ago has burned brighter and brighter, so that Immaculate Conception now stands as a beacon of our Catholic Church, guiding the faithful to Jesus Christ," Mescher wrote.
Parish member Janet Smith helped research the parish history and found 142 descendants of the 20 founding families still live in Celina and attend Immaculate Conception.
"I've done a lot of looking into the history; it's very fascinating to me," she said.
Smith said most of the founding families were German immigrants but a few were French.
"You're talking old-world families who came here and chose to settle in Celina and form a church," she said. "It's just amazing to me."
Smith took special notice of how immigrants from different countries came to the area with varying traditions and customs and blended them into new traditions.
Parish member Diane Martens came to Celina as a young adult in the 1960s to be a special education instructor for Celina City Schools. Not long after, she met her husband and started a family, she said.
As her children grew up, she was asked to teach at IC. Her three children attended the Catholic school and the church remained a central part of their lives.
"This church is such an icon in the community," she said. "When I look at that dome, it gives me reassurance and comfort."
Her children feel the same way, saying the church gives them a sense of belonging to the community, she added.
When Martens moved to Celina, she said she immediately felt at home with the church, noting the parish in her home town of Wooster shares the same name and was built with the same Romanesque architecture.
"Although you could fit my old church in one small corner of this church," she added.
Martens believes the parish - and organized religion in general - plays a large part in bonding communities.
"In conjunction with parents, the church is one of the main ethical bases for kids," she said. "And adults too for that matter."
Smith, who converted to Catholicism in 1967 after becoming engaged to her Catholic boyfriend, said the change was easy for her.
"I was raised Christian, so to me it wasn't that big of a leap," she said.
Over 47 years, Immaculate Conception has become an extension of her family, she said.
"It's just home to me now," she said. "It's been 40-some years that I converted - my kids all went to IC school - it's always been such a central part of our lives."
The opening celebration for the anniversary will begin with a noon Mass on Sunday with the parish picnic to follow. The next event - Ecumenical Community Thanksgiving service - is 7 p.m. Nov. 23, and the anniversary closing celebration Mass is noon Dec. 7, with bishop Joseph Bizner officiating. A reception will follow the Mass.
The parish also will offer free tours of the church to the public during the celebration period. They are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. June 29; 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. July 26; 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. July 27; 1:30 p.m. Sept. 7; 1:30 p.m. Oct. 5; and 1:30 p.m. Nov. 2.
Commemorative Christmas ornaments will be available for purchase during the church festival July 18-20.
For more information, go online at www.celina-ic.org.
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