By Shelley Grieshop
ST. SEBASTIAN -- Jerry Will remembers the school bus dropping him off at St. Sebastian Catholic Church each morning before school.
Now, at 72, he stands in the heart of the barren church where pews, Stations of the Cross and other items have been removed for renovation. He watches carefully as workers prepare to paint the interior.
"I remember when we didn't even have carpet in here," says Will, who was baptized at the church as an infant.
Located on a corner lot where St. Sebastian Road and County Road 716A meet, the historic brick and stone church is surrounded by farm fields and nestled between the small villages of Carthagena and Cassella. The parish, which celebrated its 150th year in 2002, consists of about 70 families.
The church is nearing the end of a five-year renovation plan, which includes repairing walls and the ceiling and lots and lots of paint. A professional artist will arrive in a few weeks to touch up four circular angel murals on the walls of the sanctuary that date back to the early 1900s. The project is expected to be finished by Easter Sunday.
Parish members have pledged more than $157,000 for the project so far.
Sunday, weekly and special Masses have been moved to St. John the Baptist Church in Maria Stein, another of the five parishes included in the Catholic Marion Cluster headed by the Revs. Ken Schroeder and Harry Cavanaugh, Precious Blood priests.
During the last five years, roof and tuck pointing of the brick was completed. Before the roof was repaired, moisture had caused damage to the plaster, and that currently is being addressed before painting commences.
"This is the final phase," says Brenda Schwieterman, parish council president and an integral part of the renovation project.
Schwieterman says she believes it's been more than 50 years since the entire interior of the church has been painted. Preserving original artwork and stenciling has been a priority, she adds.
The church is unique in many ways, despite the fact it is located in a cluster of small churches in southern Mercer County. St. Sebastian parish, which began with 20 German Catholic families in the mid-1800s, was consecrated Sept. 18, 1904, by Auxiliary Bishop Henry Moeller. Very few churches in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati have been consecrated, although officials aren't sure of the number.
"Since the Code of Canon Law in 1917, churches are now dedicated," says Dan Andriacco, a spokesman for the archdiocese.
Church consecrations, not performed anymore today, required a ceremony with a bishop and the use of oils, not water as is now used for traditional blessings, Andriacco says.
A consecrated church can be used only for church functions, Catholic history notes. As proof of the church's sacred blessing, 12 marble crosses adorn the walls inside the building; they are never to be removed.
Another unique aspect of the parish is the scheduling of Adoration, which is not held weekly by any other local church. Each Thursday parishioners are offered the special prayer time in the presence of the holy monstrance, a receptacle that holds the Eucharistic host.
The Rev. Schroeder says the spirit of the parish has always kept it going, despite obstacles through the years, including a fire that destroyed the building in 1903. The church was rebuilt a year later, and that same spirit and pride is helping guide the renovation project, he adds.
"This is a strong close-knit community, and they really wanted to see this happen," he says. "The members, I believe, are very excited about the nice, clean bright church they'll come back to very soon."