Cover Story: St. Mary Church - Restoring A Work of Grace and Beauty

By Grace DeGregorio
History provided by parish website, “The Bell of St. Mary” (Issue 5, Volume 1982, December 1982), Pastor Ken Schartz and Beth Mock

  • Stained glass windows, wooden pews and Gothic architecture Stained glass windows, wooden pews and Gothic architecture
  • Stained glass of Mary Stained glass of Mary
  • St. Mary Church altar St. Mary Church altar
  • Marisue Naber and John Schuler Marisue Naber and John Schuler
  • Katie Barton, Pastor Fr. Ken Schartz and Beth Mock Katie Barton, Pastor Fr. Ken Schartz and Beth Mock
  • First Communion 1914 First Communion 1914
  • St. Mary Church 1917 St. Mary Church 1917
  • St. Mary Church today St. Mary Church today

St. Mary in Hyde Park has provided a reverent place of worship, serving its parishioners and community since 1898. Its first Mass was celebrated on May 29 of that year in a feed store on Griffith Avenue owned and donated by local businessman, Tilden French. From that humble beginning, the first church building opened three years later in 1901 on three lots donated by Nicholas Walsh on the corner of Erie Avenue and Shady Lane in what is the current church’s back parking lot.

In 1905, under the leadership of St. Mary Pastor, Monsignor P.J. Hynes, a “noted speaker and conversationalist” and - not surprisingly - excellent fund raiser, parish growth flourished. Construction of the magnificent Gothic edifice facing Erie Avenue today was finished 1917 at a cost, according to the original building contract, of $115,000.

In celebration of the 2017 centennial year, the parish has planned a number of special events. This past January 22, an Opening Centennial Mass and Luncheon were held. The Mass saw the premier of “Mary, First Among Believers, a piece by Rev. J. Michael Joncas commissioned to commemorate the centennial.

However, even before the start of the year, the parish used the inspiration of the milestone anniversary to begin a monumental task - a thoughtful and methodical restoration of the 100 year old building.

“As an offshoot of the Long Range Planning,” explains current St. Mary Pastor Fr. Ken Schartz, “a Church Restoration Committee was formed to brainstorm ways that we can enhance St. Mary Church to the greater glory of God.” Included in this massive effort, now in its sixth year, are replacing the roof; cleaning the woodwork in the church, the stained glass windows and the crucifix; restoring the pews and kneelers; and enhancing the sound system and lighting. The goal is to complete all work by the end of 2017.

Marisue Naber and John Schuler, an active couple in the parish who “were married almost 22 years ago, have been school parents, past festival and booth chairs and commission members,” chair the Restoration Committee together. “Little did we know when we took on this responsibility that it would last this long! It has been about six years so far! Another significant involvement in the life of the parish is that, after seven years of formation, John was ordained a permanent deacon in the Church. That ministry includes assisting at weekly Masses, presiding at Baptisms, weddings, etc.”

According to Beth Mock, who heads School Development and Parish Communications, the couple “has been instrumental in getting contractors and bids with the committee. They have worked with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and, in general, have worked with much care and love.”

Marisue and John say they “feel a deep sense of gratitude for our faith community, and that has led us to want to give back as generously as we can. So, when our pastor, Fr. Ken Schartz, asked us to chair this committee, we of course said yes right away.

“We started out having meetings with a group of about 20 people, including our pastor, Deacon Tim Helmick, parish staff and parishioners. This group developed the list of projects that were needed and made decisions about prioritizing those projects. Currently, a smaller subgroup oversees the various projects.”

“The first project was to put on a new roof - we had to!” says Beth Mock, “then came the sound system and lighting.”

“Without a doubt, the lighting project, completed in November 2016, was the most challenging to all of us,” Marisue and John agree. “Lighting is an essential element for good liturgy, and we were determined to get this right.”

After interviewing several companies, the decision was made to hire the Schuler Shook lighting design firm from Chicago. The company had designed the lighting at the Cathedral Basilica in Covington, “with beautiful results in a similar, older church. The existing pendant lights throughout the nave of the church were relamped, and the side aisles and ceiling arches were lit. There are other accent lights throughout the church, especially behind the altar on the reredos.”

This past January, the daunting task of restoring the stained glass windows - considered the church’s “sparkling jewels” - began. They were produced in 1917 by the Charles Connick Studio of Boston, which had created the rose windows of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, as well as windows in that city’s massive Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine, those of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and over 5,000 churches and buildings across the U.S. At the time of his death in 1945, The New York Times reported Mr. Connick was “considered the world’s greatest artisan in stained glass windows.”

While the windows themselves speak to the quality, detail and artistry of Connick, the fact that 16 of the windows - eight side and eight clerestory - were completed and installed within four months is astounding.

“All male saints are on the right and all female saints are on the left - just as the bridal parties in weddings!” Fr. Schartz points out. “St. Edward the Confessor is the patron of England, St. Boniface of Germany and St. Louis of France - the motivation for selecting them was the involvement of these countries in World War I when the windows were created, the idea being if all three patrons are together, why can’t the countries be?”

The other side windows depict St. Patrick, St. Monica, St. Agnes, St. Cecelia and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. In addition, there are two rose windows - one north over the balcony with a random design, the other south over the reredos with each pane portraying an event in the life of Mary; the transept windows depicting four Jewish patriarchs, four disciples, four doctors of the Church; and other religious significant images appearing in the church for a total of 40 windows..

Stained Glass by Shenandoah in Front Royal, Virginia, a nationally renowned leader in the stained glass restoration industry, was selected for the refurbishment. Locally, the company has done work at St. Cecilia Church in Oakley and Old St. Mary Church in Over-the-Rhine.

All 40 windows - those visible in the nave as well as windows located in hallways above the sanctuary and vestibule - are being restored within a projected 18 month time frame. Due to EPA regulations, the work must be done off-site; and so groups of windows at a time are prepared, removed and transported to Shenandoah’s factory in Virginia for the restoration work.. When windows are removed, plywood that matches the interior stone of the church are installed to cover the opening. As the work proceeds, every effort is made to keep scaffolding at a minimum so as not to detract from regular worship.

Regarding the cleaning of woodwork and other artwork, Fr. Schartz explains, “Years of lit candles and incense burning have caused residue build-up that needs careful attention.” The beautiful oak carving woodwork, he says, was done by Johannes Kirschmeyer, who worked mainly in church sculpture and was based in Boston.

“The most famous work in the church is the crucifix created by Kirschmeyer,” says Fr. Schartz. “ It was the only one of its kind at the time, with other churches asking to reproduce it.” Suspended over the stone communion rail, on the crucifix in the carved figure of Christ, standing out from a flame-like background, with the figures of the Virgin Mary and St. John beneath and emblems of the four evangelists depicted. Restoring the glorious brightness of color to this focal point of the sanctuary is of great importance.

In addition, carved symbols throughout the church - roses (symbol of Mary), wheat and grapes (symbols of the Eucharist), etc. - will be brought back to original clarity.

Katie Barton, the Director of Music for St. Mary parish, is directing the restoration of the Steinway piano and pipe organ which, she says, “has about 3000 pipes and needs a lot of work. We’re looking into rebuilding with custom leather, metal and woodwork. We’re hoping the organ restoration will last decades.”

The parish and community will have the opportunity to hear the new, rich sounds at the second celebration event - a Centennial Concert to be held in the church this June 4 at 4 p.m. featuring “Can You Hear Me Now?” - “a multi-movement work for choir, soloists and chamber orchestra,” explains Katie. “The premise is listening to God’s voice, with soloists representing the people in history who have answered God’s call.”

These are the highlights of the work being done. “We want to mention and commend the outstanding work of our construction manager, Miller Valentine Group [MVG],” say Marisue and John. “When we met with President Chris Kneuven several years ago, we were certain this was the company we wanted to work with us. We have worked most closely for the last six years with John McCafferty from MVG. John’s role has been indispensable. He has been knowledgeable, honest, and an excellent listener, and has demonstrated a real sense of caring about our church and its restoration. We also are grateful for the input of our owner’s representative, Tom Neyer, Sr., whose vast experience had given us terrific guidance.”

“Our parishioners have been supportive of this restoration,” says Beth Mock. “They think of the sacrifice people made when the church was first built.”

“God has been so good to us...and our response is just to be grateful servants and to use our gifts in the best way we can,” echo Marisue and John. “We have an amazingly dedicated and talented group of parishioners working with us to oversee the restoration. We continue to be gratified and humbled by the generosity of our parishioners, both past and present. Our fervent hope is that our beautiful worship space will continue to serve many future generations.”

“Our Centennial Celebration will be in December 2017, and we invite all members of the community to come to a liturgy or concert and see the inside of our beautiful church!”

For a complete listing of the events scheduled by St. Mary to commemorate its building Centennial, please see the sidebar to this article. Visit .

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