A few quick facts about St. Patrick's Catholic Church:
- It is over 150 years old;
- It is surrounded by old warehouses and a secular community college;
- It is located in the downtown core of a major metropolitan city;
- It has no “neighborhood” - no houses, no families, no community;
- It was established and built by poor Irish immigrants.
If your first reaction to these facts was: “It would take a miracle to fill that church with parishioners”, you would have a good chance of being right anywhere in the United States. If you said that about our Saint Patrick’s Church, you'd be very wrong.
Welcome to Saint Patrick Church of Columbus, Ohio. We are a growing and diverse parish, full of youthful, traditional, and, some say, evangelical parishioners. Our strength, however, in this hostile environment is largely a result of the steadfast efforts of the Dominican Fathers to carry on their tradition of strong Catholic preaching, instruction, worship and devotion. This article is your introduction to the history and tradition of St. Patrick’s.
THE EARLY YEARS
Until 1850, all Catholics in Columbus attended Holy Cross Church near German Village, which is historically the Mother Church. By 1850, the rapidly increasing German and English speaking populations realized the need for a new parish. Therefore, the members of Holy Cross voted to remove the English speaking Catholics to a new parish, to be known as St. Patrick’s. In February of 1851, Archbishop Purcell of Cincinnati approved creation of the new parish and designated Reverend John Furlong as pastor.
For the first year, both parishes shared Holy Cross Church. After much prayer, planning and fund raising, newly appointed pastor Father James Meagher negotiated the purchase of a suitable site on Seventh Street (now Grant Ave.) for the sum of one thousand dollars. Plans were adopted for a Norman Gothic design, with two glorious towers patterned after the ancient castles of Ireland. The cornerstone was laid with great fanfare and ceremony on September 5,1852. Construction was nearly halted on several occasions due to lack of funds, yet on Sunday, September 25, 1853 Holy Mass was celebrated within the walls of St. Patrick Church for the first time. Two years later, a large bell with a beautiful, deep tone was hung in the south tower. Over the next several years, side altars and the large pipe organ were added. A residence for the pastor and his curates was established by Reverend Edward Fitzgerald in the l860’s.
By the end of the Civil War, it was apparent that the parish had outgrown the church. Devoted to serving the people of Columbus, Father Fitzgerald purchased land on Broad Street for a new church. That church is now known as St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Soon after, Father Fitzgerald was consecrated and appointed Bishop of Little Rock, Arkansas, by Pope Pius IX, much to the dismay of parishioners who unsuccessfully circulated a petition opposing his transfer.
In February, 1867, The Right Reverend Sylvester Rosecrans arrived from Cincinnati, announcing to all parishioners that he came simply as Pastor of St. Patrick Church. However, it was widely known that Columbus had already been selected as one of ten new dioceses authorized for the United States.
BEFORE THE GREAT FIRE
By 1855, the brick structure of Saint Patrick Church was complete. In those days, St. Patrick’s was located in a large field on the outskirts of town. Columbus lay mostly to the South and West. Directly West of St. Patrick’s, near High Street, was Union Station. A mud road connecting the railroad station with St. Patrick’s became known as the “Irish Broadway”. As the parish grew and houses were built on either side of the road, this mud road was finally christened “Naghten Street”.
Although many of the original interior features of St. Patrick’s were lost during the great fire of 1935, newspaper clippings and early photographs from 1875 show a finely painted, richly detailed interior. In the early days, the church interior was dominated by traditional Catholic paintings hung on the walls. Near the ceiling were simple paintings of the symbols of the Catholic Church, such as chalices, doves, and the Sacred Heart.
By 1877, the original walls had begun to weaken and a general refurbishment was undertaken. Large brick buttresses were added to the exterior of the main church walls. These buttresses are located on the outside of the church building.
The “new” organ has over 2,000 pipes and dates from the Great Fire of 1935 church between each stained glass window. In the 1880s, the original roof shingles were replaced with a well braced slate roof and colored glass windows were installed. In 1882, the first lifelike representations of Saints were painted directly on the walls and ceiling.
In 1885, the Bishop of Columbus requested that the Dominican Order take charge of St. Patrick’s. Under Dominican leadership, St. Patrick’s gained fame as the first school and church in Columbus to have centralized steam heat rather than individual stoves.
Many of the interior features we see today were installed in the early 1900s. In 1909, the Blessed Virgin’s Sodality donated the stained glass window that is seen high on the left side of the sanctuary. It depicts St. Dominic receiving the Rosary. The Holy Name Society gave us the high window on the right of the sanctuary, which depicts St. Patrick preaching to the pagan High King of Ireland, Leary, and his druids. In 1911, Bishop Hartley gave us our beautiful main altar in thanksgiving for the role that St. Patrick’s played in his own spiritual formation as a young man. The Harding family donated the two side altars. By the mid-1920s, the magnificent Belgian stained glass windows were purchased and installed. Through the grace of God, all these “modern” improvements survived the great fire.
THE GREAT FIRE OF 1935
May 28, 1935 was a windy, nasty day. Routine repairs to the roof of the church were nearing completion when a workman’s blowtorch accidentally ignited the dry straw in a bird’s nest hidden in the rain spouting. The Columbus Fire Department reacted quickly and efficiently. Through their heroic efforts, the walls of the church were saved and the magnificent stained glass windows were unscathed.
The great pipe organ, on the other hand, was completely ruined; however, ample insurance covered the loss. In little over a year, the church was reopened.
During reconstruction many improvements were made. Confessionals were recessed into the side walls and pillars which previously supported the choir loft were removed. Beautifully sculpted Stations of the Cross were hung, and new pew heads bearing the Irish shamrock were installed. As a final “improvement”, the Shrine of Blessed Margaret of Castello was installed in the space formerly occupied by the old confessional. During the rebuilding, Holy Mass was held in the adjacent school building. Today, some evidence of the great fire remains. An adventurous climb high into the North Tower will reveal the charred remains of some of the original church rafters.
After World War II, newspaper clippings and photos revealed the interior of St. Patrick’s as finely detailed and very ornate. Each window, painting and statue was surrounded by an intricate geometric pattern. By the 1970s, the interior of our church was in need of refurbishment again, and the pastel blue and muted white color scheme we see today was selected. This latest remodeling simplified the interior design of the church and enhanced the beauty and appeal of the historic features of Saint Patrick Church.
SAINT MARGARET OF CASTELLO
Saint Margaret of Castello was born of a wealthy, noble Italian family near Florence in 1287. Born a hunchback, dwarf, blind and lame, her family was ashamed of her and kept her hidden in virtual imprisonment for nine years in a tiny cell attached to a forest church. It was only through the family chaplain that Saint Margaret came to know God. Seeking a miracle, her parents took her to a Franciscan Shrine. When she wasn’t cured, they abandoned her.
Saint Margaret’s faith and courage inspired others in the community to take pity on her and to help her survive. Eventually she became a member of the Dominican Third Order of Castello, where she lived an exemplary life of prayer, penance, and charity. Her incorrupt body lies under the main altar in St. Dominic’s Church, Castello, Italy.
Margaret of Castello was declared Blessed by the Catholic Church on October 19,1609. She was canonized a saint on April 24, 2021. Saint Margaret is an inspiration to those who are discouraged and tempted to self-pity. The Shrine of Saint Margaret at St. Patrick Church is one of three in the United States, the other two being in Dominican churches in Louisville and Philadelphia.
On October 31, 2021 at St. Patrick’s the Most Reverend Robert J. Brennan, Bishop of Columbus, celebrated Mass in honor of St. Margaret. After the Mass Bishop Brennan elevated her Shrine at St. Patrick Church to be a Diocesan Shrine, encouraging the faithful to make pilgrimages to seek the intercession of St. Margaret.
THE DOMINICAN FATHERS
The Dominican presence in the United States can be traced to Most Reverend Edward Dominic Fenwick, first Bishop of Cincinnati. Born in southern Maryland in 1768, young Fenwick was sent abroad to complete his studies at Holy Cross College in Belgium, a college of English Dominicans. Father Fenwick was ordained in 1793, and later convinced his superiors to allow him to migrate back to his native United States.
Father Fenwick was quickly dispatched to join settlers moving West. In 1806, he established the first U.S. Dominican House and Church in Springfield, Kentucky. By 1818, he established the first Catholic Church in Ohio near Somerset. Father Fenwick wrote a friend in England “that in the State of Ohio there are 500,000 souls and not a single priest with a home of his own.” Through his apostolic work, Father Fenwick earned the title “Apostle of Ohio”. Until 1824, the only priests in Ohio were Dominicans.
Today, the Dominican Order has four Provinces in the United States. Columbus is in the Eastern (St. Joseph’s) Province, which includes over 300 priests and brothers working at home and in the missions.