Immaculate Conception Congregation, Bellevue, Ohio

Immaculate Conception Congregation, Bellevue, Ohio. By Rev. Terwoord. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass had been offered at intervals in private dwellings in Bellevue by priests sent here by the Rt. Rev. Amadens Rapp, D. D., first bishop of the newly erected diocese of Cleveland, until about 1852 when Rev. Jas. Vincent Conlan, stationed at Holy Angels Church, Sandusky, established a Mission here and looked after the spiritual wants of the small congregation holding services at different times in dwellings until January, 1856, when he was succeeded by Rev. F. M. Boff as resident pastor of Holy Angels and likewise served the Bellevue Mission until his departure from Sandusky in March, 1857. Rev. A. Caron was then sent to Holy Angels and shortly afterward, Rev. Denis Tighe was appointed as his assistant with charge of Bellevue. During this period plans for providing a suitable place of worship were considered and the building of a church was contemplated. Steps were taken to realize this cherished hope, but before much was done the charge of this Mission was given to Rev. Narcissus Ponchill, then resident pastor of St. Peterís Church, Norwalk, who, early in 1859, organized the Catholics of this place and vicinity as a regular canonically established parish under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception and on May 11, 1858, purchased the frame warehouse and lots on which it stood from J. B. Higbee for $500.00. The building was soon transformed into a church and served as such until the completion of the present edifice in August, 1884. Father Ponchill remained in charge of the Mission until he was called, at the age of only 35 years, to his eternal reward, on Sept. 15, 1860.

Rev. John Quinn succeeded Fr. Ponchill in December, 1860, being appointed first resident pastor of St. Maryís, Norwalk, a Mission organized by his predecessor (Fr. Ponchill), with Beilevue as a Mission which he however attended only until the following April, when Rev. Jas. Monahan was appointed first resident pastor of Bellevue. During his pastorate three lots and a frame house for a pastoral residence were purchased on July 18, 1863, at a cost of $1,100.00. Fr. Monahan was succeeded in September, 1866, by the Rev. Timothy M. Mahony, who established, in 1367, the parish school which has ever since continued with success. He also purchased ground for burial purposes which is now our beautiful St. Mary's Cemetery.

The Rev. Edward Mears was the next resident pastor, his appointment having been made in August, 1871. He found the location of the church quite unsuitable, and as the prospects for the erection of a new church were very promising, he purchased, Jan. 20, 1873, two fine lots nearer the center of the town for $1,800.00. But the financial panic of 1873, whose dire effects struck the entire country, forced Father Mears and his people to indefinitely postpone the erection of the much needed church. In April, 1874, Father Mears was transferred to Crestline, and the Rev. J. D. Bowles was appointed to the pastorate of Believue, remaining in charge till May, 1876. During the following two months, Rev. G. Rudolph of St. Mary's, Clyde, attended Bellevue as a Mission, when the Rev. James Molby was sent here in July, 1876, and was succeeded by the Rev. W. J. Gibbons on June 15, 1879. He requested a leave of absence in September, 1880, owing to the feeble state of his health, and went to Europe. During the interval between his resignation and the temporary appointment of the Rev. J. T. Cahill in November, 1880, the congregation was attended by the Rev. Secretary of the Diocese, Geo. F. Houck.

Shortly after Father Cahill took charge the possibility of erecting a new church was debated. Plans were procured, inspected and approved and following the adoption, funds were raised and in August, 1381, work on the foundation was begun. In October of the same year Father Gibbons returned from his European visit much improved in health, and again took charge of the congregation. Work on the building was vigorously pushed and on July 9, 1882, the corner stone was laid and before winter the new brick edifice was enclosed. In the fall of 1882, Father Gibbons purchased an additional lot west of the new church, on which he immediately transferred the priest's residence. At the same time the three lots purchased by Father Monahan in 1863 were disposed of for $2,000.00. The church edifice was completed during the summer of 1884 and on August 3d was solemnly dedicated by the Rt. Rev. Richard Gilmore, Bishop of Cleveland. The church is an ornate brick structure 45 by 90 feet, of Gothic architecture, with two spires and stained glass windows and cost about $17,000. Father Gibbons continued to minister to the spiritual wants of the congregation till the following spring, when God called him to his eternal reward. After an illness of several weeks he died on April 1, 1885, lamented by all who knew him, and especially so by the people for whose spiritual welfare he had labored so hard and successfully.

The Rev. F. Rupert was appointed to succeed Father Gibbons, and assumed charge on April 16, 1885. Desiring to improve the parochial school, he placed the same in charge of the Sisters of St. Francis of Tiffin, Ohio, Sept. 1, 1885, and two months later (November, 1885) purchased a home and lot facing the church as a residence for these Sisters at a cost of $1,100. During the month of March, 1886, a handsome communion railing of black walnut and richly gilt, was placed in position in the new church at a cost of $208.00, a gift of the new pastor. The sanctuary, which had only two altars, was provided with an additional one and a statue of St. Joseph, costing $185.00. He also bought a supply of vestments at an outlay of $500.00, half of which sum he likewise donated. The financial condition at the close of the year 1886 was very good, considering the vast amount of property acquired, buildings erected and improvements made during the past five years. The indebtedness was reduced to $800.00, five hundred on the new church, and three hundred on the Sisters' residence, purchased the year before.

The year 1887 was one of much activity for the parish. February 2d, the congregation purchased a brick tenement house situated immediately in the rear of the new church, which had been built and served as a public school for a number of years, for $1,325.00. Seven hundred dollars were spent in remodeling the building, which gave the parish a four-room school. September, 1887, the school was used for the first time and réplaced the frame building used for this purpose, which stood west of the old church.

Aug. 27, 1890, Rev. F. Rupert, the pastor, took a temporary departure, going to the Catholic University at Washington, D. C. During his absence Rev. P. W. Schirac, C. PPS., served the parish from August 27th to October 25th, and Rev. W. J. Smith, of the "Order of the Fathers of Mercy" from October 25th to Jan. 2, 1891, after which time Father Rupert assumed his pastoral charge.

The Sisters' residence was enlarged and improved during the summer of 1892 at an expense of $1,200.00. In July the old frame church, which had been used as a recreation hail since it was abandoned as a church, was regarded as unsafe for use, was torn down and the lot on which it stood was sold for $260.00. In 1893, the parish was again cleared of all debts and when he was transferred to the pastorate of St. Paul's at Norwalk on Oct. 24, 1894, left a balance of several hundred dollars in the church treasury. Father Rupert's devotion to Catholic education was reflected in the high degree of efficiency to which the parish school was raised by his zealous work. Being an active worker both in spiritual matters and civic affairs, his departure was regretted alike by Catholics and non-Catholics.

Rev. G. J. Reiken succeeded Fr. Rupert (Oct. 24, 1894), who in the following year had the pastoral residence considerably improved by an outlay of $700.00. Desiring to further the spiritual life of the parish, he organized in May, 1895, "The Society of the Holy Family" with 86 families as members. On Dec. 14, 1895, he left Bellevue for his new appointment at Perrysburg and the same day was succeeded by Rev. J. A. Michenf elder.

Father Michenfelder served the parish twenty-three and one-half years, during which time only needed improvements and repairs were made. The cemetery was re-platted, surveyed and graded. Crushed stone drives were placed in and around the cemetery. A wide cement walk was laid along the entire frontage on E. Center Street and a new approach to the church, also of cement, was placed in position when the street was paved and church property graded. The electric lighting system was installed and donated by A. Ruffing. The church was further beautified by frescoeing and the donation of several statues. Later the handsome set of stations were donated by the heirs of A. Ruffing.

The health of Fr. Michenfelder was not the best; although not complaining, he often worked under difficulties. In the spring of 1913, he asked the Rt. Rev. Bishop to give him an assistant, hoping that in a short time he might regain his strength. Rev. E. A. Reilly was sent here in May, 1913, to assist and remained one year.

During the World War this parish "did its bit" by the individual members being active in civic work and 73 of the parish answered the call to defend our country-one-fourth of the city's quota.

Father Michenfelder's improvement in health was only temporary and in the early part of 1919 he petitioned the Bishop to accept his resignation, which was done, and on June 12, 1919, was relieved by the appointment of Rev. F. A. Terwoord, assistant at St. Boniface Church, Cleveland.

History of North Central Ohio
Embracing Richland, Ashland, Wayne,
Medina, Lorin, Huron and Knox Counties
BY: William A. Duff
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianapolis 1931

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