Napoleon St. Augustine celebrates 125 years of history

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Written by PAT TODAK, Special to the Chronicle   
Friday, 01 August 2008 01:00
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NAPOLEON—As Napoleon St. Augustine Parish celebrates the 125th anniversary of its church this summer, two facts related to the construction of the church seem almost incredulous.

The first is this beautiful Gothic structure was built for only $15,000. The second is the parish had a debt of less than $275 when the building was completed in 1883.

Of course, $15,000 could, obviously, buy a lot more back in the 1800s. So the small amount of debt is probably even more amazing than the cost to build the church.

 The congregation of Napoleon St. Augustine assemble in front of the church after the 125th anniversary Mass June 8. (Photo courtesy of St. Augustine)
 
The congregation of Napoleon St. Augustine assemble in front of the church after the 125th anniversary Mass June 8. (Photo courtesy of St. Augustine)
The St. Augustine parishioners back then must have had a great deal of faith according to one parish historian, Gary Westhoven. He notes that when the parish took a vote whether to build a new church, only one parishioner voted against the plans, believing the parishioners would never be able to raise the $15,000. That dissenting voter later recanted and joined the ranks of believers.

That the parish had the funds to build a church at all is surprising considering they were deeply in debt when their first full-time priest arrived about 1869. Parish historians including Mr. Westhoven, Mary Fran Meekison, Mary Lee Brink and Mary E. Fruth credit this priest, Father Dean Michael Putz, with leading the congregation to financial solvency.

Church history indicates Fr. Putz was able to pay off the parish debt, accrue a large balance in the bank, purchase a sizeable lot in the center of Napoleon and also build a home for the Sisters of Notre Dame who taught in the parish school.

Fr. Putz had only one request concerning the new church — no pillars. The congregation happily complied, voting to build a Gothic style church, without pillars. Ground was broken in the spring of 1881. The church was dedicated June 17, 1883, by Bishop Richard Gilmour of Cleveland. The Diocese of Toledo had not yet been established.

By all accounts Fr. Putz was a mover and shaker, Mr. Westhoven notes. During his years at St. Augustine, Fr. Putz was remembered for his stern appearance although Mr. Westhoven says, ìPeople just loved him.î He was known to stop by the area’s taverns and pool halls telling the men inside to go home to their wives and children — and they did. 

Fr. Putz served at St. Augustine for 55 years, until his death in 1925. Besides overseeing the building of the church, Fr. Putz was able to realize his dream of building a new school at St. Augustine, completed just two months before his death. He donated his home located across the street from the church to be used as a convent. Fr. Putz is the only priest buried in St. Augustine cemetery.

Other parish priests were instrumental in making the church what it is today.

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Father Francis C. Schmuck, who served right after Fr. Putz, added a pulpit to the church as well as storm windows, re-frescoing and other finishing touches. Father Joseph Myers, an avid carpenter, attended to numerous repairs and upgrades. Father Joseph Mrowca was responsible for sandblasting the brick and adding the church’s new glass doors. Father Paul Dorley was on hand for the 100th anniversary of the church in 1983 and oversaw major repair work on the organ. At that time Mrs. Meekison worked to have the church listed as a national historic building.

Father Fred Duschl came after Fr. Dorley, serving 12 years at the parish. He oversaw the reconfiguring of the sanctuary and had carpet put in the aisles. Fr. Duschl also excavated underneath the church to give the parish a large hall, which is now used as one of the main gathering areas.

ìYou can’t help being in that room without feeling the history of the parish,î says Mr. Westhoven. ìThe stone walls speak so much about the ancient age of the church.î

St. Augustine’s current pastor, Father Daniel Borgelt, replaced the slate roof.

To celebrate the 125th anniversary of the church, retired Toledo Auxiliary Bishop Robert W. Donnelly celebrated Mass with the parish June 8. The Mass was followed by a cookout and talent showcase. The weekend festivities also included a Mexican dinner and golf outing. The parish is also selling replicas of St. Augustine Church for $35, which can be purchased by calling the parish office at 419-592-7656.

Despite being 125 years old, the church has been well loved and cared for by its parishioners and parish staff and will no doubt be standing strong for its next major birthday in 2023.
Last Updated on Monday, 01 December 2008 10:10
 
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