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Cincinnati Archdiocese Marks 200 Years

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Courtesy of The Catholic Telegraph
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Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr blessing the new Fenwick Hall at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in October 2019.

Cincinnati became the ninth Catholic diocese in the United States in 1821, encompassing Ohio, Michigan and parts of Wisconsin. On Saturday, June 19, the archdiocese marks its 200th anniversary.

A bicentennial Mass is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter in Chains. It will conclude with Archbishop Dennis Schnurr reconsecrating the archdiocese in a ceremony that will be live-streamed on Fountain Square.

The first parish was Christ Church, located at Liberty and Elm in Cincinnati, where St. Francis Seraph is today. Headstones from the churchyard can still be seen in the crypt in the church's basement. Old St. Mary's in Over-the-Rhine is the oldest house of worship still standing, dating to 1842.

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Credit Courtesy of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Archives
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St. Peter in Chains undergoes renovations in 1957.

The archdiocese has changed a lot in 200 years, according to Fr. David J. Endres, Ph.D., dean of the Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary's Seminary and chair of the archdiocese Bicentennial Committee.

"Probably the most notable change for our local Catholic community is going from very small frontier minority status to a much larger but also more diverse local Catholic church," Endres says, pointing to waves of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy and Poland. "Similar to our beginnings, we're becoming more diverse again with the arrival of Asian immigrants, Africans, Latinos... so I think in some ways that's the change but it's also the continuity in our local church."

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Credit Courtesy of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Archives
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Second Black Catholic Congress Centennial held in Cincinnati in 1990.

Endres identifies two landmark events throughout the past biennium. The first being the role of local Catholics during the Civil War era.

"Archbishop (John) Purcell ... was anti-slavery. He used the Cincinnati Catholic Telegraph - the diocesan newspaper - to promote an end to slavery, and that put him on the outside of a lot of discussions at that time," he recalls. "There were people that canceled their subscriptions; there were fellow bishops who were angry for him being what they considered overly political. I think the way the local church comes into the Civil War and then exits the Civil War era is certainly a turning point."

The second is the proliferation of buildings and institutions that came out of the 1920s. He notes that many local Catholic high schools that still exist today came out of the '20s. Parochial schools existed prior to this time period, he says, but now there was a concerted coming together, rather than each parish having its own school.

Saturday also marks the end of a 33-day pilgrimage across the 19-county archdiocese. Participants began walking and carrying a statue of Mary from the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Russells Point, Ohio, on May 16. It's been making stops at various churches and sites along the way. The pilgrimage concludes at St. Peter in Chains.

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Credit Courtesy of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Archives
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Mother Teresa in 1974 making her first of three trips to the Cincinnati area.

"We're very proud as Catholics to have been here in Southwest Ohio for 200 years," Endres concludes, adding that even non-Catholics have likely been connected with the church in some way.

"Whether that's through education or charitable or health care initiatives. If nothing else, you've been neighbors with Catholics or fellow employees and members of all kinds of civic associations. We think the Catholic church is a large part of our history and it will be so in the future as well."

Saturday's reconsecration will be live-streamed at Fountain Square beginning at noon. Afterward, a family concert featuring multicultural performances, choirs and food trucks will entertain people through 4 p.m.

Cincinnati is the 44th largest Catholic diocese in the country, with more than 440,000 parishioners. It's also the fifth largest Catholic school system in the U.S. in terms of enrollment with more than 40,000 students.