Second and Washington Streets

St. Joseph Centennial, 1867-1967

Beginning in  the early nineteenth century, a vast migration of Catholics from Germany to the United States ocurred, a result of religious repression which had been developing over the years.  Many of these German Catholics drifted westward down the Ohio River, settling in Cincinnati and its environs.  Bringing with them skills in farming and mechanical aptitude, many of these pioneers found their way to Hamilton where farm land was plentiful and opportunities in the machine tool and allied industries were already established.

With them, too, these settlers brought their Faith.  At first they had to rely on occasional visits by missionaries who preached, said Mass, and administered the Sacraments.  Eventually, in 1832, St. Stephen's Church was founded and dedicated four years later.  Composed of both English and German-speaking parishioners, language barriers existed from the start.  The situation was resolved when St. Mary's was organized for the English speaking in 1848 and St. Stephen remained for the Germans.

The Catholic population continued to expand and a movement to establish anothe congregation began.  Following a meeting held by Father Nicholas Wachter, O.F.M., pastor of St. Stephen, an offer of a site at Second and Washington Streets was made by William Beckett and Job Owens, prominent industrialists of the day.  Beckett and Owens added a donation of $2,500 toward construction of a new church.

Sunday, July 23, 1865, marked the laying of the cornerstone of the church to be dedicated to St. Joseph.  The Catholic Telegraph tells of some three thousand Catholics journeying from Cincinnati and Dayton to attend the ceremony in what was then the southern extremity of Hamilton.

Rev. Dionysious Abarth, 0.S.F., addressed those assembled in German and the ceremonies were performed by Right Reverend Bishop Rosencrans, assisted by several Franciscan lay brothers and Rev. Thomas Byrne of Mt. St. Mary's Seminary. Construction of the new church was placed under the control of Rev. J. C. Albrinck, pastor of a church in Reading, Ohio, who afterwards became Vicar General of the Archdiocese. St. Joseph's Church was formally dedicated on September 15, 1867, by Archbishop Purcell, assisted by several Cincinnati priests and priests from other Hamilton parishes. At this remote date it is hard to recapture the fervor with which the dedication ceremonies are described in the Catholic Telegraph of that time and one can only contemplate with awe the simple faith and wholesome commitment of all who participated.

A sidelight on the dedication ceremonies is that the new church was described as a "German Catholic Church”, and the name in stone still on the front of the church arrests to that classification. It was many years later, in the early nineteen hundreds during the pastorate of Father Holthaus, that German was replaced by English in general usage in the church at the instigation of Archbishop Moeller. Even afterwards the church was known as a German church in distinction to St.Mary's, which was known more or less as an Irish church, although general use of the German language had almost disappeared. The typical American fusion of peoples from different lands had worked inexorably until in 1947 at the funeral of Msgr. Cogan, Archbishop McNicholas could pay tribute to that saintly man by commenting on what he had done to bring about such a wholesome disregard of national origins.
Main Altar of St. Joseph

Rev. George P. Steinlage was the first pastor of St. Joseph's Church, appointed several months before the dedication. He had studied in Germany and completed his education at Mt. St. Mary's Seminary, afterwards serving as assistant at St. Philomena's and St. Paul's Churches in Cincinnati before coming to Hamilton. Under his youthful leadership the new parish took firm hold in the community and a parochial school was started, at first consisting of two rooms, later expanding to four to accommodate 140 pupils. A chronicle of the period related, too, that in 1868 a mission was conducted by two Precious Blood Fathers, Rev. Joseph Dwenger, C.PP.S., later bishop of Ft. Wayne, and Rev. Bernard Austerman, C.PP.S., at which over 800 attended and received the Sacraments. It is noteworthy to observe how history repeats itself in that various members of the Precious Blood Congregation have served with distinction as assistants at St. Joseph's for the past twenty-five years. It was at the close of this mission that Archbishop Purcell presided and blessed two statues, one, of the Blessed Mother and Child, now above our side altar, and the other, of St. Joseph, previously above the other side altar; both statues were a gift of H. Holbrock.

In March, 1873, Father Steinlage was transferred to St. Boniface Church in Piqua. Rev. F. Joseph Resch succeeded Fr. Steinlage as pastor at St. Joseph's and it was during his pastorate that land was purchased and the original convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame built across from the church. Under Fr. Resch, also, the present main altar was built and installed by Albard and Kloster of Cincinnati and dedicated with due ceremony on April 15, 1877.

During  the same year disaster struck. A violent tornado toppled the church steeple, sending the bells hurtling down to smash through the roof and demolish the organ. Temporary repairs were hastily made but several years passed before the damage could be repaired. A member of the parish relates that his father who then attended St. Joseph's School, recalled that, for the Angelus, the schoolboys used to stand in front of church and sound the clappers customarily used instead of the altar bells during the latter part of Holy Week. . .