By John Stegeman
Whether it was fate or a predilection for sleeping in, I don’t know, but I woke up late the morning of June 7. While this caused me to miss a morning obligation, it also freed up enough time for me to visit two former Glenmary mission churches in Scioto County, Ohio.
I was en route to Charleston, W.Va., for Glenmary’s annual Assembly and chose a less direct route — the path through Scioto County. Scioto County is in southern Ohio. The southern edge of it abuts the Ohio River, and it is the furthest southwest county of the Diocese of Columbus. When Glenmary first served the area, the missions were in the Diocese of Cincinnati.
At the time, Scioto County was home to three Glenmary mission churches. You can read more about Scioto County’s parishes below. As a Glenmary employee, it felt like a pilgrimage of sorts to visit two of our former missions. The pilgrimage pulled double duty for me as Scioto County is the home of Shawnee State University, my alma matter, which I was also able to visit.
Despite spending my collegiate years not far from three of Glenmary’s former missions, I had never visited one.
The first former Glenmary mission one encounters driving from Cincinnati through Scioto County is Our Lady of Lourdes in Otway, Ohio. Before I talk about the church, let me fill you in on Otway.
The village has a population of 87 people today, and at no point in its history did more than 300 reside there. There is a gas station/restaurant, a Family Dollar store, an old school building and some churches, including Our Lady of Lourdes. It takes about a minute to drive through the whole place.
I parked at the Family Dollar across the street, grabbed my camera and walked over to the small country church. Despite its relative size, the red brick structure’s two-story bell tower still managed to seem imposing. The front door was locked, but a connector between the church and an old house was open.
Inside, there wasn’t a human soul around, but the sanctuary lamp burned brightly near the tabernacle. The church was cozy but classy. Simple but sacred. In the vestibule near the main entrance, the rope to ring the church bell hung down. I resisted the temptation to pull it —barely.
Kneeling briefly to pray, I wondered what it was like to worship there in the 1940s. I imagine the church looked pretty much the same, though of course the sanctuary would have been different. Even now, only 4 percent of Scioto County residents are Catholic, but here on the main road through town stood a proud Catholic church.
Aside from the main body of the church, there was an addition with extra seating and a hospitality area complete with kitchen and bulletin board. The only references to Our Lady of Lourdes’ past as a Glenmary mission were a handwritten mention of Glenmary’s Father Ray Orlett on the bulletin board, a Glenmary Sisters prayer card in the vestibule and what appeared to be a mission bell outside the side entrance. I left them a couple copies of Glenmary Challenge.
Though the church was built in 1917, Glenmary served there from 1942 to 1956.
The addition connected to an old house next door that may have once served as a rectory. Based on a sign that hung out front, the building was a “volunteer house” at one point.
Behind the church were a couple of Marian shrines and some places for socializing. While I did not encounter any staff or parishioners on my visit, I was impressed to see how well the church and grounds were maintained. I later found a gravel parking lot accessible behind the “volunteer house.” If you choose to visit Our Lady of Lourdes, I suggest parking there.
Mass is offered on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. and on Wednesday evenings following the Rosary at 6:30 p.m.
I also visited Holy Trinity in Pond Run, Ohio. The area is referred to by many as Pond Creek. This church was locked, and I wasn’t able to glean much information. It is a much more modern building. Mass is celebrated there on Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Thursdays at 8 a.m. The parish also has an outdoor covered picnic area nearby that hosts an annual pig roast.
While these small churches are no longer in Glenmary’s charge, they continue a legacy of caring for the Catholic minority in their area.
Mission Memories: Scioto County, Ohio
By Molly Williamson
Some of Glenmary’s first missions were in Scioto County in southeastern Ohio. They were close enough to Glenmary’s Cincinnati headquarters to train new missioners yet rural enough to serve the populations Glenmary wanted to reach.
Glenmary managed a cluster of parishes — Our Lady of Lourdes in Otway, which Glenmary acquired in 1942; Holy Trinity in Pond Creek, acquired around the same time; and Our Lady of Sorrow in West Portsmouth, established in 1948. The Glenmarians first established a Catholic information center in West Portsmouth in 1944 to educate the residents about the faith and built the current church in 1948.
At the time, the churches were under the care of the then-Diocese of Cincinnati. Now, the parishes are served by the Diocese of Columbus. Glenmary returned the three churches to the care of the Diocese of Columbus in 1956. The three churches are now the smallest in the diocese, serving about 200 families combined. But the cluster continues to provide for the needs of its community, said Father David E. Young, a Columbus diocesan priest who has served in the Scioto County cluster for 20 years.
In Scioto County, one in five people lives at or below the poverty line, Father Young said. The economy is deteriorating, and after children graduate high school, they move to metropolitan areas that have better job opportunities. Most of his parishioners are retirement age, and he has few young families in his parishes.
As a result, the Catholic population in the county is dwindling, yet the needs of the community continue to grow. The Otway and West Portsmouth churches each have a thrift store – Born Again and New to You – that provide clothing, bedding, small appliances and household goods, as well as a place to socialize, to more than 3,000 people yearly in the economically-challenged county.
“We are doing the best we can (at evangelizing) and leaving it all to God,” Father Young said. “The Catholic Church helps everyone out, regardless of their faith or whether they have a faith. The thought being that people may embrace the Catholic faith when they see how we are helping them and the community.”
The cluster also works with local Protestant churches to address community problems, Father Young said. Every year, the Scioto County cluster joins with local Methodist and Presbyterian churches for an ecumenical service. They also co-run a food pantry and work with St. Francis Outreach Center, a social agency that offers residents social care, help with their finances, food and clothing.
“The economy is very bad here, and there are many people who need help,” Father Young said. “We do a lot of outreach in the community. Luckily, we have the support of the other churches and the local social services.”
The Scioto County cluster also has support from neighboring Catholic churches. There are seven Catholic churches in the rural county, all under the pastoral care of the Diocese of Columbus.
Each year, the former Glenmary cluster hosts a pig roast in September that is widely attended by people throughout the county and neighboring counties. In the past few years, the pig roast has raised $18,000 a year for the cluster, Father Young said. It is always held at Pond Creek’s Holy Trinity Church Hall, built in the 1950s by Glenmarians. The hall has become a gathering place for many church and community events for residents of Scioto, Pike and Adams counties, including family reunions, weddings and Boy Scout meetings.
The churches also host youth groups each summer that perform home repairs and community service in the area for home-bound residents.