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Monday, August 27, 2012 11:50 AM

The Lutheran Church
Life in small town America often revolved around church and school. This was true in the 1800s and is still true today. The German Lutherans were among the first to put their feet down in Jennings Township. The Raabe and Discher families arrived in 1833. They were accompanied by John Hedrick. This group from Hessia, Germany formed the nucleus of the Lutheran Church in Fort Jennings. A group of Catholic settlers arrived in 1834.

These early Christians had an unusual arrangement. They built a log cabin in 1840, which they shared for worship services. The Catholics had Mass in the cabin on Sunday mornings and the Lutherans conducted services in the same building in the afternoon. During the week the log cabin served as the school for both groups. This log structure was located on the southeast side of the road next to the VonderEmbse property.
This financial and administrative ecumenism was a result of their experiences in Northern Germany, where the religion of the people changed from Catholic to Protestant, according to the religion of the ruler of that area.
The St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church had the distinction of being one of the first churches established in Putnam County. The parish can trace it’s official origins back to 1840, when the two congregations shared the same building. Unlike most churches of that period the parish began with a full time resident pastor. Rev. Keniston made his home in the Odenweller House. Rev. Keniston served the parish well until he died of cholera in 1855, during the epidemic.
The Raabe, Discher and Hedrick families formed the nucleus but others instrumental in forming the Lutheran Parish were Jacob Freund, Christoph Bleuthman, Johann H. Allemeier, Johann W. Allemeier, Christoph Ritzman, Frederick W. Allemeier, Henrietta Allemeier, and Adolph Allemeier. Itinerant pastors served the congregation following the death of Rev. Keniston. One of these traveling preachers, the Rev. Furham, drowned in the Miami-Erie Canal at Lock 13 while making his way from one parish location to another.
The congregation outgrew the log cabin and better building materials came available, making a modest frame church possible. The new church was built on Lot 38, across from the hardware store. In 1940, the building was still standing at the home of Mrs. A. H. Raabe.
According to printed St. John’s histories of 1940 and 1965: Rev. Alstetter and Rev. Fliener served both the Fort Jennings and Delphos congregations for a time. The influx of settlers had brought the Lutheran and Reformed into the community and no distinction had been made between these two forms of service. With the pastorate of Rev. Huebner, 1871 – 1876, these differences were emphasized and the Reformed withdrew to start their own congregation in Delphos. However many of the Reformed remained with the FortJennings Church, but it was necessary to combine the Fort Jennings and Delphos Lutheran Churches into a parish. Rev. Irick and Rev. Reitz served these two congregations until 1880.
In the earlier years of the Lutheran Church, no records were kept. Therefore it is impossible to find the first persons baptized or buried when the church was first formed in 1840. The children were normally baptized very soon after birth. So it is highly possible that before the first structure was built, baptisms and services took place in the homes. In 1882 there were three recorded baptisms. They were the following: Johann Frederick Zenner, Anna Katharina Rudka and Maria Ellen Cumming. The first recorded deaths in the parish were in November 1883. There were three: Johanne Hettrich Jacob, Johann Friedrich Jenner and David Otto Jenner.
Rev. Born began his pastorate in 1880 and both congregations had grown to a point where they needed the full service of a pastor. This was accomplished with the calling of Rev. Schnepel, who was the first full-time pastor in Fort Jennings since Rev. Keniston. This marked a turning point in the congregation as it began to expand. A parsonage was erected at a cost of 350.00. Mrs. Schnepel was well known for planting several fruit trees on the property.
From 1902 until 1911 Rev. Bailey served the growing congregation during what was regarded as the golden era of the church. A new church was planned and built. The cornerstone was laid in 1903 and in 1904 the church was dedicated to the services of the Lord.
The good people of the parish made many sacrifices of time, labor, talent and wisdom. This resulted in the church being debt free on the date of dedication. The church was adorned with beautiful memorial windows. This was followed by periods of trouble and crises.
The following is a list of pastors who served the parish through the years that followed:
1912-1914 — Rev. Grim
1914 – 1917 — Rev. Florstedt
1917 – 1919 — Rev. Schulz
1920 - 1924 — Rev. Boerger
1924 – 1927 - Rev. Mollenkoph
1927 - 1931 — Rev. Shawkey
1932 – 1941 — Rev. Stroh
1941 – 1960 — Rev. Spithaler
1960 – 1962 — Rev. Florstedt & Rev. Heuer
1962 – 1964 — Rev. Oestreich
Student Pastors served for a short time period and Rev. Hare served in 1974. Rev. Cox was the pastor when St. John’s closed its doors.
Rev. Mettermaier of St. Peter’s in Delphos assisted the Fort Jennings congregation during many of those years, especially between pastorates.
In 1933 the church was re-decorated through the kindness of Cornelius Kortier.
The parish celebrated 125 years in 1965. At that time the parish had a baptized membership of 126 and 92 confirmed.
The church basement had been enlarged and renovated in recent years at a cost of $10,000; this included a new furnace in the parsonage and a renovation of the parsonage. A water softener was also installed in the parsonage. The church interior was washed and the roof repaired in 1965.
Many people of the town have fond memories or Rev. Spithaler, who was pastor from 1941-60. Everyone knew him…after all he was also a school bus driver. Ecumenism continued in Fort Jennings. School and public events included both Catholic and Lutheran pastors. At high school graduation exercises and banquets the Invocation was given by Father Miller, with Rev. Spithaler giving the Benediction.
Rev. Cox served the parish for many years. He mentioned how the Raabe family had very strong ties to the church. In 1978 the church received extensive remodeling. The Raabe families contributed a substantial amount of money toward that project even though none of them live in the community anymore. The Chapel was named the Raabe Family Memorial Chapel. The church was restored inside and out with many businesses and individuals contributing money for the project. New carpets were installed, pews were refinished, the fellowship hall downstairs was remodeled with a modern kitchen, the church was re-wired, new plumbing installed and the building was sandblasted.
James Shroyer, another man of the parish was pointed out by Rev. Cox: “At age 92 (in 1985), he is our elder statesman.” He told that Jim Shroyer was very active in Church and Civic obligations. Cox remarked how the Lutheran and Catholic congregations had a very good relationship in town.
When the Raabe families lived in Fort Jennings the church was very important to them. When Howard and George were 11 and 13 years old, they acted as church janitors….getting up at 4 a.m. on Sunday mornings to fire up the furnace. The church took a few hours to heat up.
Music was a very important part of the services. The organist who served the longest was Ellen Cummings who played until she was in her 80’s. Others who followed were Dorothy Huber, Ann Dienstberger, Cathy Hammons, Ann Klausing, Carl Wieging and Janice Freund.
Special music was sung for Christmas, Lent and Easter. One musician told about a Service of Darkness that had a Lenten hymn for Good Friday that had 17 verses. One verse would be sung, one candle was then extinguished, and a short sermonette was given between each of the 27 verses. By the end of the extremely long service, which ended up totally dark, at least one person was always caught sleeping.
Each year in September, a Homecoming was planned. It was a time when previous members returned to their home church in Fort Jennings to renew old friendships and have a fellowship day together. It was always a full church. A big carry-in dinner was always planned with special music. Clo Chandler reflected on the time around 1959. Several barbershop quartets came to sing. Kenny Raabe sang in one of them called, “The Applechords. It was great singing.
The “American Lutheran Church Women”, previously known as the “Ladies Aid” and “The American Federation of Lutheran Church Women” was a vital part of the congregation. In the 1960’s this organization became the A.L.C.W. Those groups were avid fund-raisers as well as prayer warriors. This group held monthly meetings and regular bible study.
Another breakthrough in Ecumenism came in the early 1970’s. It was not part of the women’s official organization, but several women felt a strong need to reach out and find a common ground to unlock and share their faith. At this time, Sister Paulette and Sister Jackie, who were in the St. Joseph’s Parish. Clo Chandler and Janice Freund, along with the Sisters, started an inter-faith prayer group. They met in homes and did many activities together. It truly was being one in the Spirit.
Rev. John Cox was the last pastor to serve the Fort Jennings Parish. He went on to serve at Christ Lutheran in Continental. The last person baptized in the parish, was Timothy Schlatman in July 1982. The last funeral officiated was Rachael Wannemacher. Some families associated with the Lutheran Church over the years were: Freund, Friend, Wreede, Hammonds, Schramm, Geckle, Chandler, Shroyer, Bilimek, Blockberger, Sarka, Peters, Allemeier, Leatherman, Ladd, Cuming, Persinger, Stirm, Dowler, Kortier, Raabe, Arn, Plasic, Kimmerle, Ratliff, Davis, Bluethmer and Adams. Paul Allemeier was the fifth generation of Allemeiers to attend the church. His ancestors were among the founders.
St. John’s was dissolved 31 January 1988 because “the congregation simply became too small, they were no longer able to support a ministry there”, said the Rev. Michael Scherer, of the Northwestern Ohio Synod. Some of the parishioners have become members of the Lutheran Church in Continental, while others joined St. Peter’s in Delphos.
The church furniture and pipe organ were donated to a Lutheran Mission Church in Lake Zurich, Illinois. One of the former members of the church in Fort Jennings had moved to Lake Zurich, and became a member of this little Lutheran mission. She ended up using the same pews she had used as a child.
The 19 stained glass windows of the church were carefully removed in November and December of 1989 and donated to a newly constructed mission church, Christ Lutheran Church of Elk River, Minnesota. A crew of 5 removed the windows, along with the frames. Jack Holmes of Elk River said the cost of a new round 6 Fortdiameter stained glass window would be between five and six thousand. The name plates went along with the windows to Elk River.  They bore the names of Stroh, Raabe, Kimmerle, Arn, Yenner, Davis, Friend, Freund and Brenner. The church bell will also be used in the steeple of the Elk River Church.
The church building was demolished in March of 1990 by Gasser Contracting. Phil Oney gathered up some of the bricks for his patio, as did other residents of Fort Jennings.
Mrs. Eda Kohls lives in a nice home on the former church lot at the corner of Main and Fourth Streets. The church parsonage next door was purchased by Tony Recker. The Recker family has extensively enlarged and remodeled the house.
During the last formal service on 3 January 1988, the members took communion. They then took their communion supplies to Christ Lutheran Church in Continental as a symbolic gesture of the two churches joined together. It was sad to say “Good-Bye”.
Many former parishioners are resting in the old Raabe Cemetery on Road 20-P, east of Fort Jennings and in the Calvary Cemetery on Route l90 near Fort Jennings.
Sixty four pages of birth, death and marriage records were obtained from archives in Columbus through the efforts of John Freund of Fort Jennings and John Freund of Van Wert.
These records can be found in the Bicentennial History of Fort Jennings, 1812 – 2012. A second printing of this book has been, with copies available at the Commercial Tax Office in Fort Jennings.

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church
The first group of Catholic pioneers arrived at Fort Jennings in July of 1834. The Lutherans had arrived in 1833. According to the Boehmer letters this group included H. J. Boehmer, Ferdinand VonderEmbse, B. H. Biester and his daughter, O. Deters, Dina Wilberding and J. H. Wellman. Wellman was from Langfoerden, Germany. Boehmer and the others were from Steinfeld, Germany. According to the 1998 Blue Book (History of St. Joseph’s), others in the “group of 10” could have been Agnes VonDerembse, Henry Frederick Wellman and Mary Wellman.
Soon there-after came Ferdinand Gerking (King), Christopher Helmkamp, Casper Gerker, Calvelage and VonLehmden. The Rekart family arrived in Putnam County after spending 10 years in Pennsylvania. Imogene Elwer wrote in the Blue Book that most of the early settlers first purchased land across the river from the fort. She discovered this information in early tax records, found in the court house attic.
Since there was no employment to be found in this area, Boehmer returned to Minster, where he taught school for a couple years. He had been a teacher in Germany. While in Minster in 1837, he married Mary Wellman, daughter of J. H. Wellman. They returned to Fort Jennings in 1838. Boehmer taught school in Fort Jennings and traded tobacco, whisky and other supplies for furs and skins with Indians and settlers from his cabin across the river.
In the early days of FortJ ennings the spiritual needs of the residents were provided by the Rev. William Horstmann, of Glandorf on the Blanchard River. He and John Kahle arrived in Putnam County in 1830. They came from Glandorf, Germany. The Professor, as he was known, possessed a great missionary zeal. In addition to his home parish, he traveled to Wapakoneta and Minster to attend to the spiritual wants of the Catholics there. Noticing the number of Catholics at Fort Jennings, he added that community to his missions and in 1834 said Mass for the first time in the home of one of the pioneers.
Father Horstmann was also well versed in medicine, science and woodcraFort For four years he made the 18 mile trip to Fort Jennings about once a month.
As time passed Father George Boehne was sent to Glandorf to assist Father Horstman.
The Rev. Tunker, a pastor in Dayton came to FortJ ennings in 1838. He stayed a year or two.
According to several local histories the Rev. Henry Herzog arrived in 1840. However the 1998 Blue Book states that “The Rev. Henry Herzog came to Fort Jennings in September of 1846 but remained only a year or so.” (More about him later.) Most historians record that Father Horstmann again served the Fort Jennings Catholics from 1839 to 1843, when he passed on to his great reward.
The Blue Book lists Rev. George Boehne as serving the Fort Jennings people from 1841 – 1846; then again from 1847-1848 (traveling from Glandorf). During that time Rev. Herzog arrived in town, probably in 1846. He was not appointed by the Bishop, but remained in town for a year or so. Rev. Herzog stirred up trouble wherever he went. In Minster he created such a problem that Bishop Purcell of Cincinnati assigned another priest to that parish to restore order. Herzog left Ohio for a short time. After his arrival in Fort Jennings in 1846 he functioned as a priest, but without assignment. The records of the Rekart family indicate that Rev. Herzog performed the marriage of Sigmund Rekart and Mary Discher on 4 February 1847.
In 1848, two priests from the Minster area wrote to Bishop Rappe of Cleveland, (the Cleveland Diocese was formed in 1847) wondering “what can be done with Henry Herzog”, who was reported living with the Boehmer family in Fort Jennings at that time. The Bishop of Cleveland wrote to the Bishop of Cincinnati, regarding a letter he had received from Schoolmaster Boehmer, Herzog’s landlord in Fort Jennings. Boehmer warned of trouble brewing in Fort Jennings because of Rev. Herzog’s zealous teachings with imprudence. Records showed that Herzog paid personal property taxes in 1847 and 1848. These taxes were paid only by residents in the township. Rev. Herzog left Fort Jennings, returning to Minster, where he died in 1853.
In August of 1848, Father Boehne was appointed the new resident pastor of Fort Jennings. This meant a Catholic parish was established at that time.  With Father Boehne’s pastorate the records of the parish began. The first baptism recorded was that of Pauline Alvina, daughter of Louis and Catherine (nee Bolker) de Lucenay baptized 20 October 1848. The next entry was twins, Wilhelm and Catherine, son and daughter of Ferd and Agnes Lehmkuhl, baptized 25 October 1848. The only other baptism that year was Anna Elizabeth Helmkamp, daughter of William and Anna.
The Bishop had encouraged the building of a new church. This was accomplished in 1852, under the guidance of Father Bohne.  It was built on Water Street  on lots donated by Boehmer. The 40 X 60 brick structure had a wooden steeple. The altar, pulpit and pews were of native black walnut. It had a small choir loft and the edifice was heated with a wood burning furnace.
Entries of the first deaths were evidently made in the year of the cholera plague, 1855. These included: Schulte, kind, Aug 16; Henrick Brinkman, frau, Aug 19; L. de Lucenay, Aug 29; H. Broecker, frau, Aug 26; G. Stratman, Aug 29; F. Schimmoller, Sept 6; Lursman, kind, Sept 8; Frederick Kramer, Sept 17; L. Kramer, Sept 21; Casper Lehmkuhl, frau, Oct 8; Stratman, kind, Oct 12 and Franz Werries, Dec 14. Burials were made the same day as the death. Added to the cause of death were typhus, magenfieber and fleckenfieber. In the two years, 1855 and 1856, there were 62 deaths in the parish, 28 of which were those of children.
The peak of the plague was over when the little parish suffered another loss. Father Bohne, who had suffered from epilepsy, was taken ill in June of 1860 and died in September. He was buried in the new graveyard down along the river, rather than in the old one in the same black with the church.
After Father Bohne’s death the parish was attended to by Rev. Francis Westerholt of Delphos St. John’s. He served until 1861, when Father Goebbels was named the second resident pastor from 1861 to 1864. Then Ottoville became a mission of Fort Jennings.  Father Bohne had lived in homes of parishioners. However Father Goebbels had a two story frame rectory built on Water Street.
Soon turmoil rocked the nation. The Civil War began and several sons of the parish were called to service. There is no complete list of these men but the Blue Book lists the following Civil War Veterans as being buried in the St. Joseph’s Cemetery: Fredrich Baumann, Amos Boehmer, Henry Bode, Mathias Boberg, Ferdinand Eggemann, Theodore Hageman, Bernard Lehmkule, Joseph Menke, Frederich Schuerman, Henry Schuerman and John Wiechart. Sigmund Rekart and John Discher, Jr. also served.
The first marriage records of the parish date from Father Goebbel’s time. On 11 February 1863, he officiated at the marriage of Anton von Lehmden and Catherine Ostendorf. On 4 November 1863, Ignatius Neidert and Catherine Reckfelder were joined in marriage.
The first record of a First Communion class was made by Father Goebbels. In this March, 1862 Class of 16 were: Wilhelm Boehmer, Ludwig Calvelage, Mathias Shluter, Bernard Bohn, Maria Elizabeth Focker, Elizabeth Catherine Odenwaller, Anna Marie Recker, Mary Catherine VonDerEmbse, Julia Rekart, Lucia Schlober, Maria Agnes Wischenbrink, Catherine Hellman, Maria Wink and Maria Elizabeth Gerker.
When Father Goebbels was reassigned, the Rev. H. E. Hammers became the pastor. He remained for less that a year in 1866. Then the parish became a mission of Ottoville again, where Rev. Anthony Abels was pastor.
In 1866 the Rev. Christian Viere was sent as the new pastor of Fort Jennings. He remained as pastor for two years. Ten years after Father Viere left Fort Jennings, Bishop Gilmore removed him from his pastorate at Defiance St. John’s. Viere left the ministry, became a doctor of medicine and returned to FortJennings to practice. Residents elected him mayor of the village and justice of the peace of Jennings Township. Viere was reconciled with the Catholic Church before his death on 21 January 1893. He was buried as a priest in St. Joseph’s Cemetery.
Following Father Viere’s reassignment, the parish again became a mission of Ottoville. The Rev. Michael Mueller met the spiritual needs of the parish for 2 years until a new pastor; the Rev. Leonz Zumbuhl arrived in July of 1870. During several months of 1872, while still assigned to FortJennings, Rev. Zumbuhl taught at St. Mary’s Seminary in Cleveland. During that time Rev. Mueller again came to FortJennings from Ottoville.
St. Joseph’s remained a mission of Ottoville for 2 years until Rev. Charles Barbier arrived. The new pastor had been a French artillery officer. He owned a large library on the subject of fireworks. Each year he arranged for a colorful fireworks display on the church grounds on the Fourth of July. Father Barbier made the fireworks. Father Barbier died on 23 August 1876, and was buried in the parish cemetery. Father Barbier instructed that the chemicals he possessed for making fireworks should be thrown into the river when he died. He was afraid that they might become dangerous weapons in the hands of inexperienced handlers.
A few months after the death of Father Barbier, the Rev. John Michenfelder was appointed to the parish. He and the Ottoville pastor also cared for the new Kalida Mission which was founded in 1877. The main altar of the church was replaced during Father Michenfelder’s pastorate and the parish bought an organ. Father Michenfelder remained three years before being transferred. His successor, the Rev. George Peter, also moved on after only three years.
Father Jacob Heidecker arrived in FortJennings in July of 1881. He soon convinced parishioners of the need for a new church. Work began soon after Frederick Heitz, of Delphos, was hired as the general contractor. A procession of parishioners hauled stone by horse and wagon from the Rimer quarry. Bricks were made from a clay deposit along the Auglaize River. Bricks were burned in the spot under the supervision of William Guthrie, who received 5.00 a day. The cornerstone was laid 27 May 1883. Soon another slender Gothic spire stood out as a landmark in Putnam County. The church was 132 X 55 feet and erected at a cost of 21,000.00. The dedication took place 4 May 1884 but a torrential rain dampened the planned procession. One of the most unique architectural features of this edifice were the flying buttresses which graced each corner of the steeple and gave it added support.
The furnishings of the church were ash and the gift of Matthias Hellmann, who had willed an 80 acre farm to the parish. Sale of the farm raised 4500.00 which was used to purchase the pews, altar, pulpit and Communion rail. The ornate workmanship of the Main Altar and the 2 side altars was considered to be among the most beautiful in Northwestern Ohio. The old church was converted into classrooms to supplement the corner school building.
Father Heidegger left Fort Jennings in 1888 for the Dakotas, where he later died. He was replaced by Swiss-born Father Charles Braschler, whose pastorate lasted one year. He was a linguist and musician. He could play a number of musical instruments in addition to the organ. Under his leadership an addition to the cemetery was laid out and a large crucifix was erected in the graveyard.
A year before the turn of the century Rev. Matthias Arnoldi was appointed to succeed Father Braschler. A new brick pastoral residence was built at the cost of 7000.00 during Father Arnoldi’s pastorate. In 1904 lightning damaged the old church building which was being used as a school. A new school was built by the parish on Lot 6 and dedicated in August of 1909.
The Toledo Diocese was formed in 1911. This was the third diocese of which Fort Jennings was a part of since its formation 63 years earlier. First it was Cincinnati, then Cleveland.
Father Arnoldi was given credit for bringing the Sisters of St. Francis, Tiffin to For Jennings but such was not the case. They arrived during that time but not with his blessings.  He did nothing to promote their comfort. An entry in the minute book in the Tiffin archives of the Sisters, dated September 1913, reads: “Sisters Anastasia, Mercedes and Vincent are sent to St. Joseph’s School, FortJennings, Ohio. Mrs. Leo Wildenhaus taught the upper grades. The Rev. Mathias Arnoldi, Pastor, did not wish sisters, so he made little preparations for their coming….The Sisters lived in the school for sometime, but the first night they slept in the Miehls’ home, because the mattresses provided for them were “so dirty.” Parishioners came to their aid with food and living necessities. The bishop visited the parish. Soon after the Rev. John Christ was appointed to replace Father Arnoldi. Rev. Christ arrived in 1914. He was also an accomplished musician and an avid gardener. He displayed the best blue gladiolas at the Chicago World’s Fair.
The next pastor was the Rev. Philip Schritz, who arrived in 1916. During his pastorate the C K of O held a picnic on the church grounds to buy a stained glass window for the Sanctuary. In 1916 the parish had 162 families (including 8 mixed marriages) and a congregation of 700 members.
Then in 1917 the USA declared war on Germany. Special church services were held, including a novena, to implore the aid of the Immaculate Mother of Peace. Electric lights were installed in church in time for this special service. In 1917 the Sisters of St. Francis also moved into their new brick convent.
A special service was included during the Forty Hours Devotion in August of 1918. The community prayed for the safe return of the 47 men of the parish, who were serving in the military. Three months later the armistice was signed. Four young men died during the war. They were Jacob Yenner, William Hellman, Elmer Kalt and Grover Calvelage. Receptions were given at the Memorial Hall for returning soldiers.
The Spanish influenza epidemic struck the community during the winter of 1918, infecting more than 100 people in a few days.
A “mission” was held in the Parish in 1919. Many folks were upset because of repeated sermons on race and suicide. “But what really riled their feathers was that many good people were refused absolution the confessional for trivial reasons.” Some of those old “missions” were fire and brimstone.
In 1921 the new sanctuary windows, which were made in Germany, were installed. That was the same year the township and village public schools were consolidated. Transportation was provided to everyone. At that time the parochial school had about 130 students. St. Joseph’s School operated as a parochial grade school until January 193l. It was in December of 1930 when the Fort Jennings Board of Education made a contract with St. Joseph Parish to use the parochial school building for a public school for grades 1 to 8. The consolidation was complete.
During the roaring twenties the men of the parish held a picnic in VonLehmden’s grove. The pastor remarked “No dance nor foolish doings were allowed.” In March of 1920, an early morning storm damaged the slate roof of the church and blew down the chimneys.
Another interesting controversy arose as to whether the Ben Dickman family belonged to the Fort Jennings Parish or Kalida. Father Rupert of Delphos St. John’s came to decide the issue. He believed the family lived closer to Fort Jennings. Also members of a neighboring parish came to Fort Jennings for Saturday confessions because they were up in arms about their pastor making requests for money in the confessional.
In 1924 Father Schritz visited all parishioners and took up a subscription for a new furnace in the school and a driveway in the cemetery. School attendance was averaging 160 students at this time.
It was noticed in about 1928 that one young man and one young woman from the community were attending college.
Rev. George J. May arrived in 1929 to take over the realm as pastor. He found the school building to be too small so 2 rooms were added, making 8 classrooms, with 9 teaching sisters.
This was the year when B. A. Miehls bought a new organ in Lima and donated it to the parish. Mrs. B. A. Miehls had been the organist for almost 35 years.
In those days the people were told which parish church to belong, too. A controversy arose over the boundaries between Cloverdale, Ottoville and Fort Jennings. A representative from the diocese ruled that everything from the Muntana Road north was Cloverdale territory.
The favorite pastor of all time, Father John H. Miller, arrived in Fort Jennings in the fall of 1937. He would serve the parish for the next 30 years. He was a very saintly man, who loved to fish and got along well with the Lutherans. His housekeeper was Theresa Long, who also did the gardening. Father Miller often took Theresa and the Sisters of St. Francis along on fishing trips to the Auglaize River. Theresa was often seen picking up fish worms while gardening and putting them into her apron pocket.
Then came “Pearl Harbor” on 7 December 1941, a day which would live in infamy. Many young men were called to the service of their country. Five from the parish did not return. They were Hubert Berelsman, Raymond Brockman, Elmer Broecker, Francis Hageman and William Lauf. The service flag in the church was filled with 103 stars.
The parish celebrated the centennial in 1949, although it should have been one year earlier. The church was frescoed, a new rubber tile floor was laid and pews were revarnished in preparation for the celebration. The high school band let the procession for this event. The book “First One Hundred Years of St. Joseph’s Parish” was written at this time.
A summer migrant program was initiated by Father Miller in 1958. This was the first federally funded program of this kind in the nation. It provided an educational program for Mexican American Children from 1958 to 1978. Sometimes there was also a fall session. Children were bused from migrant camps in Delphos, Kalida and Ottoville also. The school was taught by the Sisters and other volunteers at the grade school.
In 1958 Pope Pius XII passed away and Pope John XXIII was elected to succeed him.
The following year the Rev. Gerald M. Stein was assigned to Fort Jennings as the first assistant pastor. Father Miller was aging and needed help.
The annual St. Joseph’s “Homecoming” on the 2nd Sunday of August is another of Father Miller’s accomplishments. This festival was held outside in tents on the church grounds. The big event continues to this day with delicious home – cooked meals. Activities keep changing with the times.
During Father Miller’s pastorate our country got involved in 2 more wars. Young men had to march off to Korea in the 50s and Vietnam in the 60s and 70s. We are thankful they all returned alive.
This was also the year the school district was told to remove crucifixes and other religious items from the school buildings because it was supported as a public school.
Father Stein arrived in time to be involved in the building of the new elementary school with its 14 classrooms and a multi purpose room. It also had a kitchen and cafeteria.
Father Stein was transferred in 1962, being replaced by Rev. John Hanacsek, a native of Czechoslovakia, who was ordained in Austria. On 25 March 1966 Father Hanacsek celebrated the first Mass in Fort Jennings, in which the priest faced the people. Father Hanacsek helped many parishioners get tickets for the Papal Mass in New York City in 1965.
Pope Paul VI was elected in 1963. Father Miller celebrated his Golden Jubilee on 21 November 1964 at the age of 80. Two years later the new Sister’s Convent was build, facing First Street. Menke Bros. received the contract for 65,000.00
The Father Miller era ended in 1967, with his death on April 14th. He was buried in Toledo. He had served God and the community well.
Father Hanacsek continued his duties until the new Pastor, Father Stein returned to Fort Jennings in June. He served as pastor for one year. Father Hanacsek later served as pastor of New Bavaria and North Creek.
The Rev. Herman J. Fortman came to the parish as pastor in 1968. He was a native of Kalida. One of his first projects was installing a replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta at the entrance of the cemetery. In 1969 Menke Bros. were given the contract for a new rectory with building and furnishings costing 135,000. Father Fortman was often seen on the riding mower in the cemetery.
Monsignor J. Fridolin Frommertz, retired the same year Father Fortman came to FortJennings. Father Fortman invited the Monsignor to live with him and help with the parish. Father Frommhertz assisted until his death in 1973.
From his arrival until 1971, Father Fortman taught the high school religion classes once a week, during a common free period. In 1971 the parish began Thursday evening CCD classes for high school students. Lay persons helped with the teaching.
The second Vatican Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church was held from 1962 – 1965. The bishops attempted to come up with a plan for the church to survive in the modern world. Many of the profound changes were good but some sere not so good.
New altars were installed for the priest to face the congregation during Mass. Mass was celebrated in English instead of the traditional Latin. Saturday evening Masses were introduced to answer the Sunday Mass requirements. Parish councils were elected to act as advisors to the pastor and parishioners were asked to become more active in the church which included being lectors and cantors. Carl Wieging became the first lector in the parish. Lay persons were now permitted to distribute Holy Communion as both bread and wine. Catholics could receive the Eucharist in the hand.
All of these changes were accepted very well but then came the renovations of many Catholic Churches. St. Joseph’s became a victim of this popular (or unpopular) project. The beautiful ornate wooden altars were removed, as were the pulpit and the Communion rail. The wood was said to be deteriorating. The Tabernacle was moved to the right side of the Sanctuary. Naturally a new paint job was in order, carpeting was installed and restrooms built in the basement.
In 1975 the first Son of the Parish was ordained to the priesthood. He was Dennis Ricker, son of Virgil and Angela (Rahrig) Ricker. He died at a young age in 1990, after serving in Texas and Ohio.
The Blizzard of 1978 hit Fort Jennings and much of Ohio. Father Fortman said one Mass on Sunday but very few parishioners were able to brave the elements to get there.
Father William Conces retired to Fort Jennings in 1979. He remained in the parish for 5 years.
Father Fortman made plans to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the building of the church but was transferred before the celebration. His request for a parish history was carried out in 1984.
Father John J. Shanahan, a native of Lima was appointed pastor in July of 1983. He was a Priestly Man with a ready smile. He started the pre-baptismal program and the pre-nuptial counseling sessions.
The last teaching Sisters retired in 1983, ending 70 years of teaching by the Sisters of St. Francis. Sister Norbertine Loshe remained in Fort Jennings for 5 years as coordinator of the religious education program. Sister Julie Grote made her home in Fort Jennings also. They both moved on in 1996 after Sister Norbertine celebrated the 60th Anniversary of her religious profession.
Several young women from the parish have dedicated their life to Christ by entering the Sisters of St. Francis, Tiffin. They are:
Sister Alma Ricker, Sister Carol Ann Pothast, Sister Edna Ricker, Sister Gemma Fenbert, Sister Mary Ann Lucke, Sister Virginia Fisher, Sister M. Euphrasia Wallenhorst, Sister T. Jane Schimmoeller, Sister Vincent DePaul Kohls and Sister Ruth Wieging. Sister Ruth later returned to the private life and married.
The Centennial of the church building was held on 25 March 1984. After a Solemn Latin Mass the men of the parish served a dinner. It was attended by members of both St. Joseph’s parish and the St. John’s Lutheran members.
The second son of the parish, Timothy Maag was ordained a priest in 1992. In 1996 he took a leave of absence from his ministry.
Father Michael Schelling, a Defiance native was appointed the 19th Pastor of St. Joseph’s. During his pastorate, in 1995, girl Mass servers were introduced. Alissa Hamond and Heather Kaverman had the privilege of being the first to serve for Father Schelling. Another fourth grader, Brianne VonLehmden also joined the ranks, following training by Elvera Wieging.
Parish organizations also changed. The Altar Rosary Society disbanded in 1996. The Sodality, (for unmarried Persons) and the St. Joseph’s Society also became inactive. The Catholic Ladies of Columbia remained very active.
In preparation of the Parish Sesquicentennial, Father Schilling requested a hand carved statue of St. Joseph the Worker, from Germany. It was presented during the parish celebration. He also requested a history of the parish, the Blue Book of 1998, which was compiled by Imogene Elwer and Judy Wieging. The parish celebrated with a dinner in March and a picnic in the park in August. In recent years Saturday evening Mass has often been celebrated in the park once a year. The number of parish families had grown to 529. The number of members of the parish declined from the 1980 high of 1975 to 1585 in 1994. Father Schelling served the parish well from 1994 to 2000.
Things really livened up in July of 2000, when Father Tony arrived in town to replace Father Schelling. His full name was Rev. Anthony Borgia. He soon became well acquainted with parishioners and loved to socialize with parish Christmas parties in the basement of the rectory.
This became a time of great change for the parish. Talk of a new church began….causing much controversy. The official announcement was made in July of 2003. Bob Heitmeyer was chosen as chairman of the building committee of several parishioners. The old church seated approximately 425 persons. The new church would have a seating capacity of 750-800. At that time about 750 people attended the week-end Masses. The committee did a great deal of traveling to see other new churches. After over 40 meetings they settled on plans that give Fort Jennings one of the most beautiful modern churches of the time.
The Solemn Closing Mass of the old church was held on 11 May 2003. During the service several representatives of the parish brought forth symbols of the past.
This old church had seen much history: Two World Wars, Korean War, Vietnam, Gulf Wars, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, the advent of electricity and automobiles, the Second Vatican Council, 12 Pastors, approximately 346l Baptisms, 3538 First Communions, 3126 Confirmations, 1169 Marriages, 1357 funerals, along with countless Masses and Celebrations.
About a week later a parish auction has held, which included many wooden items, statues, candle holders, the bell mechanism, clock frame and gears which dated to 1874, and the glass front doors. One newspaper article said the front doors were officially locked after the last Mass. Tradition has it that the doors were never locked because there was no key.
On the 27th Day of May in 2003 many parishioners and visitors gathered for the demolition of the old church. It was very sad to see the steeple come down. Many people saved bricks for memoirs of their church.
From the last Mass in the old church until the dedication of the new church, the Parish Masses were offered at the Immaculate Conception Church in Ottoville.
The stained glass windows, light fixtures, choir loft pillars, Corpus, organ, bricks, bells and much more were saved from the building to be used in the new church.
In a one year time span the old church was demolished and the new church built at a cost of 2,948,000. The new church was dedicated on 23 May 2004.
Many parishioners of St. Joseph donated hours of labor to build the present church. The wooden fixtures were built and carved by members of the parish. Behind the altar and ambo is the Crucified Christ. The Corpus from the old church was attached to a new wooden cross made by parishioners.
The stained glass windows, which were purchased in 1921, grace the brick altar wall. The window on the left is the Last Supper. The one on the right is Melchizedek, presenting bread and wine to Abraham. One window from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.
The clearstory, above the Sanctuary represents the Crown of God. The windows, being in a circle have no beginning and no end, as does the reign of God. The flames in those windows represent God’s fiery love for us, his appearance to Moses in the Burning Bush and the Holy Spirit appearing in tongues of fire at Pentecost.
The Blessed Sacrament Chapel provides a space for quiet reflection and prayer. It is truly a holy place. The hand carved statue of St. Joseph is in the chapel as is the Fifteenth Station, which represents the Resurrection.
The basement can be accessed from the Narthex, either by the stairway or elevator. These lead to the Heritage Hall, dedicated to our ancestors. Many sacred items from the old church are on display in this entrance hall.
The Blessed Virgin statue stands on a pedestal of bricks, used in the old church. The opposite wall of bricks is also created from the former church bricks, which were made and burned from Auglaize River clay in 1883 – 1884.
Items on display include the old Monstrance, which have been used in years gone by. On another wall the display includes the old newspapers found in the time capsule of the old church. The official Bishop’s chair is also on display.
Many gatherings are held in the Fellowship Hall, which seats around 300. The basement also has a large modern kitchen, office, library, restrooms and several class rooms. The CCD classes are conducted here weekly. The K-6 group has an enrollment of 160 in 2011. About 125 high school and junior high students are regulars for the program.
Mary Maag has taken on the challenge of Youth Ministry. The parish sponsors CYO and Hearthstone. They had 14 boys and 15 girls in CYO basketball for the 2011 season. The girls won the state championship in 2003. The Hearthstone program includes Battle of the Youth, with 30 current participants, Junior High Gathering (Retreat), Senior Prom, where Florence Hughes was Queen in 2011 and the YES Weekend, which is a service week-end.
The nursery school is held for 3-5 year olds during the 9:30 Mass. Currently there are 23 children in the program with 3 alternating teachers, who are assisted by 2 parents each Sunday.
Vacation Bible School has been recently re-introduced  the theme for 2010 was High Seas Voyage. It was very well attended. The theme for 2011 was Panda Mania. A team of volunteers, led by Janelle Knippen, conducts this program
Father Joseph Przybysz has been serving St. Joseph’s Parish as pastor since 2005. He arrived in Fort Jennings shortly after the new church was built. He is a native of Buffalo, NY. Father Tony was transferred to Mansfield at that time.
Father Joe has introduced new liturgical rituals to the parish. Unique to this area is the Blue Mass, when the firemen attend Mass as a group, where they are honored with special prayers said for their safety. Father Joe and Deacon Larry wear special blue vestments, made by Jane Schimmoeller. The fireman insignia is embroidered on the vestments. On the feast of St. Francis, in October, many adults and children bring their pets for the blessing with holy water by Father Joe. He also has a special anointing Mass each year for the sick, where participants are given an individual anointing.
Becoming a Deacon in the Catholic Church requires years of study and dedication, along with support of the family. Larry Schimmoeller, by the Grace of God, achieved this goal in 2007.
Lay persons serve on the parish council and various committees, which include Director of Music and Liturgy, High School Youth Co-coordinator, Sacristan, Friends of Hope, Prayer Line, Parish Secretary, Cemetery, Maintenance, Funeral Luncheon and Religious Ed. Shirley Hammond is Director of Religious Education, among other duties. A group of volunteers also cares for the beautifully landscaped area surrounding the church. This includes the “Mary’s Garden” near the Chapel.
Many parishioners served their parish for years. Mrs. Ben (Mary) Miehls was an early organist. Joe Wittler served as organist 1921-1958. His daughter Sylvia took over for about six months, while he was ill. Felicia Dickman was the church organist for 40 years, beginning in 1959. Janice Gasser was hired as assistant in 1980 and became full time in November 1999. Bill Bieber and Carl Wieging also served as organists. Jeri Kaverman was recently given recognition for 35 years as a religious education teacher.
As of the last census, the Parish had 560 households, which included 1587 parishioners. There were 19 in the 2010 First Communion Class and 26 in the 2011 class. The 2012 statistics were not available at this time.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since the days when Catholics had to fast from Midnight before receiving the Eucharist. Gone are the days of the strict Lenten fasts and the practice of women having to wear hats to church. A Chapel cap or hankie could be used if you didn’t bring a hat. Many farmers remember the days when they called the priest to get permission to make hay on Sundays.
During the year 2012, Father Joe experienced some serious health problems, which required lengthly stays in the hospital. During his rehabilitation, Father Charles was assigned by the Bishop to be the temporary pastor. Father Howell often offered wee-end Masses during this time.
During the Bicentennial Celebration in August of 2012, there was a special Veteran’s Mass in St. Joseph’s Church on Saturday night. Father Howell, assisted by Deacon Larry Schimmoeller, celebrated the Mass for a packed church. Veterans served as Mass Servers. Everything about the Service was special and very touching. Many tears were shed. All veterans were asked to stand and given special recognition. A group picture was taken after Mass.
Changes are still coming. Due to the shortage of priests the Diocese of Toledo has made a proposal for the “twinning of the Ottoville and Fort Jennings Catholic Parishes in 2013.


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