In the Beginning….
LONG, LONG AGO
In 1836, Defiance was incorporated as a village. The estimated population was 200. Five years later in 1841, Father Amadeus Rappe celebrated the first Mass here in the home of Timothy Fitzpatrick. There were two Catholic families and nine individuals living in Defiance at the time.
In 1844, three years after this first Mass, Horatio G. Phillips -one of two men who laid out the city of Defiance in 1822 – donated a lot at the corner of Fifth Street and Jackson Avenue to the Catholics of Defiance.
The first church was built at this site before the end of 1844, a small log structure, and was named after St. John the Evangelist. The first resident pastor, Rev. Louis J. Filiere, was appointed to St. John in 1850. There were 15 families in the parish. Our second pastor was Rev. Francis Westerholt and he spearheaded the drive to build a new brick church 35×75 feet and twice the size of the first church. The cornerstone was laid in 1856.
Almost from the beginning, St. John parish had a Catholic grade school. For a time, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood from Minster, Ohio conducted classes, continuing until 1870. In April of 1870, the Sisters of St. Agnes of Fond du lac, Wisconsin took charge of the school. They continued in that capacity fro 115 years until 1985, helping to educate many hundreds of St. John parishioners. We are forever in their debt.
In 1873, our congregation was divided into two smaller ones: St. John and St. Mary. Since a majority of the early settlers of Defiance were of German descent, that language had been used during church services. By 1873, many Defiance Catholics spoke English and Bishop Gilmour allowed this group to start the parish of St. Mary. After World War I, the German language was discontinued in St. John services.
Rev. Joseph Gloden (the one with the extremely long beard) became pastor in 1891. He purchased another lot on Jackson Avenue adjacent to the parish property and then set out to build a new church. The cornerstone of this building was laid in May 1895. The superstructure was erected and enclosed during the summer. The church was solemnly dedicated by Bishop Horstmann on September 13, 1896. The new church had a cost of $24,000 and $16,000 was already paid. Bishop Horstmann donated the statues of Mary and Joseph (now side by side above the Holy Family altar) as a token of his appreciation to the parish. Other special donations included the tower clock, built by John Funck and donated by John Beez; the two side altars given by the Young Ladies Sodality; the Stations of the Cross given by Father Floden at a cost of $1000; Young Men’s Society donated the statue of the Sacred Heart; the large stained glass windows given by St. Boniface Society and the Catholic Knights of Ohio; a 1700 lb. bell given by the Dramatic Society; and a 1300 lb. bell given by the school children. Both of these bells remain in the bell tower today.
THE 1950’s In 1953, Msgr. John J. Vogel became pastor of the parish. One of his first projects was to clear out the basement of the church and convert it into a modern auditorium, complete with kitchen and stage. Formal opening was in December 1954. During the next year the north side confessional was recessed. When the church basement was converted into a hall in 1954, a cement floor was poured and the side walls formed with cement blocks, but the ceiling pipes and wiring were left exposed.
THE 1960’s In 1961 the sanctuary was enlarged by removing the steps across the width of the sanctuary and the space added to the sanctuary floor. The next project was undertaken in 1964 when a new fireproof staircase was installed on the south side of the church which led to the balcony. A small Cry Room replaced the stairwell located on the north side of the church and extended part-way into the vestibule. The vestibules and baptistry were painted. Sandblasting of the church began in 1967. This included the front, north and south walls and the tower. All deteriorated bricks were restored, mortar joints were tuck-pointed, and windows were caulked where needed. The cupola was replaced and covered with 20 ounce copper. Bird controls were renewed and broken and missing slates replaced. Down spouts and strainer boxes were repaired. 1967 saw the completion of the ramp entrance on the north side of the church. At the time, electric heating mats were buried in the concrete just beneath the surface to keep it free from ice and snow. It is about 59 ft. long and 4 1/2 ft. wide, and is conveniently accessible to the parking lot.
The top of the bell tower was once again repaired in 1969 and a new and larger cross made of stainless steel replaced the old cross. The copper sheathing of both tower and cupola was replaced, new louvres were installed and the cupola was mounted with a stainless steel cross. The cupola with its open louvres is not an ornament. The louvres are necessary to provide proper ventilation for the church attic.
Additional renovation to the kitchen was done and equipment installed in 1970 to construct a modern cafeteria to provide daily meals for the school children.
It was determined in 1981, after a study was completed by Toledo Edison Company on fuel economy, to again renovate the basement. Arnie Loeffler was awarded the contract for the necessary construction. The ceiling was lowered with suspended ceiling tiles; the windows were covered over with wallboard, as were all the walls; then paneling was installed on the bottom half. There were many men from the parish who volunteered: Tony Pignataro, Archie Steingass, Virgil Geiger, Nelson Okuley and Clarence Meyer, to name a few. The wallpapering was headed up by Helen Hetz with Dorothy Meyer, Phyllis Clemens and Joanne McDowell helping. The floor tile was installed the next year and new stage curtain in 1983.
Father James Say was assigned as pastor of St. John in 1981. Early in his pastorate, he instigated the 95 NOW fund drive to raise $95,000 to give a facelift to this edifice – then 88 years old. The remodeling included extending the sanctuary, making the altar closer to the congregation “for greater liturgical participation and enhancement.” The tabernacle was reposed at the right side of the sanctuary. A striking wall mural in the tabernacle niche was painted by artist parishioner Michelle Mont.
Left of the sanctuary was placed the Holy Family statues above a new, smaller altar. Walnut pews and sanctuary furnishings were all new. Shades of mauve and burgundy were carried out in the carpeting and painting, chosen to compliment the beautiful church windows.
Dedication of the new altar and blessing of the redecorated church was July 10, 1983. Officiant was Bishop James R. Hoffman. Members of the redecorating committee were: Jim Gillis, Elodie Steffel, Catherine Cline, Joanne McDowell, Sandy Sucher, Barbara Delaney, Michael Roessner, Therese Daoust, Paul Kroeckel, Joe Meyer, Rev. George Wenzinger.
The costs of $146,080 to cover the most recent overhaul of our beloved building were donated to St. John in estates of parishioners.
In 1994, repairs were made to the bell and clock tower again, the north and south entrance wings, the west chimney, pilaster finials, and clock faces. New clock faces are 1.4 inch glazed acrylic with Roman numerals and minute marks. Frame is fabricated tee-section aluminum.
Finally, a new set of steps was installed to alter the former 100-year-old approach to St. John the Evangelist Church, Defiance, Ohio USA
Father George Wenziger returned to St. John’s as Pastor in 1996. Under his leadership a major renovation was done. It began with a Keeping P.A.C.E. campaign, which raised pledges totaling $1,765,837, $10,000 more than the projected cost. Keeping P.A.C.E. campaign chairmen were Mike and Beth Rath, and Jim and Pat Gillis. The campaign kick-off was in 2000. Anticipated completion dates were Aug. 31, 2001 for the church, and Dec. 31, 2001 for the Parish Life Center.
The church was closed for renovation during the summer of 2001. During construction, St. John’s and St. Mary’s combined their Mass schedule. Saturday evening Mass and Sunday Masses at 7:00 and 8:30 a.m. were at St. Mary’s. 10:00 and 11:30 Masses were at the K of C Hall, where Fathers George and Tim alternated in presiding. All weekday Masses were at St. Mary’s. The St. John’s tabernacle was kept in the parish office.
Renovation team captains were: pews, Mike Meyer; carpentry George Westrick; furniture care Tim Weber; carpet removal Dave Diehl; painting and décor Ruth Ann Baker and Becky Rogliatti; statue pedestals Tim Nally; statue care Bob Nadeau and Mike Boff; tabernacle and handicap ramp Ron Elliott; roof and Baptismal font Mark Homier; organ and sound Dave Moninger and John Ferland; basement restrooms Charlie Baker and Tom Zimmerman; attic insulation Dick Leach; and final cleaning Don Snyder and Kathy Homier.
The Baptismal font, donated by the Mark Homier family, is made of granite mined in India. The room for the Sacrament of Reconciliation was changed to the old Baptistry in the rear of the church. The digital organ came from Rodgers Organ Company. Its MIDI system allows an orchestra to play along with the organ. The new sound system is from Torrence Sound Company. Construction of the Parish Life Center was done by Mel Lanzer. The tabernacle was refinished and returned to the center-back of the sanctuary. Air conditioning and a handicap lift were added; pews were refinished; tuck pointing was done; kneelers and chairs were re-upholstered; restrooms were updated; the roof was repaired; the choir loft was carpeted; landscaping was done.
Dedication was on _________led by Bishop James Hoffman.
Father Dennis Walsh became Pastor in 2002.
Father Todd Dominique became Pastor in 2007.
Father Eric Mueller became Pastor in 2015