WELCOME TO DIVINE MERCY PARISH IN MASSILLON
WELCOME TO DIVINE MERCY PARISH IN MASSILLON
Since the church originated when mining was a flourishing industry, it seemed appropriate to make St. Barbara, patroness of miners, our patron saint.
Her 11ft. statue constructed of limestone stands in front of the school. It was presented to Fr. Reichlin in June of 1953 by Fr. Hilary A. Zwisler, the previous pastor, as a gift to our parish community.
Church history tells us that St. Barbara was a young virgin and martyr of the early church (approximately 235 A.D.). According to legend, she was the daughter of Dioscorus, a rich heathen
who lived during the reign of Emperor Maximian. Dioscorus wanted her to marry one of the young men
of Maximian's court, but she refused.
During her father's absences, she lived in a tower. Once to help explain the theory of the Trinity,
Barbara had three windows built into a bathhouse he was having constructed. When her father
returned and found what she had done, he took her to the provincial prefect because he didn't
want to appear harsh in punishing her. The prefect ordered her to be tortured and tried to get
Barbara to give up her beliefs in Jesus, but she refused. Dioscorus took her up a mountain and
tried to get her to recant her beliefs. She refused again and her father killed her. As he came down
from the mountain, he was struck by lightning and reduced to ashes.
The exact area of St Barbara's death is uncertain—cities in Egypt and Syria , and places in Antioch
and Rome having been named for her. She is patroness of miners, artillerymen, architects, prisoners,
and stonemasons. St. Barbara is invoked against thunderstorms, fire, lightning and sudden death.
Her emblems are a tower, palm, chalice and a cannon. Relics of St. Barbara are in both Burano, Italy
and Kief Russia. G.K. Chesterton celebrates her in the poem, “The Ballad of St. Barbara” There is also
a large metal plaque erected on a parapet at Del Morro Castle in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico inscribed:
St. Barbara, Patroness of Artillerymen. St. Barbara's feast day is December 4th and the Byzantine Rite
still honors her on this date.
In the middle of the last century, long before steel dominated the industry in our area, men worked
in the local coalmines. The great exodus of families from Europe and the British Isles in the early decades
of the nineteenth century furnished Massillon and surrounding communities with the sturdy men needed for that type of work. Some of these men, mainly German, settled with their families in West Brookfield close to their jobs. Many had emigrated from Alsace Lorraine, an area located between France and
Germany and north of Switzerland , which contained a high percentage of Roman Catholics. Natives of Wuerttenberg, Baden and Bavaria , all in Germany , also came to West Brookfield . At that time, St. Mary's Massillon was the only Catholic Church. The difficulties of distance, conveyance and inclement weather
had to be met and constantly endured if our ancestors were to practice their religion. No doubt, these conditions played a major role in the founding of St. Barbara's Parish.
There is an old record extant which reads as follows: “In January 1866 the Catholics of West Brookfield
met, that with the permission of the Right Rev. Bishop of Cleveland Amadeus Rappe, and under God's protection and help, they might build a small Roman Catholic Church”. It is further recorded that 33
families were represented at this meeting and that each family subscribed from $50 to $100 toward the establishment of a parish church.
The building committee consisted of Andrew Blantz, Fred Blantz, John Kraft, George Ertle and Martin Ertle as the secretary. The other families represented in this group of 33 were John Blantz, Henry Brand, John Borell, Bartholomew Bessler, Casper Dalheimer, Philip Dalheimer, Valentine Gresser, Magnus Hammer, Simon Hammer, Franziska Hock, Hilary Kern, Xavier Kern, Matthias Marks, John Nelson, Andrew Paul, Joseph Paul, Peter Paul, Jacob Paul, Sr., Joseph Paul, Sr., Frank Ritzka, Christian Reichert, Peter Schroeder, Jacob Shapuite, William Sibila, Philip Sonnhalter, George Sonnhalter and August Yohn. Many among our present parishioners take pride in being direct descendents of a number of these stalwart souls.
The pioneers of St. Barbara understood the ancient tradition of Catholic education and, being faithful to it, in 1866 their first project was to found a parochial school -- a donated old wagon shop. The first teacher was Elizabeth Pirrong of Canton .
When the school was completed the building committee set about to consider acquiring a church and cemetery. The Blantz and Kern families donated an acre of land as a site for this purpose. A 36ft. by 68 ft. church was constructed on the northwest end of the site, and the southeast end served as the cemetery. Valentine Gresser's burial, the first recorded, occurred the summer of 1867.
Area residents, both Catholic and non-Catholic, donated much of the material and labor for construction. Men of the parish cut timber and hauled it to East Greenville where it was prepared at little cost. Abe Meyers, a carpenter, directed the erection of the church. Parish stone masons, seeking no financial compensation, donated material and labor for the laying of the foundation of the church. A public bazaar was also held netting nearly $1,000 toward the purchase of materials.
The building work was completed about October 1867, with the total cost for the new church put at approximately $3,000, including furnishings and vestments. Dedication took place December 19, 1867,
and the church was placed under the protection of St. Barbara, patroness of miners.
Rev. George Verlet, pastor of St. Joseph church, Massillon became the first pastor of St. Barbara Parish.
West Brookfield was to be his mission church. For about two years, services were held one Sunday
a month and later twice a month. About 1869, Fr. Verlet offered the first High Mass and made this
a monthly practice. In 1871, a one-room frame building was erected in front of the church to replace
the old wagon shop, which had served as a school for five years. This humble building was to serve
the parish faithfully for twenty years.
From time to time, the parish reverted to mission status. Nevertheless, improvements continued.
The sanctuary was enlarged and sacristies were added to the rear of the building. In1891, Rev. Peter Goebbels came and had the task of increasing the size of the school. The old one-room school
constructed in 1871 was moved to the rear of church property and a new two-story frame school
building was erected at a cost of $1,600. The original school building served later as the humble
residence of Francis X. Feurstein, a teacher well known at the parish. Fr. Goebbels did not live to
enjoy the best fruits of his labor. Three years later, in October 1894, the congregation was saddened
by his death. He was buried in our cemetery among the people who loved him.
In January 1965, Fr. John Daum was named as the newly appointed pastor. He didn't know at the time
that he would spend one half of his priesthood, 19 years, in this growing Massillon parish. Later that year,
he received a new assistant, Fr. John Nentwick. It was also in ‘65 that Fr. Daum attended the closing of the 2nd Vatican Council in Rome .
In November 1976, our parish sent a team of men to St. Paul , North Canton , to prepare for “Christ Renews His Parish” renewal weekends. Early in 1977, the first men's weekend was held at St. Barbara. In September of ‘77, the first women's group trained at St. Paul 's for their initial week-end, which was held in January 1978. Renewals were held regularly through October of 1982 and were a great source of religious
awakening and parish zeal. Rev. Lou Santucci was named associate at St. Barbara in August 1977 and remained until June 1983. Both he and Fr. Daum worked diligently at these ongoing renewals, which
often included non-Catholics and members from other parishes not offering this inspiring program.
On Sunday, October 25, 1992, we celebrated the 125th Anniversary of St. Barbara Parish. A Concelebrated Mass began the day's events with the Most Rev. Benedict C. Franzetta, auxiliary Bishop of Youngstown.
The celebration dinner and program followed that afternoon at the Massillon Knights of Columbus Hall.
On December 17, 1994, St. Barbara Parish received its first permanent deacon, Thomas E. Hughes. He immediately began his ministry here and we thank Deacon Hughes for his commitment to us and our Christian Community. The parish recognized two other celebrations affecting our clergy and nuns. Sr. Genevieve Burke celebrated her Golden Jubilee as a Sister of Humility of Mary. She was honored with a special Mass and reception on Sunday, May 22, 1994. Our pastor emeritus, Fr. John J. Daum, celebrated
his Golden Jubilee as a priest in May 1995.
The parish community of St. Barbara continues to receive many blessings and we look to the new millennium to grow and prosper in the name of Jesus Christ. One of the greatest gifts we can continue
to give our children, the generation to follow, is an example of service to our God and our Church.
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