History of the Parish
Celebration of the first Sunday Mass was in 1870. A church building was erected by the parishioners in 1871. The mission was recognized as a parish in 1873.
The congregation established its own cemetery in 1882, followed with the acquisition of a crucifix, statues, and colored windows for the church. From 1898, there was a shed for horses and buggies, and another one for the stove wood.
Forty Hours Devotions became an annual event with sermons in English and German. For Confirmation, Sylvanians went into St. Mary’s Parish in Toledo. Confirmation was conferred in St. Joseph’s for the first time in 1896 by the Rt. Reverend Bishop of Cleveland, Ignatius Horstmann, D.D. The Toledo Diocese was established in 1910. St. Joseph’s, incidentally, had a unique situation. The church itself was in the Cleveland Diocese, but more than half the parishioners lived across the state line in the Diocese of Detroit.
Railroad Brings Priests
The priests who came out to St. Joseph’s in the nineteenth century could come via the Territorial Road, a plank and toll gate affair, over which a stage line once operated, or they could come by railroad. Oral tradition has it that the railroad was the most favored. In 1899,the pastor wrote: “…on Sundays in the afternoon, one of the farmers in turn takes me by wagon up to Monroe Street, i.e. to the Wagonworks (present Swayne Field Shopping Center) where there are street cars…There is hope that there will be in 1900, Electric Cars running from Toledo to Sylvania.”
Trolley Cars Bring Sisters
The hope came through. The headquarters for the Toledo and Western Railroad was in Sylvania with car barns at the site of today’s Sautter’s Market, and a powerhouse that was the Toledo Edison shop. The fast trolley cars brought the outside world only a short ride away from Sylvania. Now, not only could a priest get here more quickly,but for the first time ,religious sisters came to work here. On Saturdays, two Notre Dame Sisters from St. Mary’s came out to teach catechism, train the altar boys and direct choir singing—using the electric cars to go back and forth.
It seems incredible for us, worshipping today in our large church and slipping a donation for the missions into the collection basket, to realize that less than 99 years ago, St. Joseph’s Church was on the receiving end of such charity. For example, thanks to friends of Father Henry Nellis, the last Jesuit in Sylvania, new vestments came from a Buffalo Altar Society, and an organ was acquired without any expense to the congregation.
Mission of St. Ann Church, Toledo
After Father Nellis left in 1905, pastoral care of St. Joseph’s was assigned to the priests at St. Ann Church, Toledo, with Reverend John Muehlenbeck, Pastor, to service this Mission from 1905-1909 (Mossing, 1985, p. 209). According to Parish Baptismal records, the following assistants made the journey, from 1905-1909: Revs.Albert Kistner, 1905; Thomas Redding, 1906; and Michael Kelley, 1907-1909.
Houck speculated there were about 30 families in the Mission of Irish or German descent (Mossing, 1985, p. 209).
Mission of St. Agnes Church, Toledo
Annual Parish History, 1911, records indicate: Pastors Revs.James Higginbotham (1909-1914) and Edmund Widmer, (1913-1914) were assigned continued care of the Mission of Sylvania. The Parish History shows in 1911, Father Higginbotham listed 150 souls in the parish. Mass was said every Sunday. The Ursuline Sisters taught the catechetical school. The families were of German, French, English and Polish descent. In April, 1914, Father Widmer was appointed pastor and continued care of this Mission (as cited in Mossing, 1985, p. 210).
Mission of Richfield Center
Annual Parish History Records: When Reverend F.C. Schmuck was appointed first pastor of the new parish at Richfield Center on July 28, 1914, he was also placed in charge of the Mission at Sylvania. In August, 1915, Father Henry Bushkuhl was assigned to Richfield Center. He continued the spiritual care of Sylvania. By 1916, the mission numbered 186 members and Mass was said every Sunday (as cited in Mossing, 1985, p.210).
Father Crane First Pastor
In 1916, the Edison property was purchased and remodeled for a pastoral residence. On October 13, 1917, Father Bernard Crane, the first resident pastor, moved into the brick house south of the church, which the parish had bought for a rectory. The next purchase of land was where St. Joseph’s Church stands today. Here the first parish school was built. A two-frame structure was opened in 1919, staffed by the Sisters of St.Francis,for 59 students.
In the rose glow of post-war prosperity, 1927, it seemed feasible for the parish to erect the red brick auditorium as a meeting hall with large kitchen and dining room facilities in the basement. But no sooner was the building completed in January, 1928, than the black specter of the Depression descended leaving the little parish floundering with—less than 200 families and a debt that grew with unpaid interest into more than $68,ooo.
Father Florian Straub became the second resident pastor on May 9, 1930 .The new hall was turned into a church when the first church was no longer able to accommodate the increase in membership which reached 708 that year. The former church was converted into classrooms for the 122 pupils in school.
From 1936-1946, Reverend Alfred Schindler was pastor of a parish which in the final analysis was bankrupt. He was a very determined priest and placed great spiritual trust in the ways of God. He tried in many legitimate avenues to gain support for the parish.
For years and years, St. Joseph parishioners tried to accumulate funds for a bigger church with revenue coming from lectures, socials, bazaars, pew rent, and special collections. With a school to support, they turned to giving Labor Day dinners to raise money. The automobile age had dawned, and people flocked from miles around for the good, home cooking served in huge, screened tents on the church grounds.
Desperate measures were needed. The new hall was turned into a church. In 1938, the parish school was closed. To continue the opportunity for Catholic education, the Sisters of St. Francis opened Guardian Angel Day School, held in the old church and school building, which were moved together. The Sisters assumed all expenses of maintaining the building. A
1946 report noted that the Sisters had already spent $8,000 in improving the school.
Father John Meehan replaced Father Schindler on July 3, 1946. This period might be called the expansion era of the parish. The “flight to suburbia” had brought thousands to the Sylvania area. Between 1950-1960 , the number of people in the village doubled. And, of course, the number of Catholics moving into St. Joseph Parish grew proportionately. An assistant pastor, Reverend Lawrence Devine, came to help with the load of parish work. More Masses were scheduled on Sunday, some of them offered simultaneously in the church and church basement. During Father Meehan’s pastorate, the parish had grown from 465 souls in 1946 to 3,893 souls in 1967. (Mossing, 1985, p. 211).
New School and Church Built
The old dreams of a large church and a new parish school could no longer be put off as nebulous “maybe-someday” projects. They began to take on reality in 1956, with a successful drive for pledges to the building fund. Four classrooms were built and, together with the use of the former Guardian Angel building, opened in September, 1958, as St. Joseph Parish School with 286 pupils. Soon after, four more rooms were built. A solemn blessing by Bishop Rehring was given on May 24, 1959.
With further pledges in the 1961 drive, the way was clear for the erection of a church. A new rectory had to be build so that the old one could be razed to make room for the church. Father John Meehan, who served the longest of all St. Joseph pastors (1946-1967), took up residence in the new rectory in 1963. Construction on the church began in 1965. In April, 1967,
the Most Reverend John A. Donavan, Bishop of Toledo, dedicated the new building which, incidentally, was his first church dedication in his new diocese.
Just as parishioners back in 1872 lent their hand to building a church, so also did parishioners volunteer to take down the church.. The small statue of an angel, which used to be in a niche above the front entrance, now stands along-side the church to mark the site and existence of Guardian Angel Day School, 1938-1958.
Land across the street from the church was acquired for added parking facilities. With it came a small house. In September, 1967, it was used as St. Joseph Antique Annex. The shop was a money making project of the ladies of the parish,
and much credit for its success was due to the expertise and enthusiasm of Father George Schmit, who became pastor in June, 1967.
Father Schmit continued building a strong parish plant and serving the spiritual needs of the faithful.
Once the church was completed, Father converted the former church into a library and gymnasium in the fall of 1967. Also, during his administration, the church was remodeled to conform to the decrees of Vatican Council II. In 1973, the parish celebrated its’ centenary. In 1974, an addition was completed in the school.
Auxiliary Bishop James R. Hoffman
Most Reverend James R. Hoffman, Auxiliary Bishop of Toledo, succeeded Father Schmit as pastor on June 15, 1978. Bishop Hoffman served this parish until his installation as Ordinary of the Diocese on February 18, 1981. During his administration, he completed the renovation of the sanctuary with the installation of the new organ. Bishop Hoffman gave careful attention to the more than 6,000 souls in the parish, the many parish programs, as well as carrying out the duties as Auxiliary Bishop (Mossing, 1985, p. 212). This year the parish community celebrated the 25th Silver Anniversary of Festirama which the Bishop had begun as a parish family reunion in 1979.
Rev. Dr. Donald Heintschel, was appointed pastor when Bishop Hoffman was named Bishop of the Toledo Diocese, effective February 25, 1981. He was pastor for a very short period of time as he was chosen Associate General Secretary of the United States Catholic Conference in June, 1982 (Mossing, 1985, p. 212).
Reverend Charles Dendinger succeeded Rev. Dr. Heintschel as pastor on June 22, 1982. During his pastorate, the new Blessed Sacrament Chapel and Daily Mass Chapel were built. (Mossing, 1985 p. 212).
In September, 1984, work was completed on a new two-story, six-classroom addition with a full basement. A banquet hall, gymnasium, junior high section, religious education center and large meeting room were completed in April, 1987. The cost of phase I was $600,000 (Mossing, 1985 p. 212).
Reverend Richard T. Wurzel became pastor on July 2, 1990. In 1991, the rectory was converted to much-needed office space and additional meeting rooms. To facilitate this transition and to provide more privacy, the priests moved off campus. Because of the growth in school and CCD enrollment, an additional five classrooms were added to the school in time for the August, 1991 opening.
St. Joseph Church and school have continued to grow over the years. With more than 3300 households now registered at St. Joseph’s, we are one of the largest parishes in the Diocese
We are not only large in numbers. We’d like to say we have large hearts as well. Our parishioners continually support not only our own parish, but such charities as the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Mom’s House, Central City Ministries, the Christmas Giving Tree. In July, 2000, we began parish tithing to needy charities in our larger community. We give financially and with our time and talents.
We continually minister to others in and out of the St. Joseph community. Christ Renews His Parish teams have been so successful here that outreach programs to other parishes have been started by the men and women of this parish in the Toledo Diocese, as well as in Brighton, Michigan, and Naples, Italy. Christ Renews His Family was also started to strengthen the spiritual bonds of our parish families. We extend ourselves and try to educate people about our Catholic faith with RCIA (The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and the Respect Life Committee. Our Vocations committee supports new seminarians with prayers and stipends. The school philosophy stresses service to others and developing a Christian way of life.
We remember with much gratitude the early struggles of all those who came before us to bring St. Joseph Parish to the present time. As our mission statement suggests, “we are aware of Christ’s presence in our midst” and will continue to strive to be a community of His disciples reaching out and giving to others through our various ministries and thereby sharing God’s love.