IN THE BEGINNING AND NOW
A Brief History of Holy Angels Church
Catholicism began in the Northwest Territory of the Great Lakes in 1749. Sixty Catholic Wyandotte Indians permanently settled in the Sandusky area. Converts of the Huron and Iroquois tribes celebrated Mass with itinerant priests who rode on horseback. About the 1830’s Irish and German immigrants settled in the area and Masses were celebrated in private homes. The Irish came due to the great potato famine, and the Germans came in the midst of political upheaval in their country.
Also during the 1830’s, the Most Reverend Projectus Joseph Machebeuf was assigned to Tiffin, Ohio, and to work as a missionary to Catholics scattered throughout northern Ohio. He, too, rode horseback. Sandusky was one of the stops on his circuit. Late in the 1830’s a railroad connected this community on Lake Erie to the south, and by 1840, Sandusky had become the most important port for the debarkation of immigrants on the southern shore of Lake Erie. It was also during these years that Sandusky became a stop on the “underground railroad” bringing slaves to free Ohio and a transfer point to Canada.
Bishop Purcell recognized the growth of the Sandusky community and appointed Father Machebeuf as a pastor to this post. He began his duties January 1, 1840. Services for a time were held in a large hall loaned by W. H. Mills, a non-Catholic. The congregation consisted of fifty to sixty families, the greater part of them Irish and the remainder German. Most of the families were poor with no resources other than their day’s wages.
Later, W. H. Mills offered the present location which consists of five lots. He also gave $530, all the stone, and all the timber for the building. The parishioners began hauling stone from nearby quarries and preparing timber. The cornerstone was laid on October 13, 1841. However, walls to the church, laid by hand were not completed until June 6, 1842. The church still had no roof. Father Machebeuf returned to his native France where he was successful in securing financial aid from his fellow countrymen. The church was finally completed in 1845 and dedicated to the Triune God and His Holy Angels.
The bell in the tower was brought from Toledo, Ohio, in 1846 by John McGoldrick with the aid of a team of oxen traveling through forests and fields before the days of public roads.
There were devastating times for Holy Angels Church around 1849. The cholera epidemic dwindled the Sandusky population from 5,600 inhabitants to 1,000. Of the 1,000 remaining, 400 died later of the disease. Then came the realization that most Catholics of Holy Angels lived in the eastern part of the city and they, in turn, were dissatisfied traveling so far to Holy Angels for Mass.
English and German speaking Catholics of Sandusky formed one parish, Holy Angels, until the early 1850’s. The present St. Mary’s German congregation was then organized and St. Mary Church was built. In the meantime, Father Machebeuf left for new duties in the southwest and was succeeded by Father James Vincent Conlan.
As the congregation of Holy Angels and the German-speaking St. Mary’s grew in numbers over the years, a new pastor Father Robert A. Sidley began his duties in the spring of 1863. In 1871, Ss. Peter and Paul Church was dedicated, and it signaled the closing of Holy Angels.
For five years the congregations of both eastern and western Sandusky worshiped in St. Mary and Ss. Peter and Paul. But the Catholics in the west felt the loss of Holy Angels, and in 1875, the Mother Church was reopened with Father Thomas S. Smyth as the new pastor. He built the present two-story brick school building at about a cost of $3,500. It was staffed by lay teachers until 1889 when Sacred Heart Sisters become the teachers; then by Ursuline Sisters of Tiffin; and in 1894, by Sisters of Humility of Mary, who remained until 1922 when the boundary lines of Erie, Huron, and Richland Counties changed from the Cleveland Diocese to the Toledo Diocese. Thereafter, the Sisters of Mercy took over and remained at Holy Angels until 1994. 996 began a new era with the Sisters of Notre Dame.
Father John Tracy who remodeled the pews and installed the beautiful stained glass windows succeeded Father Smyth. In 1888, at the cost of $1,500, a Carl Barkhoff organ was acquired. In 1974 this organ was reconditioned for $6,500.
Under the aegis of Father Thomas P. Lamb (1893-1902), a new rectory, half stone, half frame with cupola and slate roof was built. He also extended the church 35 feet toward Tiffin Avenue and installed a new lighting system. Father Lamb added a square tower at the northeast corner, supplanting the earlier spire which was destroyed by lightning. The bell was transferred to this tower and beside it a new and larger bell was installed in memory of Reverend Lamb’s father and mother.
Reverend Edward P. Graham succeeded Father Lamb in 1907 who in turn was followed by Reverend W. H. Moseley in 1922. In 1936 Father William G. Armitage was appointed to Holy Angels and remained for 34 years. Renovations of the church were numerous during this time, including new lighting and new floor covering. In accordance with Vatican II decrees, changes were made in the worship spaces, most notably the altar was turned to face the congregation, and its more ornate features were removed. Father Armitage was the first Catholic priest in Sandusky to say the Mass in English.
Father Armitage was an avid community worker. He is credited with bringing together the Protestant Ministerial Association and the Catholic priests who became a part of it. He also served as Chaplain at the Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Home (now called Ohio Veterans Home). Father Armitage started the Catholic Credit Union, the Catholic Youth Organization, and served the Spanish-speaking families well by going to Mexico to learn the Spanish language. (The Spanish-speaking people came to this area to pick grapes on the Lake Erie islands, peaches in the Marblehead section, and tomatoes for the Heinz factory located in Fremont). He also paid off Holy Angels debts by sponsoring many festivals.
Bishop George J. Rehring appointed Father Armitage as a diocesan consulter in 1963 and the following year he was named Monsignor. Monsignor Armitage celebrated his Golden Jubilee of ordination in May, 1971…but began his retirement in 1970.
Father Joseph D. Shenk was pastor from June 15, 1970 until June 24, 1976. Impressed with the age and history of Holy Angels, Father Shenk gathered data on Sandusky’s oldest church and applied to have the church listed on the National Register of Historic Places as it is today.
Father Charles J. Dendinger was pastor from June, 1976 through June, 1982. Under Father Dendinger’s leadership, the church and rectory were remodeled.
Father Michael G. Madden was pastor from June, 1982 until July, 1984. Father Madden began the Community Thanksgiving Dinners, which are still celebrated at the present time. The program so successfully filled a need that the dinners are now held in conjunction with Zion Lutheran Church of Sandusky.
Father Frank K. Eckart was pastor from July, 1984 to July, 1995. Father Eckart took on the giant project, not only of finance, but also of moving the church offices from the rectory to a new building connected to the school. This building also provides a new entrance to the church proper, a large area called the Gathering Room, new restrooms, and inside halls for processions – First Communion, Confirmation, Weddings, etc. The Holy Angels Church worship area was returned to its original historic appearance. There were many improvements to the school at this time.
In the summer of 1989, a bronze plaque commemorating the aid extended by Saint Amable Parish of Riom, France to Holy Angels at the time of its founding was presented by Sr. Mary Carlene, RSM and Sr. Mary Timothy, RSM at Riom, France, in person.
Father Nicholas Weibl succeeded Father Eckart in 1995. The beautification of the grounds surrounding the church-school area has continued. More important was the “Vision 2000 Program” for further improvements, upkeep of buildings, payment of debt incurred, and the five-year worship plan for more lay involvement and spirituality. In 2000, a process began with the three parishes to study the possibility of the merger of the schools. After a year of discernment about the schools, Father Nick Weibl assumed the position of Vicar of Priests in the Diocese.
Father John Missler assumed the role of pastor in 2001. The finalization of the new school merger in 2002 was called Sandusky Central Catholic School. Holy Angels financed a new church roof as well as additional projects in 2002 to the historical church and the project was recognized by the Sanduskian Restoration Society. Toledo Diocese held a $60 million campaign in 2003. This campaign not only assisted the diocese and the local Catholic School with funding, but it enabled Holy Angels to update the church’s sound system and kitchen stove, demolished two parish rental houses for addition parking, and other needed projects. As parish personnel changed in 2004, a full-time person was hired to direct adult education and related ministries. In 2005 Bishop Blair recommended a study by the three Catholic parishes on how they could better serve the Catholics in the area. A process was initiated in June, 2005 that would study the needs of the Catholic community and make recommendations to the Bishop. As the process underway, the three Sandusky Catholic parishes are striving to continue collaboration and uniting ministries.
Fr. Chris Kardzis became pastor of Holy Angels Church in July 2006. A few parishioners had located our former Stations of the Cross and requested that they be refurbished and replace the Stations of the Cross. At this time also, Providence Hospital (now Firelands Hospital – South Campus) was doing some remodeling and were going to close the chapel. Fr. Chris asked if we could have the cross and the marble altar and flooring. Permission was granted. With many volunteers, the Stations of the Cross were repainted and the altar remodeled. With the remodeling of the altar, our tabernacle and our Lord were now visible.
When the work was completed, a parishioner had heard about the damage done to the chapel at Xavier University in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. After several conversations, a caravan of parishioners traveled to Xavier University to deliver our old altar and Stations of the Cross. It was amazing how the altar and Stations of the Cross fit in with their décor. It was a match made in Heaven.
In 2008 a successful fund drive was held to replace the Nativity window at church. Pieces of glass were damaged or cracked and needed to be replaced. Reinforcement bars that support the weight of the window were separated from the window, causing sagging and bowing. Enamels used in the artwork were failing and continued to degrade. The window leading had deteriorated to the point that it was completely missing in some places due to its age. The storm window on the outside was not properly vented, causing unnecessary heat buildup. Porembo company was hired to restore this window. With the assistance of dedicated volunteers who spent months on this project and Porembo, the window was restored and returned in May of 2009.
In the summer of 2009 in the basement of Sandusky St. Mary’s church, two angels were found. These angels were cleaned and painted. At our Feast of the Guardian Angels Mass on October 2, these two angels will be dedicated and blessed. They will find their new home adoring our Lord in the tabernacle.
Holy Angels is proud of its past and trusts in the Holy Spirit for inspiration and guidance in the future.