Saturday, March 23rd, 2013
By Shelley Grieshop
Small Philothea church blessed with big changes
  PHILOTHEA - The glass eyes embedded in the life-size St. Therese statue reflected the images of busy workers inside the small, country church.
On Monday night a half dozen male parishioners hoisted the reconditioned 68-year-old figure back onto a side altar where it's been displayed for decades next to Sts. Joseph and Gasper de Buffalo.
"Awesome" and "breathtaking" were the words Linda Brackman used to describe the many recent upgrades to St. Mary Catholic Church in Philothea. She and fellow parishioner Angie Kaiser spent countless hours the last three months painting and repairing cracks and other signs of deterioration on nearly a dozen church statues.
"It was a labor of love," she explained.
The church, closed since the day after Christmas, will reopen for Palm Sunday Mass this weekend.
The makeover began Dec. 26 - the day a severe snowstorm struck the area. But Mother Nature couldn't stop the determined crew.
"The guys showed up anyway and took the pews out," committee member Donna Hemmelgarn said.
No one knows for sure how much time parishioners and others put into the project. Finding help was never a problem, committee member Susie Sanning said.
"You'd ask for volunteers, and they just came," she said.
Members of the parish's 120 families offered their personal skills such as electrical and woodworking.
"There's a lot of talent in this area," committee member Viki Dues said.
The committee - which includes Rick Uhlenhake - spent much of the past week putting finishing touches on the project.
The work was extensive. New carpet was laid, wooden pews were sanded and re-varnished, old lighting was restored and the entire interior was painted. A previous shade of dull pink trim was replaced with a rich-looking maroon hue.
Denny Rubles of Rubles Painting Service in Greenville quickly became a fixture in the church. His long hours on the job brought him face to face with the congregation's top-notch work ethic, he said.
"We've painted a lot of churches, but these people were the best we've ever worked with," he said.
Hemmelgarn said much of the manpower and supplies were donated for the project. The Rev. Rick Walling did not reveal the overall cost of the project but said expenses are being paid through a capital fund drive and generous donations.
The last extensive renovation at the church was in 1980.
Walling recently walked through the nearly finished building and was amazed at the transition.
"I'm going to steal a comment from another parishioner ... I got goosebumps looking at it," he said.
He spoke about the church's history, including the day in 1851 when Archbishop John Baptist Purcell gave permission to establish the parish. It was Purcell who reportedly dubbed the local settlement "Philothea," which means "God-loving." The translation is noted on a new banner near the ceiling in front of the altar.
Walling believes the name remains as fitting now as it was 162 years ago.
"The parish is still that way today," he said.

St. Mary church:
• February 1851 - Nine pioneers purchase 40 acres of land for $100 to construct a church.
• September 1851 - Parish is established by permission of Archbishop John Baptist Purcell, Cincinnati.
• Sept. 8, 1853 - Church is completed and dedicated as Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
• 1868 - A brick edifice is added to accommodate the parish's increasing congregation.
• 1890s - The phrase "Our Lady Queen of the Rosary" is painted on the ceiling; the church obtains marble baptistery, stained-glass windows and a pipe organ.
• 1905 - The first parochial home is erected.
• August 1922 - A complete remodel, with addition of a tower and enlarged seating, is completed.
• 1924 - A school building is built adjacent to the church and is used until 1959.
• 1943 - A grotto is built in honor of military men.
• 2001 - The parish celebrates its 150th anniversary.
• 2002 - Precious Blood Society turns care of the parish to the Cincinnati Archdiocese. The parish is clustered with Holy Trinity church in Coldwater and St. Anthony church.
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