St. Mark Church is a former Catholic church in the Evanston neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. It was dedicated to the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. During its first fifty years, there were 24 priestly vocations, which included one bishop, two religious brothers and 36 religious sisters. St. Mark closed in 2010.


History

It was commonplace in the late 19th century and early 20th century to run across boundary disputes and accusations of parish raids. This only intensified tensions in the relationship between the archbishop and the clergy. In the midst of the disputes, which involved the Precious Blood priests and the secular clergy, some parishes, especially those in the basin of Cincinnati, were seeing deep congregation drops as more parishioners moved to the emerging suburbs. 7

In 1904, the Previous Blood Order priests expressed interest in establishing a parish in the Evanston neighborhood, a newer middle-class suburb where there were over 100 Catholic families, many of Polish and German descent. 1 2 Moeller gave them permission on the condition that they relinquish some of the other locations they had in the archdiocese. The following year, permission was granted to establish St. Mark. 9

The first services were held on the residence of Mary Klinckhamer, heir of Park Brewery that was owned by Henry Klinckhamer. 9 A temporary frame building was erected on land that Mary donated, with a cornerstone for the combination church and school laid on April 29, 1906. The new church and school was dedicated on October 28. 7

A convent was built in 1909 for the Sisters of the Precious Blood who operated the school. 9 By 1911, the Sisters were holding classes in the frame church and the newer school building due to overcrowding.

It was not long before a new church facility was needed due to a rapidly expanding population. Architect Henry J. Schlacks was sought after to design a larger church that would be inspired after St. Marie in Trastevere and St. Marie in Cosmedio, Italy. 8 Schlacks was the founder of the Architecture School at Notre Dame University, and was the architect of Xavier University’s original campus buildings and other notable Cincinnati landmarks. 7 Joseph G. Steinkamp and Bros. served as the associate architect. 8

In 1914, the cornerstone for the new church was laid and the new building was completed two years later at a cost of $150,000. 2 The exterior featured a mild brown brick with a terracotta facing which was colored to match that of Roman Travertine stone, with a Verona facade and imported orange Roman tiles. The dimensions of the much larger church measured 190-feet long, 99-feet wide with a 130-foot campanile.

Inside, much expense was undertaken to construct an everlasting and beautiful church. Three consecrated altars were built from Botticino marble, and the high altar contained images of the twelve apostles, which is surmounted by a baldachino comprised of Breccia marble. 2 9 The side altars featured Lady as Queen of Angels and Mother Hen, and St. Joseph as Scion of the House of David and Patron of the Universal Church. A mural in the sanctuary, depicting the Lamb of God, was painted by Leo Mirabile. Several statues included Sacred Heart, St. Anne, St. Mark and St. Rose, all constructed of Carrara marble. The stained glass windows were crafted by Zettler of Munich, Germany.

The church had a capacity of 850 persons, with a choir gallery and two votive chapels holding 150. 8

The school burned in 1922 but was replaced within a year. 9 Improvements included a large pipe organ, crafted by Kilgen, that was installed in 1933. 2 A bowling alley and youth club was added to the church in the 1940’s.

A Mission House for the Previous Blood Fathers was designed by A.M. Strauss of Fort Wayne, Indiana and constructed in 1950. 10 The house replaced the original frame church and was home to residences for the pastor and assistant pastors, the mission band, religious instruction for St. Mark’s Cathedral information center and meeting rooms for parish societies.

Decline

Over 1,200 families worshiped regularly during the height of St. Mark’s Church in the mid-1950’s. 2 The church stood prominent at two major intersections, Montgomery and Duck Creek, and was the center of the community.

The general decline in social and economic vitality of Evanston, and the construction of Interstate 71 in 1972 adjacent to the church, led to a population decline in the neighborhood which starved the Catholic church of its congregation. 2 5 Gone was most of the business district due to the interstate highway construction, and gone were the stable middle-income worshipers, replaced with an influx in crime.

In more recent times, St. Mark became home to a small congregation of mostly African-American Catholics. 2 But maintenance necessities and economic realities of maintaining a large and aging facility for a minute congregation led the parish to consider merger.

Planning for the merger began in 1991 when the Archdiocese headed the Future Projects strategic plan. 5 It was initiated after it became obvious that the archdiocese would soon face shortages of priests to cover the numerous parishes. The issue was compounded with declining attendance. St. Agnes, the largest parish of the four, was down to 189 members as of October 2009, and the combined membership of the four parishes stood at just over 500. But between the four are 11 separate buildings.

By 2008, the Archdiocese declared that the four parishes could not exist upon their own. 5 After much discussion and debate, St. Agnes was chosen because it was the newest of the four churches and had the most modern structure. St. Agnes had a seating capacity of 350. With two masses at the combined church, it could easily accommodate the new membership.

The St. Mark Catholic School, with 95 students, was closed in May 2002. 1 9 Students were urged to attend Corryville Catholic School which had planned to relocate to St. Mark’s school. In June 2004, Corryville Catholic opted to remain in their neighborhood. Instead, St. Mark’s school was leased to National Heritage Academies of Ann Arbor, Michigan in June 2004. It reopened in August to 350 students, kindergarten through fifth grade. Due to the larger student body, the bowling alley was renovated into seven additional classrooms. By August 2007, 480 attended the school, which had expanded from pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade.

On July 14, 2010, a decree by Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr formed the Church of the Resurrection, which combined St. Agnes in Bond Hill, St. Martin de Porres in Lincoln Heights and St. Andrew in Avondale into the St. Agnes location. 2 The newly combined congregation contained 550 worshipers. St. Martin dePorres, St. Andrew and St. Agnes would close.

On July 25, St. Mark held its last service to a predominately African-American parish. 1 The first Mass at the Church of the Resurrection was held at 10 a.m. on August 1.

Restoration Proposal

The practice of Latin Mass, which is based upon the traditional Latin liturgy, has been practiced in Cincinnati since 1988 under the endorsement of the Archdiocese. 3 The first Masses were held at St. Monica’s Church in Clifton before relocating to the Sacred Heart Church in Camp Washington. From that, Archbishop Pilarczyk formed a Chaplaincy to encompass the Sacred Heart Church and the Holy Rosary Church in Dayton in an effort to provide greater provisions for those who were worshiping the traditional liturgy.

Since the Chaplaincy was formed, a parish was created for Dayton at Holy Family and properties were scouted for a Cincinnati parish. 3 It was not until St. Mark became available that serious thought was put forth towards the purchase of property.

If the proposal received the support and blessing of the Archbishop, St. Mark would become home to a new parish with a focus on Latin Mass. A detailed proposal for acquisition and restoration of St. Mark, estimated to cost $2 million, was formed. 3 David Kuhlman, of Jaeger Nickola and Associates of Chicago, was retained as an adviser during the restoration process. A Property Conditions Assessment and Church Restoration Master Plan was prepared. The assessment and plan was based upon a thorough inspection encompassing the roof, masonry, paint, electrical, mechanical and details regarding the fine art and stained glass.

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