Local church to be named basilica

MARIETTA – St. Mary Catholic Church in Marietta could become the next Catholic church in the United States to be turned into a minor basilica.

The honorific title, bestowed by the pope, would likely make the church a place of pilgrimage and would attract many visitors, said St. Mary’s Pastor John Michael Campbell.

“This is a big deal for Marietta. To see a basilica, people come from all over to make a pilgrimage,” he said.

If designated, St. Mary would become the 76th Catholic church in the United States to be conferred such an honor.

The honorific would also bestow certain privileges on the parish. For example, a minor basilica is not only a part of its own diocese, but automatically becomes part of the diocese of Rome, said Campbell.

Churches wishing to be considered for the title must submit a petition through their local bishop to the The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome, which will in turn submit their recommendation to Pope Francis.

St Mary’s petition process began three years ago, following the renovation of the church on Fourth Street, said Campbell.

“One of the qualifications is that all of the fixtures in the church have to be permanent,” he said.

Construction on the church at its present Fourth Street location was completed in 1909, making the church a permanent fixture for more than 100 years. However, the church’s wooden alter did not fit that specification.

That was fixed during the renovation process, which wrapped up three years ago, said Campbell. At that time, a marble alter was installed, he said.

In addition, a church should be a notable religious center-a qualification St. Mary meets because of the rich historical significance of the Catholic faith in Marietta.

It was in 1749 that Marietta became the site of the first Christian service in the Northwest Territory.

The petition process consisted of sending an 80-page book to the Congregation.

The book, which contains English and Latin passages, details the church’s history, outlines all of the societies and groups within the church, and talks about the church’s events.

It contains multiple pictures of the church’s interior and exterior and the origins and significance of all the relics, paintings and sacraments in the church were also detailed.

The designation of St. Mary as a minor basilica would be a great distinction for not only St. Mary, but for the entire diocese, said Bishop Jeffrey Monforton of the Diocese of Steubenville.

“It is an honor to the Diocese of Steubenville that St. Mary Church is being considered as a minor basilica,” said Monforton.

Monforton received a letter several months ago from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, in his capacity as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which acknowledged receipt of the bishop’s application asking the Holy Father to designate St. Mary as a minor basilica.

Dolan had to approve the request on behalf of the American Bishops, which he did, and the application was sent to the Congregation for consideration on Jan. 13.

It was actually a consultant of the Congregation, Monsignor James Moroney, who visited St. Mary and recommended they petition for the title in the first place, noted Campbell.

“He told us he was going to help us make it a basilica because it was one of the most beautiful churches he has seen,” he said.

St. Mary’s parishioner Sharon Heiss agreed.

“We are lucky to have something in Marietta that is as beautiful as our church,” said Heiss, 73, of Marietta.

Among other things, the church boasts several exquisite stained glass windows that came from Germany in the early 20th century, said Campbell. The church also holds a large mosaic of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, several lovely frescoes and some impressive stained glass windows, said Campbell.

Heiss is one of many parishioners excited about the prospect of becoming a basilica.

“I think it’s just wonderful,” she said.

Reno resident and St. Mary’s member Charlie McLeish agreed.

“I think it’s a great honor for our area. I think it speaks well of the pastors we’ve had. I think they’ve done so much to keep the church up like it is,” said McLeish, 79.

The designation will hopefully be good for both the church and the community, said Marietta resident Georgene Johnson, 64.

However, what truly makes St. Mary special is the liturgy that takes place inside the church and that will not change, she said.

“No matter what we are, it is still the worship that goes on in the building that takes precedent,” Johnson said.

The petition process typically takes at least nine months, said Campbell, who is confident the church will receive the designation.

Once approved, the church will have its own coat of arms. It will also receive certain symbols reserved for basilicas-a basilican bell and an Umbrilino.

After it has received these standard basilican privileges, the church would hold a ceremony which would likely be attended by several local priests and bishops, said Campbell.