High honors for St. Mary Church

MARIETTA – St. Mary Catholic Church was alive with activity last week as workers readied the historic facility for Tuesday’s major event celebrating the church’s designation as a minor basilica – one of only 76 throughout the U.S.

“I was really surprised this is happening here, but there’s a lot of history at this church and as a basilica I think St. Mary will be a nice location,” said parishioner Ed Kern of Marietta.

A member of the grounds and buildings committee, Kern said volunteers have been working daily to prepare for the Inaugural Mass for The Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption that will take place at the church at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

“We’ve had a lot of people who’ve made donations and volunteered to help make improvements, like refinishing the pews inside the church, painting and other work,” he said. “We’re really thankful for these people who are using their talents for the church.”

A crew from McKay Church Goods of Cleveland was installing all new blue seat pads on the church pews this week, while workers with Greenleaf Landscaping of Marietta spruced up the church grounds.

St. Mary pastor Father Mike Campbell noted some new additions will also be evident inside the church, including a new ornate cross recently shipped from Russia that will be carried during Tuesday’s ceremony.

He added an Umbrilino, a large umbrella bearing the new basilica’s coat of arms as well as the coat of arms of current and previous popes, will be installed at the front of the church, a permanent symbol required for minor basilicas.

On June 13 Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton of the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville announced St. Mary Catholic Church of Marietta had been granted the title of minor basilica by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome. Monforton had requested the designation in January.

A minor basilica is an honorific title bestowed by the pope on certain Catholic churches that are considered to be a religious center of notable importance.

The 110-year-old church at the corner of Fourth and Wooster streets in Marietta qualified for the honor and a couple of weeks ago a sign was erected in front of the building designating the church The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Assumption.

“A minor basilica really means we’re officially connected to the Holy Father and church in Rome,” said Campbell.

“And we’ll be draping white and gold bunting over the church entrances for the next couple of weeks to signify our new closer relationship to Rome,” he said.

White and gold are part of the Vatican Flag in Rome, which represents the keys to heaven.

Since the designation the church has received a lot of attention, not only from local residents, but from tourists who want to visit the facility.

“We’ve had at least five tour buses, and probably more, that have come through since the basilica announcement,” said St. Mary parishioner Janet Steinel. “They take a half-hour to 40-minute tour of the building and watch a video of the church’s history, then have a snack and visit our gift shop downstairs.”

The Rev. Christopher Foxhoven, the church’s parochial vicar, said while many of the Catholic faith are visiting the church, there are plenty of non-Catholics also touring the basilica.

“People from all different walks of life have been coming through,” he said. “We tell them about various aspects of the church as well as our history.”

Foxhoven said there have been so many visitors that church members are being trained to help conduct the tours.

Campbell said he’s been contacted by the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau about adding the basilica to the CVB’s list of tourist attractions.

He noted tour buses visiting The Castle museum just down the block on Fourth Street have also been referred to visit St. Mary Catholic Church during their tour of other city attractions.

“We’ve had buses from Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Columbus,” Campbell said. “We even had one bus of seniors from Massillon who came to tour the building.”

He said many tourists want to know about the church’s history, but others want to hold mass during their visit.

On Tuesday Washington State Community College students Mikayla Pruney of Lowell and Christen Canter of Newport walked into the church’s ornate sanctuary following noon mass.

“Our history teacher attends here and told us we should come see it,” Pruney said. “We’ve never been inside the church, so we decided to stop in.”

Canter was interested in the upcoming basilica celebration.

“I’d like to be here Tuesday, especially since this will be just the 76th basilica in America. That’s a huge deal,” she said.

Campbell said Tuesday’s ceremony will include at least five bishops, 45 priests and eight deacons from parishes throughout the diocese and beyond.

“We’re expecting a good turnout for this event,” he said.

Tuesday’s guests will include Steubenville Diocese Bishop Monforton; retired diocese Bishop Gilbert Sheldon; Bishop Daniel Conlon of the Diocese of Joliet, Ill.; Bishop John Michael Botean, Romanian bishop for the U.S. and Canada; and Archbishop William Skurla, metropolitan archbishop for the Ruthenian Rite in Pittsburgh.

Teri Ann Pfeffer, a member of the publicity committee for Tuesday’s inaugural, said the proceedings will be videotaped for later broadcast on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). The event will also be broadcast on local radio station WMOA, as well as on a Catholic radio network that will be coming to cover the inaugural from Pennsylvania.

“We’ll also produce a 20-minute DVD that will be available for sale to the public from our gift shop,” she said.