Spotlight on St. Mary
It has been almost 265 years since the Rev. Joseph Peter de Bonnecamp offered mass for French military leader and explorer Celeron de Brienville and his troops at the confluence of the Muskingum River and the Ohio River during the French exploration of the Ohio Valley.
Into the 21st century, The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Assumption boasts its service to 1,100 registered families who attend daily and weekend mass in care of the Roman Catholic faith.
Sitting on the corner of Fourth and Wooster streets in Marietta, the basilica is both a large draw for those looking to practice their faith as well as for its historical significance.
“It brings tourism into the community. People come and visit and then they eat at restaurants and shop at the stores, and it really helps the local community,” said Rev. Msgr. John Michael Campbell. “There are some states that don’t even have basilicas, so we have people coming from all over.”
Once the church became a basilica in 2013, dozens of buses per year travel to Marietta to see it.
“It’s a place of pilgrimage,” Campbell said. “People come from all over. Last week, a bus of 48 people came all the way from Monroe, N.C., to visit here.”
Campbell said the parish draws bus loads of visitors from Pittsburgh, Columbus and all around the state, too.
The Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption is the most recent parish in the U.S. to become a basilica, making it the 76th.
To become a basilica, the church must prove a historical significance, noted in the first mass at the rivers, as well as identify the history and presence of the various symbols within the church.
“Even if I lived in Utah I would come to this church,” said Jennifer Kerns of Vienna. “From the first time I came in, I knew Christ was here, and I was immediately taken in.”
Kerns joined the Roman Catholic faith in 2012 and began attending St. Mary after watching Christmas mass from the Vatican and realizing it was where she needed to be.
“You totally experience the beauty of this church,” she said. “People are visual learners, so they need that beauty that you find here.”
That beauty dates all the way back to 1903, when construction on the church began, eventually consecrated in 1909.
The Bishop of Cincinnati purchased the land necessary to build the church in 1837, and throughout the 1800s the church was a part of the Diocese of Columbus and of Cincinnati.
Local historian Kurt Ludwig of the Washington County Historical Society noted a move that occurred to place the church in its current position.
“The St. Mary’s edifice was there, but originally the rectory for the church was on the corner, and it was moved so the church could be put on the corner,” he said. “When you look at it, it’s astounding to think a brick structure like that could be jacked up and moved.”
In 1945, St. Mary joined the newly formed Diocese of Steubenville, in which the church is still a member today. There are parishes in 13 counties and along 250 miles of the Ohio River.
“In the diocese, the bishop assigns you to a parish, where you get a telephone call and they say ‘Surprise, this is a where you’re going,'” Campbell said. “I enjoy it here though, as this is the largest parish in our diocese, so coming from two smaller places it’s quite the transition.”
Prior to St. Mary, Campbell belonged to St. Gabriel in Minerva and then St. Francis in Malvern, both located near Canton.
Recently, the church went through major renovations and restructuring, beginning in 2008.
Rohn & Associates in Pittsburgh, a company specializing in church renovations, brought a new face to the inside of the church.
“It had just been white, and they added color,” said Jeanne Tasse, a member of the church.
Tasse was one of the members involved in the renovations, and suggested the round pieces of artwork found on the ceiling high above the altar.
“They are all symbols of the blessed St. Mary that we decided to put up there,” Tasse said.
Renovations included the addition of a soft, pink marble throughout the church pillars and surfaces that were previously just white.
Kerns agreed that had it not been for Campbell, who came to the church in 2004, the renovations would not have taken place.
“It’s amazing that God blessed us with Rev. John Michael, because it took him to make all of this happen,” she said. “God used him as an instrument to give all of this to us.”