SHAWNEE — The Perry County Consortium held an outdoor mass in Shawnee this past Sunday. The mass was held at the Saint Mary’s Shrine near where the old Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church used to stand.
Father Micheal Hartge, pastor of the Perry County Consortium of Catholic Parishes, held the outdoor mass in Shawnee. The sun was shining brightly and the breeze was gently blowing as people crowded into the Saint Mary shrine.
Hartge is originally from Reynoldsburg and was ordained in 2015 and has been a priest for four years now. Before moving to the Perry County Consortium, he was a priest for three years at a parish consortium in Chillicothe. Last July Hartge moved to Perry County.
“It’s been great really,” Hartge said. “It’s been very life-giving to me.”
The Shrine is the only memory of a church that used to be in Shawnee. In February of 1992, according to the Catholic Times, it was announced that the church would close in April of that same year. James Griffin, the church’s bishop at the time, announced to his congregation that the members had to find another parish affiliation. The church was originally built in the late 1800s.
The reasoning for the closing of the church in 1992 was because of the dwindling number of clergy in the area. Father John Dreese was the pastor of Saint Mary’s as well as two other parishes in Perry County at the time.
The other parishes that still remain in the consortium are Saint Rose, Saint Bernard, Saint Patrick and the Church of the Atonement.
At a Saint Bernards parish council meeting a few months ago, the staff of the consortium wanted to make plans to hold a mass at the Shrine in Shawnee. Even though the church itself is long gone, the Shrine of Saint Mary still stands on the corner of Perry Street and Walnut Street.
Parishioners from Saint Bernards pitched in to clean up the Shrine that had since become overgrown with bushes and trees. The group also painted the ground and decorated the Shrine for the mass.
“It was kind of challenging — you never know what to expect,” said Hartge. “It’s also sort of invigorating for me to think we would enliven people’s day and their good memories of this place.”
Approximately 50 people were present at the mass. Hartge opened the mass for people to share memories of what life was like when the church in Shawnee was still standing. Hartge was happy to see people still remembered the church so fondly.
“I think it means a lot for the people of Shawnee that they remember,” he added. “I don’t think anything like this has been done since the church closed.”
The mass marks the first time in 27 years that a religious ceremony of any kind was held at the Shrine. Hartge stated that he hopes that an outdoor mass like this can help enliven faith and memory of the church in Shawnee.
The Village of Shawnee has seen better days, as the Village has dwindled in population and prosperity. Most of the businesses in Shawnee have closed their doors leaving most of the historic buildings empty and in some cases falling apart.
“I think the faith in Perry County is very strong,” Hartge remarked. “We see there’s a lot of economic distress in Shawnee — there is still a very lively faith here.”