Officials and the congregation of St. Francis DeSales Catholic Church in Newcomerstown are inviting area residents to celebrate the kick-off of the church’s 100th year with cake and ice cream following Mass at 10 a.m. on May 19.
"How befitting our St. Francis DeSales family began on Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Catholic Church!" officials said. "At Pentecost, the Apostles and their followers were gathered in a room. Jews from all over the world were gathered with Peter, the leader of the Apostles and the Eleven. At this time, a great wind blew and a flame appeared as a tongue of fire, which split itself into many individual flames above the heads of all those present. The Holy Spirit came upon these people and each began to speak in tongues. Despite the fact many had no common language, they were perfectly able to understand one another.
"Others who were not so blessed, accused those speaking in tongues of being drunk, but Peter explained that this phenomenon was not intoxication, but rather this was the work of the Holy Spirit, prophesized in the scripture. Peter then called all those present to be baptized. These people were among the first Catholics, and Peter is the first Pope of the Catholic Church."
St. Francis DeSales began with Bishop James Hartley of the Columbus Diocese sending Fr. A. Zuber from Coshocton in 1917 to get a census of Catholics in the area. Shortly after the census, a suitable location was sought for a church. At this time there was much resistance to a Catholic Church in the community. In 1918, property was purchased from Rev. Murphy (a Methodist minister) by Mr. Prosper Royer of Coshocton, and then transferred to the Bishop. Some of the town folk appealed to the Mayor, but the establishment of the church continued.
A grocery store on the corner of State and Chestnut was purchased for $1,700. The building was converted into a church and Joseph Maxwell was employed to renovate the grocery store to look like a church. Fr. Slattery, pastor of Coshocton, built an altar and donated an organ. A set of white vestments was received from the Tabernacle Society of Columbus.
On May 19, 1918 (Pentecost Sunday), the Church was blessed and the first Mass was celebrated by Fr. Zuber. Twenty-two automobiles filled with people from Coshocton came, as did many by railway. Many had to remain outside and devoutly heard Mass while kneeling in the street.
The Mission of Newcomerstown was given over to the Capuchin Fathers of Dover on April 23, 1919. At that time, various visiting priests held services. It was not until July 10, 1921 that the first permanent resident pastor was assigned to St. Francis DeSales – Fr. C.F. Powers. Later that year arrangements were made to purchase property on River Street, consisting of five lots and one dwelling, which was to become the present church.
October 19, 1937, ground breaking was held for the new church, and the first Mass was held on March 15, 1938. Thirty years later, church members added the parish hall with ground breaking on September 29, 1968.
The Church was remodeled twice since it was build. The most recent renovations were in 1995. At that time, the church was made handicap accessible and given new lighting, drywall and choir loft, along with updated wiring, air-conditioning vents and a fresh coat of paint. The old altar top was given new legs, the pews were refinished and carpet was installed. A statue of the risen Christ was placed in the sanctuary and the hall received a new painting and carpet, as well as windows and a ventilation fan. New folding doors were also installed on the classrooms. It was a $150,000 project with a four-year fund drive to pay it off. The people as did their ancestors, showed a great spirit of generosity. The Diocese contributed $20,000 toward making the Church accessible.
Currently the congregation is without a resident priest but said they are blessed to have Father Victor Wesoloski, Father Blubaugh, Father Krile, Father Coning and Deacon Duda for Sunday evening Mass.