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Local landmarks facing the wrecking ball

By DON HOHLER • Jan 19, 2018 at 4:00 AM

BISMARK — Many personal miracles have been granted to parishioners of St. Sebastian Church since it was opened 172 years ago. Now a bigger one is being prayed for. One that would keep the wrecking ball from the property.

The church was closed in 2005 by orders of the bishop It was part of a clustering program by the Diocese of Toledo, an order that also saw Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in Reed, closed and due for demolition as well. Parishioners of the two parishes were asked to attend a third area church, St. Gaspar del Bufalo on County Road 46 in Bellevue.

“No one could understand the reasoning of the bishop,” said Deb Bumb, president of the Bismark Senior Community Center.

“It is sad that any church closes but St. Sebastian could hold just as many people with use of our choir loft as any of the others plus we had restrooms inside as well as a paved parking lot. Our goal, since its closing, is to maintain the church with the hope that the diocese would allow it to stand, transforming it into a cemetery chapel, utilizing it for funerals.”

A friend of the parish, the late Ralph Phillips, the owner of Shelby Welded Tube, bought the school and the houses across the road from St. Sebastian at auction for $80,000 and deeded it back to the parishioners and let them run it. The basement of the school is now used for occasional Sunday brunches.

“Mr. Phillips was a dear friend,” Bumb said. “He even offered to buy the church for an additional $200,000 but the diocese turned him down. Since then we have retained lawyers and tried everything to save the church. We have exhausted everything. We even have a letter in writing from Angela Phillips, Ralph’s daughter, stating she would cover the renovation, complete restoration, as well as set aside an endowment fund if that would help save the building. She went even further stating that she would match any funds from the parishioners given toward restoration of the building.”

Bumb went on to say with all these donations and promises made for funding, all in good faith, the Diocese of Toledo has turned a deaf ear on their plea, in turn paying what will be a substantial amount of money to have the church razed.

“We recognized that the roof is asbestos,” she said. “Knowing that, our parish priest told us to get estimates from contractors to make the necessary repairs to keep the church in place. But, the contractors in the end we were not willing to do the work with uncertainty of payment. Even at that point, the powers at be had us believing we were going to keep the building, possibly as a cemetery chapel or maybe even used for an occasional wedding like my oldest daughter did a month after it was closed. But, in the end, it was decommissioned.”

Since then, most of the pews and the alter have been removed from the church, most of them going to Steubenville. Thirteen pews were moved across the road to the second story of the school building. The organ remains.

“At this stage, we would be happy turning the building into a museum,” Bumb said. “Just letting it stand there as a landmark. After all, it is the second-oldest church, second only to St. Alphonsus in Peru. in the diocese.

“But, the bottom line, according to the diocesan office, is the wrecking ball is destined to hit the church by the end of the month. Everything to be saved must to be out by the 24th. The church remains locked, however, making it impossible for anyone to remove anything else. The demolition crew is supposed to set aside the cross, bells and cornerstone for a shrine or memorial but that would be all that would be left of the 175-year-old structure. An extension is possible but the parishioners are hoping for something else, the miracle.”

There might have been that omen last week when Bumb accidentally dropped a kitchen drawer, spilling the contents. As she picked everything up she found a medal of St. Sebastian, one she never knew she had and one so old that the printing was almost impossible to read.

All can only hope.

Several groups have joined with the Bismark Association in an effort to save the building including Rick Reed from the Willard Ohio Genealogy Group, the same organization that is behind the “Save the Willard Clock” venture. Research by that group says the church, one that served 135 families over the years, was built by German Immigrants as the area is of German descent. It was his understanding the parishioners attempted to buy the church some years back but that purchase failed for unknown reasons.

A letter by Bishop Daniel E. Thomas sent to the Rev. Jacob V. Gordon, the pastor of St. Gaspar del Buffalo dated Dec. 26, 2017, reads in part:

“First, given the severe damage of the church in Reed, Ohio, and its close proximity to the cemetery, which continues to be used and maintained by your parish, it has been decided that it is most prudent and in the best interest of the parish to raze this church. The sale of this building, which sits on the same parcel of land as the cemetery, would not only require a parcel-split, but would also mean that your parish would not have the responsible controls over the land that is immediately adjacent and logically connected to the cemetery. It would be logical that the land on which the church sits would become part of the cemetery.

“Second, regarding the former Saint Sebastian Church, it has likewise been decided to raze the structure. The Bismark land is also logically connected to the cemetery and I believe the church, at this time, should retain ownership of the land. As the building itself is immediately contiguous to the cemetery, it is, as you have noted, impossible to separate the church for the purposes of alienation. You can well understand that it would also be impossible to lease the care of the building to a third party who may want to use it for other purposes.

“This has always been the practice of the diocese regarding former churches that remain under the ownership of the church. Because of its immediate proximity to the cemetery, the building itself will be razed, but the southern foundation will not be removed to ensure the integrity of the cemetery. As with the church land in Reed, it would seem logical that the land on which this church sits would become part of the existing cemetery.”

Kelly Donaghy, Sr. director of communications for the Toledo Diocese, provided some updated information Thursday afternoon.

She said there is no specific date for demolition of St. Sebastion, which will give parishioners time “to get keepsakes” out of the church.

As for Assumption in Reed, there has to be “asbestos abatement before it comes down,” she said.

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