German-American Citizens League of Greater Cincinnati Deutsch-Amerikanische Bürger-Liga von Gross-Cincinnati
Old St. Mary's Historic Preservation Association
Germans have always been part of Cincinnati's history. In the first half of the 19th century, the surge of mid-European immigration resulted in a huge growth of German settlers. The vast majority chose the northeast quadrant of the city, above the Miami and Erie Canal, to seek new roots. Today, we know it as Central Parkway. Ninety thousand people lived in this area, dubbed "Over the Rhine", because of the influx of so many German-speaking citizens. Streets were named in German. German language was taught in schools and laws made in Cincinnati were bilingual.
By 1840, the growth of the Catholic newcomers necessitated the establishment of a new church. Father Joseph Hennie was given the task of creating St. Marien Kirche (St. Mary's Church). The block between 12th & 13th, Clay & Main Streets was purchased from the estate of General Arthur St. Claire, first governor of the Northwest Territories, and the man who gave Cincinnati its name.
The cornerstone was laid on March 25, 1841, the Feast of the Annunciation, with 10,000 people attending. With little money or resources, the parishioners did most of the construction themselves. The women baked bricks in their ovens, while the men felled and hewed whole trees to form the mammoth beams spanning the width of the church, requiring no supporting columns under the hand-painted canvas ceiling.
On July 4, 1842 the structure was dedicated. It was then the largest church in the valley, at 142 ft. by 65 ft., with a tower reaching 170 ft. The clock in the tower is the oldest in Cincinnati. Levi Coffin, who is credited with saving over three thousand slaves during the underground railway movement, cast the three church bells. The smallest bell, "Little Anne", was used for many years as a fire alarm for the northeastern section of the city. Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, St. Mary's Church is the oldest house of worship in Cincinnati, and contains many hand carved wooden statues, preserved paintings and Bavarian stained glass windows.
The parish continues to preserve the rich liturgical and cultural heritage of the Catholic tradition. Sunday Masses are celebrated in Latin, German and English.