“Even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and then.”
I wish I could remember from whom I heard that adage some thirty plus years ago. It had to have been a wise old man who’s long gone by now. It’s the way I felt today, like the blind hog finding a wonderful acorn.
For seven years I have been traveling once or twice a month to a satellite office just south of Somerset, Ohio (ESE of Columbus about an hour). And each of those 100 or so times I have traveled the same route to and from that office. But, this morning there was construction on Highway 22 going east into Somerset so I decided to take a different route coming home. Instead of turning left out of the gate I turned right and, like in Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” I popped over the first hill only about a half mile from my office and approached the intersection with OH Rte. 383. I looked to my right to see if any traffic was approaching when I saw, towering over a clump of trees, a tall church tower. It appeared old and was constructed of red brick. Interested, I turned right instead of left, and drove the few hundred yards to where I could get a better view. The church sat back from the road about 200 yards and was perched on a rather high knoll with a winding driveway up to the church. Next to the highway was a graveled area in front of the tree covered hill leading up to the church with a sign proclaiming this to be St. Joseph’s Church, the oldest Catholic Church in Ohio, Founded 1818.
There was also a sign installed by the Ohio Historical Society which read,
FIRST CATHOLIC CHURCH IN OHIO
St. Joseph Church, “Cradle of the Faith in Ohio”, was the first Catholic Church in the state. Dominican Father, Edward Fenwick, later the first bishop of Cincinnati, came from Kentucky to visit local Catholics for the first time in 1808. Led by Jacob Dittoe, six Catholic families bought this half section of land and built an 18 by 22 foot log church. Dittoe deeded the 320 acres to Fenwick, who blessed the church on December 6, 1818. Located near Zane’s Trace, the church attracted German, Irish and Alsatia Catholic settlers and became the mission center for southern and central Ohio. The present structure, the third on the site, was dedicated in 1843 and rebuilt in 1866 after an 1864 fire.
Here was this beautiful church, sitting on a tree covered hill surrounded by nothing but corn fields, with the hamlet of Somerset being the nearest cluster of civilization about six miles to the north. I felt as though I had just unearthed a lost treasure.
I was intrigued. I love old churches and I needed to see if St. Joseph’s was open for a look-see inside. I pulled up into a circle drive at the foot of a long flight of stairs to the front door and parked. After climbing the stairs I was actually surprised to find the huge wooden front door slightly ajar. With anticipation I pulled the door open and poked my head inside. It was beautiful! Painted vaulted ceilings supported by huge pillars extended the full length from front to back. Beautiful, intricate stained glass windows lined both sides of the church. There were about twenty pews per side, each of which would sit about eight to ten worshipers. A huge pipe organ graced the loft in the back of the church over the entrance. All the pews were solid oak (no veneer in this place!) as was the hardwood floor and the altar, chairs, ambo, and carved, arched screens on either side of the altar separating the choir areas. And, I had it all to myself.
Today is Tuesday. To put what happened next into context, let me back up and describe what’s been going on in my life the last few days. Last Thursday I had knee surgery so I was off work on Friday. I took that opportunity to post Finding Grace through Eucharistic Adoration. On Saturday morning I went to Mass and did my hour of Adoration with the Eucharist exposed. On Sunday after Mass, I had brunch with Fr. Sean Davidson who has been visiting our parish to help us establish Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration. On Monday evening, I attended a meeting to organize those same efforts, again with Fr. Sean. So, it was no surprise for me, then, upon finding myself alone in this magnificent old historical church, to decide to spend my lunch hour in Eucharistic Adoration. The bronze tabernacle was in its place behind the altar and the red candle was burning signifying the Blessed Host was in its home.
I took a seat in the front pew on Mary’s side such that I could kneel on my left knee and still be able to keep my right leg extended. It was so quiet. Aside from the constant tinnitus in my ears and my own breathing, there was total silence. If there was any traffic on the highway, I was far enough off the road not to hear it. Once or twice I heard the old structure creak. It was just me and Jesus. I gave thanks and prayed for His help. I prayed for grace for our parish in our efforts to establish Eucharistic Adoration. I prayed for my family, for friends who are struggling, for the unborn and new parents to be, for peace in the Middle East and for guidance to our nation’s, and other nations’, leaders with respect to the looming conflict escalation in Syria, for peace and comfort to all those who remember and were affected by the tragedy in New York City twelve years ago tomorrow. I didn’t have my bible but I had my cell phone so I called up my app and read today’s readings from Colossians (Col 2:6-15) and Luke (Lk 6:12-19) and meditated on them. I had never read Colossians before so I read all four chapters. And then I just sat there in silence and listened and experienced the peace and solitude of being in the presence of Christ. It was a beautiful thing. In the hour and ten minutes I was there I didn’t see or hear another soul.
This experience was truly a “God Moment”, one of those times when God comes into your life unexpectedly. I almost didn’t go to Somerset this morning because of my knee still not being fully functional. If it hadn’t been for the road construction I would have taken the route I’ve taken scores of times before. No, this was definitely a God Moment, these things were meant to happen today. I was meant to discover St. Joseph’s Church, the oldest Catholic Church in Ohio, the “Cradle of the Faith in Ohio.”