Up to this point the history of St. Alphonsus’ church has been traced at such length because it is, at the same time, an account of the doings of the Norwalk Catholics, who assisted in building both church and school, in maintaining them, and in supporting the pastors until they were permitted by the Rt. Rev. Bishop to finish and enter St. Peter’s. A church was badly needed here, yet it is to be regretted
THE HOUSE IN WHICH MASS WAS CELEBRATED, 1840-41
Father Freygang, who, on his own declaration, had in Europe been professor in a religious community, was a ripe scholar, and was able to speak fluently in English, German, and French; he possessed fine oratorical powers, was full of magnetism, and succeeded in arousing the people to a feverish enthusiasm. They became eager for the opportunity to erect a church and offered the material and their services gratis. August Sattig owned 150 acres of heavy timber land a few miles north of town and near Jacob’s saw mill. On this there stood a house 24x40 feet, built in 1812 out of split logs. A squad of men, under the supervision of A,J. Dewald, hastened thither, and for several weeks cut logs, hauled them to the mill, had them sawed into the required material, and drew the lumber to its destination, while they prepared their meals and slept in the old log house, to which at night cheerfulness was imparted by a huge log fire in the old-fashioned fire place. Mr. Sattig donated all the lumber taken from his land; Mr. John Smith donated the other portion that was required for siding and floors. A location had been hastily obtained, to which the lumber and stone were taken, the foundation excavated, and a number of stone masons, prominently among whom were Jacob Frey, Matthias Pelcher, John Boerlain and John Saladin, impetuously volunteered their services to put up the foundation walls. In March, 1841, the basement for a structure 40x65 feet was completed. The superstructure was designed by Frank J. Hermann, who assumed the directing of the carpenter work, and by June 21st, 1841, the building was roofed, weather-boarded, and the floors laid, when there was a sudden halt in the progress in the work, and the church was left standing for more than a year in this incomplete condition, with scarcely anyone daring to go beneath its roof.
Mrs. Anna Maria Sattig, who was the largest donor, and at whose house Father Freygang had a partial home, received the compliment of naming the new church. She had a great devotion to St. Peter, the prince of Apostles, and in deference to her wishes the church was christianed [sic] in honor of her favorite saint.
The people of Norwalk had conceived a great liking to Father Freygang, whilst the “Settlement” had become bitterly antagonistic. His name was Joseph. On the feast of St. Joseph, March 19th, 1841, the “Town People” marched to church at Peru in larger numbers than usual; each of the men carried a shot gun on his shoulder, firmly determined to give the pastor a rousing salute, no matter what the consequences might be. Arriving at Peru, they fired a surprise volley over the pastoral residence, after which a committee entered and addressed the pastor in explanation of the shooting and added verbal congratulation. After mass another salute was fired, and this was repeated till the “Settlement” was thoroughly excited, and demanded an explanation, which was given with an emphasis. A free fight was indulged in, during which some blood was shed, but luckily no one was killed. The “Town People” in the meanwhile procured a wagon, put the priest and all his personal belongings into it, and drove to Norwalk; the men with guns surrounded and followed the wagon like a guard of honor; and the women, who plodded along in the rear recited the rosary part of the way. When the procession reached Norwalk Father Freygang was immediately installed as first pastor of St. Peter’s, and after the installation was domiciled in the house of Mr. Matthias Koelble. The “Town People” rejoiced, for they now had mass every Sunday, whilst the “Settlement” had no mass, and was made dependent on Norwalk for sick-calls and funerals. The faction at Peru was not idle. Many letters were sent to Bishop Purcell and to the neighboring pastors, entreating them to come to the rescue, and, it is said, Father Freygang was suspended in April, but feeling himself secure in his position at Norwalk, paid no heed to the suspension and continued his work.
On June 21st, Bishop Purcell, in company with Father Howard, who was in deacons orders, or, as some think, just ordained priest, arrived in Peru. The Bishop’s coming had been announced, and a large throng awaited him; the “Town People” were well represented. The Bishop celebrated mass and preached a long sermon. He regarded their schism as a “National affair,” counseled unity of action and sentiment, excommunicated Rev. Joseph Freygang, and interdicted St. Peter’s Mass being over the two factions indulged in acrimonious discussion of the situation, blows were exchanged, blood flowed, women shrieked and general confusion prevailed. The “Town People” captured the processional cross, and two banners, and then marched home in regular procession, cross borne aloft and banners flying.
In accordance with the prearranged program, the Rt. Rev. Bishop and Father Howard came to Norwalk, and preached in the court house that same day, in the evening. There was an immense throng. Every
inch of available space was occupied; the door ways and corridors were jammed, and many had to be turned away. Fully one half were non-Catholics. At the appointed hour the Rt. Rev. Bishop mounted the platform, and made a long speech in explanation of what had been done that morning. He advised the Catholics to lay aside their national antipathies, to sever their connection with Rev. Joseph Freygang, to be conciliated, and to unite in forming one strong parish at Peru, which he considered to be a central location, promising to send them an exemplary pastor as soon as possible. He was listened to in sullen silence.
When the Bishop had finished Father Howard preached a powerful sermon on the “True Church,” which created a sensation, and aroused the animosity of the non-Catholics, and one of their number, James Mulholland, threatened to do him violence. This was the second time that Bishop Purcell had preached at the court house.
Although the “Town People,” who had thus far acted in good faith were amazed and greatly displeased at the Bishop’s action, yet they immediately discarded Rev. Joseph Freygang, abandoned their new church at which they had worked with hearty good will, and again tramped to Peru to assist at mass as often as the opportunity was afforded them. The Bishop was severely criticised [sic] by some, nevertheless he was implicitly obeyed by the vast majority. Rev. Jos. Freygang suddenly lost all his adherents, and though he remained in Norwalk and made strenuous efforts, he could not succeed in rallying his erstwhile forces, and left the ministry forever. On September 1st, 1841, he procured a position as a professor of the German language in the Norwalk Academy, which occupied the identical spot, on which the public high school now stands. This position he held for one year, when he went to Sandusky and obtained a similar position in that city, remaining again for one year, and, in July, 1843, decamped for parts unknown. He was last heard of in 1855 from St. Louis, Mo., where he then resided in neglect and destitution. The charges against him were, besides obstinate disobedience to his Bishop, the preaching of heretical doctrines and unclerical deportment.
The names of those who shared in the erection of St. Peter’s, as near as they can be ascertained, are the following: John P. McArdle, Thomas Cleary, James Cleary, August Sattig and his three grown up sons, Matthias Koelble, Joseph Adam Hettel and his two grown up sons, John Lee, Jacob Frey, John Boerlein, Phillip Martin, John Wagner, John Lang, Joseph Meyer, Blasius Brock, Jacob Hauser, John Saladin, Frank Joseph Hermann, Matthias Pelcher, Sebastian Venus, A.J. Dewald, Thomas Cook, Patrick Cook, Christian Dufner, Maurice Keller, Joseph Wonderley, Frank Smith, John Humbel, Joseph Hiltz, Jacob Keller,
Martin Scheidel, Joseph Eker, A. Birkmeyer, Michael Mahar, John Smith, Michael Amend, Frank Pahl, Caspar Eisenhauer, John Blatz, M. Blatz, Joseph Carabin, Jacob Greenfelder, Andrew Fischer, Anton Fischer, Joseph Baer, Joseph Brunner, Jacob Berberick, Conrad Simon, William Donnelly, Michael Sullivan, Laurence Manny, William Frederick, Jacob Rimmer, Michael Brady, Adam Sohn, Charles Rimele, Martin Hauck and his two sons, Louis Kalt, and the Pauley, Adelmann, Hughs, Garry, Carroll, and Bradly families. In addition to these 63 families there are said to have been at least twenty more, who resided in the country north of town, who shared more or less in the building of St. Peter’s, but whose names are no longer obtainable. Jacob Frey, Joseph Meyer and Patrick Cook were the first councilmen, they were elected in January 1841.
Why was the location on West Main Street, which was then almost midway between Norwalk and Peru, chosen? This selection has at times been ascribed to sinister motives, as if it meant the combining of the two parishes into one at the new church. It seems, however, that this is a mistaken view. The old residenters, one and all, repudiate it. The following explanation is offered: There was much prejudice against Catholics in those days and it seems a scheme was on foot to prevent them from locating their church within the city limits. Some weeks had been spent in fruitless endeavors, when Mr. Isaac Underhill offered them a plat of land 14x8 rods, gratis. This act of generosity was highly appreciated and the plat immediately accepted, because the enthusiasm inspired by Rev. Joseph Freygang would suffer no hesitation or delay, and everything was done in a hurry. It was, moreover, regarded as particularly favorable because the Catholics of the region called “Sau-wald” had made common cause with those of Norwalk and the location was about midway between these two places. The fact, too that the site was donated precluded every objection that might otherwise have been raised.
About two weeks before the Rt. Rev. Bishop and Father Howard delivered their remarkable sermons in the Norwalk court house, Father F.X. Tschenhens had arrived at Peru, and entered upon his second pastorate. His coming was hailed with joy by the “Settlement,” but not so by the “Town People,” who blamed him for all their trouble, and who traced all opposition to their building a church, and organizing a parish to his door. Many refused to attend mass in Peru, preferring to stay at home and abide the time. They perceived, also, that they had been deceived by Rev. Joseph Freygang, and this made them very indifferent towards the faith, which they heretofore cherished. Debts, amounting to about $250, had been contracted in building the church;
for this amount Jacob Frey, Joseph Meyer, Patrick Cook, Frank Jos. Hermann and John Saladin had now become personally responsible. A feeble invitation was extended to Father Tschenhens to come to the rescue as leader and counsellor [sic], but this remained unheeded.
Father Tschenhens can, however, be readily excused from taking any particular interest in St. Peter’s at this time, for the reason that he was entirely alone in this vast territory, and the work entailed on him was becoming greater every day.
Rev. John Nepomucene Neumann, who eleven years later was consecrated Bishop of Philadelphia, arrived in Peru, about July 30th, 1841. He had not come for the purpose of doing pastoral work, but rather to enter the novitiate under Father Tschenhens, nevertheless the need of priests was so urgent that he was at once pressed into service. The record shows that he baptized Frank Bayer, October 2nd; Xavier Groghen, October, 17th; Mary Ann Zutler, October 25th, and Anton Bayer, November 14th. A few days later he was summoned to Baltimore. Father Neumann is remembered here only by a marriage incident, that created a great sensation at the time of its occurrence. A prominent couple had made arrangements with Father Tschenhens to get married at an appointed hour on a certain day. A few days before the time set for the wedding Father Tschenhens started out on a missionary tour, which usually lasted some weeks. At the appointed hour the couple was there, but the pastor was absent, and no one could tell where he was. They urged Father Neumann to solemnize their marriage, but he declined, saying he had not his superior’s permission. The couple waited all day, and repeatedly begged the young priest to marry them, bringing proof that all was in proper order, and that there was no chicanery; but all to no avail; he obstinately refused to have anything to do with them as long as he had not the permission of his superior. For three days they insisted that he should marry them, but he continued to refuse, as he said, for want of permission. They then departed. About ten days later Father Tschenhens returned; he had forgotten all about the appointed wedding. The couple had, in the meantime, solemnized their marriage before a justice of the peace.
After the departure of Father Neumann, Father Tschenhens had the entire field to himself, and plodded along as best he could until assistance came by the arrival of Rev. Matthias Alig about July 15th, 1842. During all this while the “Town People,” including those of Milan and Monroeville, if they wished to attend mass at all, had to tramp to Peru as in the early days gone by. However by the advent of “Good Father Alig,” as he is yet called, a rift was made in the dark cloud that so long overhung St. Peter’s. He took a practical view of the situation and at
once petitioned the Rt. Rev. Bishop to remove the censure, and to permit the completion of the church for divine services as soon as possible. The Bishop relented and granted his request on the single condition that the title of the property, which was vested in Jacob Frey, Joseph Meyer and Patrick Cook, trustees, should be transferred to the Bishop.
ST. PETER’S CHURCH, BEGUN 1840, ENLARGED 1842 AND FINISHED 1844.
The short pastorate of Father Alig was productive of much spiritual and financial success to the parish. A strong frame church building, forty feet wide, ninety feet long, twenty feet high from the water-table to the eaves, having a spacious sanctuary in the form of a semi-hexagon, a large belfry and lofty spire with iron cross gracing its exterior and making it visible for several miles, and an ample basement school, had been completed, and so nearly paid for that at the departure of Father Alig there remained only $300 debt on the property. The exterior of this church was, at that time, magnificent, and ranked among the finest churches within the limits of the present diocese of Cleveland. On the interior the walls were plastered, the ceiling, arched for several feet at the sides, then running flat across the building, was wainscoted and painted, and made a beautiful appearance. The first pews and altars were temporary affairs, and after the lapse of seven years were replaced by those which are now there.
This great success was not achieved without the considerable friction with the “Settlement” parish, who could ill endure to see themselves outstripped by their seceding brethren. Father Alig was by the rule of his order bound to the community life, and had to reside with the other priests at the “Settlement,” whence he came to town, whenever his work required his personal presence. To this the “Settlement” objected and even tried to prevent him from assisting their rivals. The “Town People” were likewise displeased, both at the interference with their pastor’s work, and at his residence at such a distance. They wanted the pastor to reside in their midst, that they might have daily
mass, might have the priest more convenient for sick-calls, funerals and the like, and particularly that they might be entirely independent of the “Settlement.”
The next complication was about the property at Peru, which the “Town People” had helped to purchase, and especially about the ten acre plat, of which they had no benefit whatever, all of which was now retained by the “Settlement.” They demanded to have their money refunded as a matter of justice. Little attention was paid to their claim, and the matter was left to die of old age, the “Settlement” retaining all it possessed at the time of separation.
But by far the greatest complication, and one which came very near closing the church a second time, was the title of the church property. The condition on which Bishop Purcell permitted St. Peter’s to be opened was that the title should be vested in himself. This had not been complied with. The title had been originally vested in Jacob Frey, Joseph Meyer and Patrick Cook, trustees, and a deed had been drawn early in January, 1841, conveying the property to them. That deed was never recorded and could nowhere be found. It disappeared at the time when the church was closed, and to this day its where-abouts remains a mystery. The neglect to record that deed, and its subsequent disappearance, prevented the complying with said condition. Matters were still more complicated by the fact that, on Febuary 26th, 1842, Isaac Underhill, from whom the lot had been originally obtained, had conveyed the entire plat, of which the church lot had formerly been a part, to John Whyler, so that for some time it was next to impossible to know who owned the church lot, and there were four parties, namely, Isaac Underhill, John Whyler, the Trustees, and Bishop Purcell, who laid claim to its title. After much wrangling, recrimination, and ill-will, the affair was finally adjusted, though not in the pastorate of Father Alig. Underhill’s claim was set aside because he had not excepted that lot when he sold the land to John Whyler; the latter for a small remuneration, deeded the said lot, 14x8 rods, to Rt. Rev. John B. Purcell, Bishop, and to his successors in office, on June 12th, 1844. The Bishop still mistrusted the Trustees, and to remove all cause of trouble, as also to lift the veil of suspicion, the trustees, by warranty deed conveyed the same property to the Bishop on July 12th, 1844. This deed was signed by Jacob Frey, and Joseph Meyer; Patrick Cook was at the time one of the Trustees, and was still living, but refused to sign the deed, giving as his reason that he was not conscious of possessing any title to the property, and could not convey what he did not own. Two however, formed a majority and the instrument was valid. So the long
and bitter contest over the title was finally adjusted and laid to rest, but its poisonous fruits survived it for many years.
Father Alig organized a church choir, whose first members, as near as can be learnt, were, Mrs. Jos. Carabin, Aplonia Steinbacher, Sophie Steinbacher, Frances Hiltz and her sister, Martin Sattig, Matthias Koelble, Charles Rimele, Jacob Frey, Jacob Keller, and Mr. Hubert. Joseph Wonderly and Fridolin Kunzelmann became members of the choir later on and were a valuable acquisition. Violins and flutes supplied the place of an organ. Several years later a melodeon was procured which rendered good service till the present pipe organ was brought.
A semi-military society was organized under Father Alig’s supervision and approval. There were between forty and fifty members at the outset. Mr. A.J. Dewald was the first captain, and retained that position for about a decade. Mr. Dewald was not a Catholic himself but his wife and children were, and for their sake he did much for the benefit of the parish and deserves to be gratefully remembered.
In the early Spring of 1843, the first school was opened in the church basement. It is said there were from sixty to seventy pupils in attendance. They were in charge of Joseph Fiesenger as teacher, who occupied that position several years, but who has long since gone to his reward.
Father Alig was recalled from St. Peter’s by his superior on August 16th, 1843. The people of St. Peter’s showed themselves very generous towards Father Alig. He was always able to meet all his personal obligations without incurring any debt, and on leaving, took with him over one hundred dollars in ready cash. For five or six months the parish remained without a pastor, during which time Father Machebeuf, then stationed in Sandusky, came here occasionally to celebrate mass, to baptize the children, to attend the sick, and to bury the dead. A petition was sent to the Rt. Rev. Bishop to give St. Peter’s a resident pastor, stating as a reason the rapid growth of the parish, and the excellent prospects entertained for its future. The Bishop replied that he had none to send them at the time.
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