HISTORY OF ST ALOYSIUS CHURCH
"St. Aloysius!" the twelve committee men and pastor proclaimed, as the name of a local farmer, Aloysius Pfeiffer, was drawn from a hat and given to a small red-brick building in 1881, the center of a newly-formed Bowling Green Catholic community. And so began "St. Al's" parish, as it is affectionately known today, under the leadership of Frenchman Father Hyacinth Kolopp, pastor from 1878 to 1883. This was a happy moment for the poor, struggling group of Catholics in Bowling Green; life was improving for them.
Life was not easy in the early years of the Black Swamp. Thick populations of wolves, wild boar, and disease-infested mosquitoes thrived in its bracken waters, making this area a dangerous one for all who inhabited it. But determined pioneers drained the land midst great forests of oak, elm, hickory, and walnut to reap the harvests of its black fertile soil. The history of the great Black Swamp and the growth of the Bowling Green community is the history of the St. Aloysius Catholic people. Members waxed and waned with the good as well as the troubled times. With the onset of the natural gas boom, the ensuing glass factories, and commencement of the Bowling Green State Normal College, Catholic families grew. But a struggling St. Aloysius parish also declined, with the terrible depressions in crop and land values, the drop in natural gas production, and the subsequent demise of the glass factories.
From the start there were numerous difficulties for the fledgling group of Catholics in Bowling Green. Priests would come and minister to their flock when they could, but more often families traveled through bitter winters and impassable mud roads to Perrysburg and Providence, Ohio (across the Maumee river from Grand Rapids) for Mass on Sundays. Hardships of the Black Swamp too often discouraged priests from coming here and remaining where they were needed. In fact, during the years 1865 to 1869, there is no record of any priests visiting to meet the spiritual needs of this faith community.
By 1871, the population of Bowling Green had grown to a bustling community of 970 people. Although Catholic families were too few and too poor to build a church of their own, their fellow Christians were blessed in the growth of their flocks. The Methodists succeeded in building their first church in 1846, and the Presbyterians built a sanctuary in 1860. Later, the United Brethren dedicated their church in 1889, and the Lutherans, who arrived in 1916, broke ground for theirs in 1964. For the children of these Bowling Green Catholic families, preparation for first Holy Communion and Confession, prior to 1881, was completed while boarding with families in Providence.
Other difficulties for the St. Aloysius community sprang from a more sinister well at the turn of the century. Prior to the first world war, sentiment against Germans and Catholics grew with increasing activity of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Protective Association. Frequent rallies were held to large numbers of participants. North Baltimore High School was raided and all the German books were burned. Such opposition caused much distress for the Bowling Green Catholic families.
Differing ethnic groups brought a variety of traditions, customs, and ways of thinking to the Black Swamp. So it was for the St. Aloysius community. When visiting priests came, they would board with parishioners and hold Mass in their homes. French families south of Bowling Green and German families to the north would compete for the best accommodations. A rectory was finally built in 1885 but the rivalry continued over who could persuade Father to preach one Sunday in French, the next in German, and occasionally in English to keep the Irish happy.
By 1899, the parish was growing and a school had been planned. When Father Schreiner arranged with the Sisters of Notre Dame of Cleveland to staff the school, proud ethnic parishioners balked at having these German Sisters teaching their children. The school plans were dropped. Yet another ethnic controversy developed when the German families decided they wanted a bell in the church tower, while the French families wanted a parish cemetery. St. Aloysius could not afford both. It was the Irish vote in sympathy with the pastor's suspected "New Yawk" brogue that decided the issue and St. Aloysius enjoys the same tolling bell today!
By the early 1900's parish membership had grown to almost 100 families, and talk of enlarging the building began. In 1917, more land adjacent to the original red brick church was bought, giving it frontage to three streets - South Summit, South Enterprise and Clough. In 1923, plans for the present church were finalized. A Mr. Perry, who also designed Toledo's Rosary Cathedral, was employed as the architect . A building contract was awarded to Leo Herman who also built Bowling Green's Commercial Bank (now Huntington Bank), the Normal College Men's gym (Eppler Hall), and Nazareth Hall on the Maumee River near Grand Rapids. The buff brick structure was erected in Spanish Gothic, with a California Mission motif accentuating its lines. A very fine example of stone filigree and statuary is carried over the main entrance. Although the people cherished their church, they faced tremendous difficulty in paying for it during the depths of the Great Depression. Eventually, under the guidance of Fathers Henry Bushkuhl (1923-1937) and James Horrigan (1937-1944), they were successful in dissolving the debt.
An exciting development for Bowling Green became a boon to the parish of St. Aloysius. Bowling Green State Normal College, chartered in 1914, brought in to the area a growing number of Catholic students. During his tenure as pastor, Father Horrigan established a Newman club to serve these Catholic students, and later, Father Neitfeld arrived to serve as assistant pastor and chaplain to the club. The rapid and continued growth of the university Catholic population spawned the formation a new faith community in 1958, which emerged as the St. Thomas More University Parish.
Instructions from the Bishop to build a school at St. Aloysius parish arrived with Father Joseph Hartmann who served as pastor from 1956 to 1968. The school was built in 1959-60 on the site of the original red brick church. Classes commenced for 85 students in grades one, two and three, and were taught by three Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania. Classes were added each year, and, by 1965, a new convent was needed to house the Sisters. Father Hartmann died in 1968 but his name now graces the parish hall, a well-used facility he had planned to build. Father Nietfeld (1968-1975) continued plans for the new convent and oversaw an addition to the school.
Father Gorman pastored from 1975 until 1985, when he was replaced by Father Thomas Leyland. Father Leyland was the driving force behind the replacement of the church organ, a project which began with the formation of an Organ Search Committee in September, 1995, and culminated with the dedication of the Orgues Letourneau Opus 61 on Sunday, February 14, 1999.
When Father Leyland moved to Perrysburg St Rose, Father Edward Schleter came to Bowling Green from St Mary's Parish in Defiance. Father Schleter left his mark on the parish with several social justice and ecumenical initiatives. Father Schleter remained until midway through 2000, when Father Mark Davis arrived.
Today St. Aloysius has a membership of 1100 families and an enrollment in the school of about 200 students from 140 families. The school has a full K-8 program, as well as a preschool curriculum and an Extended Day program.
Although the mosquitoes continue to thrive, the Black Swamp wolves and wild boar have vanished from these environs. A few groves of giant walnuts and cottonwoods are all that remain of the great forests. In their place is a vital community of people living, working, and worshipping together in a peaceful setting, something our pioneer ancestors worked hard for and would look upon with pride.