September 30, 2016

Columbus parish celebrates historic past, vibrant future in 175th anniversary

Massgoers hold hands during an Aug. 20 liturgy at St. Bartholomew Church in Columbus that celebrated the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Seymour Deanery faith community. (Submitted photo)

Massgoers hold hands during an Aug. 20 liturgy at St. Bartholomew Church in Columbus that celebrated the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Seymour Deanery faith community. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

When a small group of Irish Catholic immigrants founded St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus 175 years ago in 1841, they were a distinct minority in the town among the large group of German Lutherans who lived there.

Today, St. Bartholomew is a vibrant faith community of more than 1,600 households, many of them young families.

“We don’t have a Mass that isn’t punctuated by a baby’s cries,” said Father Clement Davis, St. Bartholomew’s pastor since 1997. “And very often, the cry room is full. We are blessed with a lot of young families.”

Parishioners of all ages filled the Seymour Deanery faith community’s ​900-seat church to overflowing on Aug. 20 for a Mass to celebrate the anniversary of the parish’s founding. Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin was the principal celebrant of the liturgy.

Erin Laswell, 26, and her husband of two years, Nathan, sat in chairs set up in the church’s narthex for the Mass. Seeing the filled church and the entrance procession of many of the priests who had ministered in the parish when she was a child was moving for her.

“I kept seeing all of the priests that I remembered from when I was a really little kid,” Laswell said. “All of these years of history came together. All of those people still feel united to the Church.

“It was a nice way to look back, but then also to remember that there’s so much ahead of us.”

That future is set to include many of the young professionals who work with Laswell at Cummins, Inc., a Fortune 500 diesel engine manufacturer headquartered in Columbus, which has been a main spur for the city’s growth since the mid-20th century.

In more recent years, Cummins and other industries in Columbus have attracted workers from all over the world. And many of them, Father Davis said, are Catholic.

“We have parishioners from China, Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, several countries in Africa, India, Europe—and I’m probably leaving some out,” he said. “Much has changed since I came here in 1997. The critical mass of people from different nations that have come in since I’ve been here have made for a difference in complexion of the parish.”

That also includes a significant Hispanic community in the parish, which offers a Mass on Sundays in Spanish.

Nearly 20 percent of the students in the parish’s school have a language other than English as their first language.

Laswell said the formation in faith that St. Bartholomew provided for her as she grew up in Columbus has prepared her to be a witness to her faith amid the city’s growing diversity.

“There are so many places where our parish can reach because of how diverse it is,” she said. “It’s not about what you do within the Church, although that’s important. It’s really about what you do outside the Church in the community.

“That’s been reinforced for me over the past couple of years. I want to make sure that I’m carrying the Good News to people who don’t yet know the Lord.”

The new cosmopolitan reality for St. Bartholomew and the greater Columbus community is different from what fourth-generation parishioner Judy Jackson experienced when she grew up in the parish in the 1940s and 1950s.

St. Bartholomew was about a quarter of the size it is now, and did not have the large role in the Columbus community that it currently has.

“Catholics were definitely in the minority in Bartholomew County for a long time,” said Jackson, who helped organize a slate of events to mark the parish’s anniversary over the past year.

Father Daniel Staublin, pastor of St. Ambrose Parish in nearby Seymour, also knew St. Bartholomew as a small parish when he grew up in it in the 1950s and 1960s. He said that Father John Minta, who served as the parish’s pastor from 1968-73, helped inspire him in his vocation to the priesthood.

“He was so jovial and so friendly,” Father Staublin said of Father Minta, who died in 2003. “As kids, we just loved him. He was personable and brought a human face to the priesthood. He’d come out on the playground and kid around with us.”

Laswell echoes Father Staublin’s sentiments when she speaks of Father Davis, who has been her pastor for 19 years.

“He’s a father figure,” she said. “I look up to him. He has such a wealth of knowledge and experience. You can go and ask him anything. And he’s really personable. So you don’t feel that there’s a barrier. He’s opening and welcoming.”

Columbus welcomed many Catholics who began moving into the city in the 1950s. To serve the growing Catholic population on Columbus’ north side, St. Columba Parish was founded in 1963.

By the early 1990s, though, St. Columba was merged into St. Bartholomew Parish. The parish was eventually located on St. Columba’s campus.

Its current church was dedicated in 2001.

As Jackson, 71, raised her five children in the parish, she was proud to see them attend the parish’s school and be involved in youth ministry and its liturgies.

Now she’s seeing some of her grandchildren, the sixth generation of her family in the parish, get involved, too.

“They’re carrying on that whole tradition of working and helping, which is good,” Jackson said.

Father Davis appreciates the close connection between the past of St. Bartholomew Parish and its hope-filled future.

“We are the beneficiaries of all the faith that was lived and passed on, until we were able to receive it ourselves and live in it.”

(For more information about St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus, visit

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