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The Four Churches of
St. John the Baptist Church
June 1, 2019

The earliest Catholic settlers came to Harrison in the 1830s, pursuing a dream to own farmland. They were primarily poor German immigrants. As they struggled to build their new lives in America, their hearts longed for a new spiritual home, but the settlement era was difficult, and they came here with so very little.
With dedication, great faith and much hard work, they finally built a small brick church on Elm Street in 1851. It was a home made church, constructed with rough-hewn timber and faced with bricks the Germans baked themselves. The original St. John the Baptist Church cross was made of iron, pounded by the powerful hands of a blacksmith in the simplest style. The congregants raised that simple, solid cross with great pride and a community of faithful grew, with their lives centered around a tiny, treasured church, built with their own hands.
Waves of German immigration continued, and the parrish grew. Franciscan priests from Austria and the Sisters' of Charity served the tiny community of Harrison faithful. In 1876, the second St. John the Baptist Church was built at Harrison Avenue and Hill Street. After just 25 years as a parish, the congregation was able to build this new, much larger structure. It was a beautiful addition to the growing town of Harrison and the hardworking Catholis were very proud of it. The same congregation was responsible for building several schools, a rectory, and housing for the Sisters of Charity as well as developing the cemetery. In 1922, construction began on the third church. St. John the Baptist Parish was primarily a small agricultural community. Families were large and times were hard, but once again, the faithful donated their time and talent and labored to construct another beautiful place of worship.
Throughout these decades, St. John's has been blessed with the dedication of her founding families. Incredibly, many of those families remain active at St. John's to this day. We rejoice in their longevity and the rich history it gives us.
Today we dedicate St. John the Baptist's fourth beautiful place of worship. The land was purchased in 2003 and church construction began in 2017. Harrison has changed dramatically since the original St. John the Baptist Church was dedicated, and yet, what is integral remains the same. We are a community of faithful and we need the grounding of a spiritual home in an increasingly secular and challenging world. At the end of their lives, our immigrant founders left behind a faith story rich in struggle and sacrifice; a legacy of faith that withstood epidemics, poverty, world wars, natural disasters and economic depressions.
Theirs was a story of strength, love of God and selflessness that was reflected in their morals and priorities.
As we dedicate our beautiful new church to the glory of God, we rocognize that this building is the compilation of our own faith, persistence and sacrifice. This is part of our own legacy of faith that we will leave behind for those who will follow us. However, the rich tapestry of the St. John the Baptist faith story is visible not just in building structures, but more importantly, in building love of God and rooting it deep in all hearts so that as families and as a parish we might endure all trials and continue to grow in faith.
Like the beautiful churches built of old, this structure is our gift to God. Like the ancient places of worship, this one is layered in symbolism to reach and inspire us. It was also carefully designed to preserve our parish's faith story.
This sacred structure itself draws our eyes and our hearts upward, and here, our prayers and songs of praise will also rise, like incense.
The beautiful stained glass windows were purchased for our third church, filling it with light for nearly 100 years. These windows were donated at great sacrifice by early families, some with connections to proud parishioners of today. Created by G. C. Riordan & Company of Cincinnati, they were beautifully restored by the same company, today's BeauVerre Riordan in Middletown. These old windows now fill our new church with light and color, lifting our spirits and reminding us of special saints and devotionals.
Our stations of the Cross were created by the renowned Daprato Rigali Statues Company for our third church. After they were replaced during a church refurbishment in the 1980s, these stations were purchased at auction by Don Kocher, a descendant of the founding Kocher family. The stations were stored all these years and lovingly returned at last to where they truly belong. They were restored by the Trinity Church Supply Company.
Today, in the four corners of this beautiful church you will see four dedication crosses, each a copy of that very first St. John the Baptist Church cross: that simple, rock-solid piece of iron, pounded with hard work and crafted with strong hands, made to endure, tested in fire...a gift to God from a pure heart.
That first cross, treasured these many decades, clearly reminds us of all that we come from.
On this day, we are mindful of our history as we celebrate with joyful hearts. We know that we built this church on the foundation laid by previous generations of faith-filled people. May we feel today the presence of fathers and mothers, priests and sisters, teachers and faithful servants who turned the fertile fields of so many hearts. May we plant here only the finest seeds. May we nurture here roots that grow deep in faith and may we labor without ceasing to bring forth a harvest for the glory of God.
~ Kathleen Maag Lang
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