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Parish History

        The oldest Catholic church in Ohio was the first St. Joseph’s at Somerset, established by the Dominican priests in 1818. From Somerset, the order sent out circuit riders to celebrate the liturgy with the small Catholic communities spread throughout the wilderness. One of those riders, Fr. Nicholas Young, stopped in Zanesville every few weeks, and the community, comprised primarily of Irish immigrants, worshipped above a tavern located at the corner of Fifth and Main Streets. A church was built in 1820, and in 1827, a larger church, at the site of the present St. Thomas Church.
During this period, Zanesville saw an influx of immigrants from Germany, some Catholic and some Protestant. Uncomfortable with the English language, these new Americans sought to worship in their native tongue – the Catholics among them seeking the permission of the bishop, Purcell in Cincinnati, to establish their own parish. In 1836, Bishop Purcell recognized the validity of their request, and six years later, when the Irish began to build a new church, the Germans received permission to establish their own parish, St. Nicholas, building a church on East Main Street where the rectory now stands.
        For many years, the pastors sent to St. Nicholas were men born and schooled in Germany; ties with the old country remained very strong. Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century the parish grew; the church building was enlarged twice. When Father A. L. Leininger arrived in 1893, the building was once again bursting at the seams. Rather than adding another makeshift wing, Father Leininger determined to construct a new building – a grand edifice to the glory of God, building the Italian Renaissance style.
        He set forth his plan to the congregation on January 16, 1897, and the following day volunteers were ready with their teams of mules and shovels to begin the excavation for the present St. Nicholas church building. A year of backbreaking labor prepared the foundation, and Bishop John Watterson laid the cornerstone on July 10, 1898. The church was dedicated on August 27, 1899. From then until today its Florentine dome has dominated Zanesville’s skyline at the top of Main Street.
        Since funds were not immediately available to do all the interior decorating, the parish worshipped for twenty years in a muted room, with startling effects produced by the dozens of lights in the arches. In 1919 the building underwent its first major renovation, including a most elaborate painting scheme, comprising frescoes, gold leaf and walls painted to look like marble. The first altar was torn out in 1926 and replaced with a large one of marble. The interior of the building kept its 1926 aspect until 1960, when Father Linus Dury directed a major renovation, which resulted in a total change of statuary and painting, and eliminated every vestige of the earlier decoration. The blue, gold, and gray colors from Fr. Dury’s stunning renovation still help to define the interior of St. Nicholas. Finally, in 1986 under the leadership of Fr. Richard Metzger, the sanctuary of the church was carefully and beautifully renovated in keeping with the liturgical requirements and principles of the Second Vatican Council.
        The exterior dome and roof surfaces of St. Nicholas have been painted a number of times in its history. Under the pastorate of Fr. Charles F. Klinger and in preparation for the centenary of this beautiful church (1998-99), the dome and roof areas were completely stripped of layers of old paint and repainted in the summer and fall of 1997. This work included the gold-painting of the three crosses on the domes.
        St. Nicholas Church is on the National Registry of Historic Buildings.


Our Patron Saint - St. Nicholas

        In the year 280, in the small town of Patara (which is located in what is now known as Turkey) a son was born to Johanna and epiphanies. They called their son Nicholas. Although they were very wealthy, they spent much of their time and money caring for the poor and needy. They made sure Nicholas learned to love Jesus and understood all the teachings of their faith.
        At the age of 17, his parents died from the plague while caring for the sick. Nicholas became very wealthy because of his inheritance. After his parents’ death, he went to spend time with his uncle, the bishop of Myra, where Nicholas decided to become a priest. The first thing that he did was to give all his money and property to the poor and was ordained a priest at age 19. When Nicholas was 30 years of age, his uncle died and Nicholas was chosen to be bishop of Myra. He was very beloved by the people of Myra and involved in the entire church. He was present at the Council of Nicaea which formulated the Nicene Creed which we still recite today.
        There are many stories of how Nicholas helped the poor and needy. Most of his good deeds were done late at night and in secret. The window seen in St. Nicholas Church depicts the story of how Nicholas saved three students who had been kidnapped by a wicked innkeeper who planned to sell them into slavery.
        Nicholas is also known as patron and protector of sailors. The story is told that when Nicholas was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem his boat was nearly capsized. The sailors begged him to pray to God to save their lives. Nicholas spent the night in prayer and everyone survived. The report spread throughout the area.
        By the time Bishop Nicholas died, he was known all over the Roman Empire for his goodness and generosity. Many people throughout the world continue to imitate Nicholas’ love for the poor and especially children by giving gifts on his feast day, December 6. The American image of Santa Claus derived from this custom.