Columbus, Diocese of
COLUMBUS, DIOCESE OF
The Diocese of Columbus (Columbensis ) embraces 23 counties in central and southern Ohio and is geographically the largest in the state. The boundaries form a triangle stretching from the rich farmlands around Ada and Kenton in the northwest to the rolling, wooded hills of Zoar in the northeast to Portsmouth on the Ohio River in the south and include Columbus, the capital city of the state. As established by Pope Pius IX on March 3, 1868, the diocese included the 31 counties lying east and south of Marion County, but excluding those portions of four counties lying west of the Scioto River and south of Franklin County. In 1944, 13 counties of the diocese along the Ohio River were formed into the new Diocese of Steubenville and five counties from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, along with the partial counties lying west of the Scioto, were added on the west.
The initial Catholic population was about 40,000, 5% of the total population of 790,000. The early Catholic people were descendants of German, Irish, and English settlers of Pennsylvania and Maryland along with new immigrants from Ireland and Germany, numerous converts, and scattered pockets of French immigrants. They were concentrated in Perry County, site of St. Joseph Church near Somerset (the first Catholic parish in the state), and elsewhere along Zane's Trace and the National Road. From the 1880s through the 1910s large numbers of Eastern European immigrants came to the eastern part of the diocese, as well as to Columbus, to work in the mines and factories. Early in the 20th century a parish was established and St. Katherine Drexel's Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament came to the diocese to evangelize the many African Americans who had moved to Columbus from the South. Later in the century numerous Spanish-speaking people, notably from Mexico and Guatemala, made their homes in the diocese. The population of the diocese has grown through the immigration of people from many areas of the country, many of whom were attracted to jobs in government, services, trade, and manufacturing offered by the strong central Ohio economy. At the beginning of the 21st century, registered Catholics numbered about 210,000 in a total population of 2.3 million. The largest concentrations were in the Columbus suburbs.
The Diocese of Columbus has had ten ordinaries. Bishop Sylvester Rosecrans (1868–1878) had been the first auxiliary bishop in the country, in Cincinnati. Bishop John A. Watterson (1878–1899), former president of Mt. St. Mary's College, Emmitsburg, was known throughout the country for his scholarship and eloquence. Bishop Henry Moeller (1900–1903) became archbishop of Cincinnati. Bishop James J. Hartley (1903–1944), a son of the diocese, shunned publicity but accomplished much. Bishop Michael J. Ready (1944–1957), before coming to Columbus, had been general secretary of the National Catholic Welfare Conference. Bishop Clarence G. Issenmann (1957–1965) subsequently became bishop of Cleveland. Bishop John J. Carberry (1965–1968) later was cardinal archbishop of St. Louis. Bishop Clarence E. Elwell (1968–1973) was an educator and author of textbooks. Bishop Edward J. Herrmann (1973–1982) initiated Operation Feed, one of the most successful, ongoing, public food drives in the country. He was succeeded by Bishop James A. Griffin, a priest of Cleveland.
The early years of the diocese were marked by the poverty of its people. St. Joseph Cathedral, prominently located on East Broad Street not far from the Ohio Statehouse, was begun in 1868 and dedicated in 1878, but its construction debt was not retired until 1906. The bishops also struggled to find priests, especially after Bishop Rosecrans had to close his St. Aloysius Seminary in 1876 and Eastern Europeans began flooding into the diocese, creating a need for many multilingual priests. The situation improved after Bishop Hartley founded St. Charles, a preparatory school and minor seminary, in 1923, but the diocese was not self-sufficient in priests until the 1930s.
Columbus is home to the Pontifical College Josephinum, which developed from an orphanage founded by Rev. Joseph Jessing, a priest of the diocese. The diocese has had a close relationship with the Dominican Fathers and Sisters through the years, beginning with the earliest missionaries. At Somerset they operated at various times a girls' academy, a priory, a novitiate, a house of studies, a secular college, and Rosary Press, in addition to a parish school. In Columbus they staff many elementary and high schools. The Dominican Fathers minister in a number of parishes and the Sisters operate Ohio Dominican College.