Written by one of our own faithful parishioners at Immaculate Conception
St. Matthew’s grew further under Father Buse, later a monsignor. It was he who supervised the building of a shrine to Our Lady of Fatima, which he dedicated to those parishioners who had served in World War II. But parish growth eventua lly began straining existing resources. By the 1950s, the school had become so crowded that some students were placed on half-day schedules. With an elementary school that alone served more than 400 students, plans were made to build an addition. In 1954, 30 years after the church dedication, Monsignor Buse began supervising this major construction project.
Unlike Fathers Gallagher and Hickey, Monsignor Buse did not live to see his major project completed. He died in 1955, leaving the school addition to open under his successor, Father David Powers. The addition, now the elementary school at Immaculate Conception Academy, held its first clas ses in the fall of 1955. Three years later, the parish held another joyful celebration: the installation of three large bells in the south tower. The bells were named Frederick, John, and Henry, in honor of Monsignor Buse’s predecessors as pastor. Father Powers himself oversaw a major project: the building of the current convent, completed in 1960.
It must have seemed at the time that the parish’s vitality would only burn brighter in the coming years. In fact, a slow but debilitating decline lay just ahead. As the changes wrought by Vatican II took hold in the Church at large, St. Matthew’s parish reflected the decay. Parish population dropped. School enrollment fell. Financial strains grew. Battered by the difficulties, St. Matthew’s School absorbed its Norwood neighbor, St. Elizabeth’s. The combined school was renamed for St. Elizabeth’s longtime pastor, Monsignor Francis A. Gressle.
From 1990 to 1995, our own congregation – with its school of about 135 students – was meeting for weekday classes and Sunday Mass at St. Gertrude Academy in Westwood. The 11,000 square foot facility had been donated by a generous benefactor and had provided quite adequately for the first years after the school’s founding in 1980. But by 1990, the school had outgrown the facility. The Sunday Masses began in the cafeteria on a portable altar with the congregation seated on folding chairs and kneeling on pads on the floor. Even when the pleasant little chapel dedicated to St. Thomas Aquinas was improvised by combining two classrooms, the three Masses offered there each Sunday were over-filled.
Foreseeing the problem of over-crowding in the school, and because of the deterioration of the areas surrounding the school in Westwood, from the late 1980’s the parish had been looking to buy or build a larger school building. All of our efforts were blocked by various problems that arose.
But, our faith was strong and in mid-1994, a newspaper article in The Cincinnati Enquirer announced the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s plan to sell two parish facilities in Norwood – St. Elizabeth’s and St. Matthew’s. Heading the article was a large photograph of the stately Gothic façade of Saint Matthew’s Church. The decision was soon made to attempt to purchase the property of Saint Matthew’s parish, with the confidence that – if it was indeed God’s will – the Blessed Mother would accomplish what seemed to be (if not impossible) at least extraordinarily improbable. A campaign of prayer began to the Blessed Mother and to Saint Philomena, and the promise was made that if we were able to purchase the church and school, rectory, and convent, the church would be dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mother of God.
The pastor of the church, who was also at that time principal of the school, decided to appoint a committee of capable and willing laymen, allowing him to step back from the process of inspecting and negotiating to buy the property. The pastor’s decision to remain behind the scenes, praying for the goal but keeping a low profile, was matched unexpectedly by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s decision also to remain behind the scenes and to allow the parish council of Saint Matthew’s Church to arrange for the sale of the property. No doubt this development removed the obstacle of hostile scrutiny and enabled the process to move forward by the grace of God and the deft handling of delicate matters by the laymen representing our congregation.
Bishop Alfred Mendez contributed greatly to our obtaining St. Matthew’s. He had been a dependable and enthusiastic supporter of the traditional Mass for many years…writing to Rome in defense of Archbishop Lefebvre, corresponding with Archbishop Lefebvre, sponsoring programs for “What Catholics Believe”, ordaining Fr. Greenwell and Fr. Baumberger on September 3, 1990, and consecrating Bishop Clarence Kelly on October 19, 1993. Although quite ill at the time, he insisted on flying to Cincinnati in January 1995 to see St. Matthew’s property. After he visited the property (in a wheelchair), he said to Saint Gertrude’s pastor, “It’s beautiful. Buy it! Close on it as fast as you can!” Bishop Mendez died only a few weeks later and bequeathed his life savings to help us purchase the church.
Originally, the closing was set for February 11 – the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes (who said to Saint Bernadette: “I am the Immaculate Conception”). Bishop Mendez’s death on January 28, and the legal proceedings surrounding his burial, prompted the Archdiocese to postpone the closing date. Thus it was that we finally obtained occupancy of the church and school on July 1, 1995.