SS Philip and James Catholic Church

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While the majority of the settlers in the Northwest corner of Stark County were staunch Protestants, a smattering of settlers of Catholic faith did live in this frontier territory. Father E.D. Fenwick of St. Rose’s Catholic Church in Kentucky sought these settlers (who settled here in 1812) after attending to a Canton Mass, and learning of Catholic settlers who also needed attending.

Matthew Patton welcomed the traveling priest into his home, where Catholic Communion was held for the first time in Lawrence Township. When the father left, he promised to return and he fulfilled his promise in 1818, after that at yearly intervals, Catholics in the Milan area were served by Dominicans from Somerset (the Ohio Home of the Dominicans). In 1831, the small congregation constructed the first Catholic Church, a log chapel on the McCue farm, near the Lawrence crossroads. Priests from Sts. Peter and Paul in Doylestown served the parishioners through the thirties and forties. In 1844, property in the port of Canal Fulton was donated and a church was built by 1845. The church continued to grow, and more lots were purchased for the school, rectory, and cemetery.

The old frame building became obsolete, and a new brick Victorian Gothic church was built and then dedicated in 1869. The largest bell in the area was purchased and placed in the belfry in 1877. In Streby’s book Nostalgia, he vividly recalls the rich sound of that bell and asserts “…when they [the churches in town] all chimed in…the valley literally rocked with melody…it was enough to raise your hair…”

Sts. Phillip and James continued the tradition of reaching out to areas bereft of parishes and priests by establishing St. George’s in Clinton (1906) and St. Augustine in Barberton (1898). Tragedy struck the congregation in 1947, when a bolt of lightning struck the church, and nearly the whole structure burnt to the ground. Under the careful management and direction of Father John Maurer, the church was rebuilt, rededicated, and consecrated just in time for midnight mass 1948. The rebuilt steeple was not as tall as the original, but the same bell rings out over our valley.