When my grandparents were married on November 24, 1937, some of their friends sent them greeting cards remarking how their marriage joined two historic Columbus families. My Born grandmother was related not only to the Born family of brewers, but also to a gardener who emigrated from Potsdam, Germany to care for the garden at Ohio Governor Thomas Worthington’s home in Chillicothe. My Heinmiller grandfather was the great-nephew of a Columbus fire chief and a sheriff.
Their marriage also united two families who were parishioners of St. Leo Catholic Church. My favorite photo of their wedding day is one showing my grandparents leaving St. Leo’s after the ceremony. My elegant grandmother wore a black velvet suit trimmed with a silver fox collar and a corsage of gardenias and lilies of the valley, while my debonair grandfather accessorized his suit and overcoat with a long, fringed silk scarf. The photo captures how fun that day must have been, even for my grandfather’s two youngest brothers, who are the two boys in knickers at the right of the photo.
Located at 221 Hanford Street in Merion Village, on the South Side of Columbus, St. Leo’s was organized in 1902 by Father Charles F. Kessler. On December 13, 1903, the Church of St. Leo the Great was dedicated. September 1904 saw the opening of the parochial grade school where my grandparents and their siblings attended. To accommodate a growing parish, a new St. Leo Church was dedicated by Bishop Hartley on May 16, 1917.
St. Leo’s was an important part of my ancestors’ lives. Card-playing with the friendly and likeable Father Kessler resulted in my great-great-grandfather’s conversion to Catholicism. My great-grandfather led the parish’s group of the Catholic Order of Foresters’ Boy Rangers. Besides being married at St. Leo’s, my grandparents made their First Communion and were confirmed there.
St. Leo’s interior reflects the parish’s German heritage. It features a “German Romantic” pipe organ. The two angels on either side of the altar were gifts of Father Kessler. Its stained glass windows were donated by various members of the congregation and their friends. One of the windows was donated by the “Hanford Club,” a card club to which my great-grandparents, together with the parents of several school friends of my grandmother’s, belonged.
St. Leo’s was closed on July 1, 1999. However, efforts are being made to restore the church and maintain its community. Caretaker Mike Wolf raised funds to undertake a large amount of restoration work. Outside, Mr. Wolf oversaw the installation of a new roof, new gutters, brick tuckpointing, and replacement of the old limestone steps. Inside, water damage from masonry leaks was repaired; plaster was redone; damaged mouldings were rebuilt; walls were painted and given a new decorative stencil finish; the wood floor was sanded and refinished; pews were scraped, sanded, cleaned and revarnished; all marble was cleaned and polished; and the Stations of the Cross were repainted.
On December 29, 2011, the feast day of St. Thomas Becket, St. Leo’s was open for a special Family Mass. Cindy and Ken joined us for the Mass, which was celebrated by Rev. Tyron Tomson, parochial vicar at our parish, St. Andrew Church. Father Tomson was ordained to the Catholic priesthood last May, but he has been a friend of St. Leo’s since he was a student at St. Charles Preparatory High School, when he played St. Leo’s organ both for special occasions and to “exercise” it. After celebrating Mass, Father Tomson treated us to a spectacular organ concert, which concluded with Gustav Holst’s “Thaxted,” one of my most-loved hymn tunes.
We were also happy to see and catch up with Marty, my uncle Tom’s high school classmate who became one of our favorite friends. It’s always a treat to see this friendly, funny and kind man who works tirelessly on behalf of St. Leo’s, Moeller Park, and Merion Village.
On the way home, we passed the home at 84 East Moler Street where my grandmother grew up and the persimmon tree that still stands in Uncle Henry’s back yard. Like Cindy observed, we felt the presence not only of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, but also of our heritage. “I could almost hear my father singing ‘Adeste Fideles’ again,” she said.
If you’d like to help save St. Leo, you can make a donation to The St. Leo Preservation Society, a 501.c.3 organization that helps to fund additional restoration work. You can also purchase special St. Leo keepsakes, including notecards with full color reproductions of details from St. Leo stained glass windows and a CD of music played on the St. Leo organ. St. Leo’s will be open next for an organ concert on January 29, 2012.