A predominantly African-American parish in Columbus, Ohio has been robbed of its air-conditioning units, the latest in a string of thefts and vandalisms at Catholic churches around the country.
Holy Rosary-St John, a 123-year-old institution in the city’s Old Oaks Historic District, announced the news on Friday afternoon, noting that Masses will be celebrated in the parish hall for the foreseeable future as a result.
Like many Catholic parishes in the United States, HRSJ was originally founded to serve a European immigrant community in the 19th and 20th centuries before later becoming predominantly Black.
“This is no longer any sort of German parish,” former pastor Josh Wagner said in an interview concerning the parish in 2016.
It was also formed from a merger between St John’s and Holy Rosary Catholic Church, the latter of which was closed at its original site in the 1960s.
The theft of the A/C units may exacerbate existing concerns, as HRSJ has been part of merger discussions in the diocese’s current restructuring plan (initiated under its former bishop Robert Brennan, who departed for the Diocese of Brooklyn late last year).
Under the plan, HRSJ would be closed and merged into St Dominic Catholic Church, the diocese's other Black parish. Both are pastored by Fr Ramon Owera, CFIC.
Today, HRSJ is known for its weekly Gospel Mass as well as its outreach services—including to the homeless and formerly enslaved (in modern human trafficking). It is one of just two Black parishes in the Diocese of Columbus, being located in an area of the city, east and southeast of downtown Columbus, that is predominantly Black.
The parish recently opened its church gardens, an initiative kicked off with a community block party on May 21st at the HRSJ property.
The Old Oaks Historic District has struggled with crime in recent years, having been rated at twice the national average for risk of robbery incidents. As of 2020, more than 31% of the neighborhood lived below the poverty level.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently reported that at least 139 incidents of “arson, vandalism, and destruction” have occurred at Catholic churches in the United States since May 2020.
Later this month, Catholics will celebrate Religious Freedom Week beginning on June 22nd, with the next day dedicated to prayer concerning “attacks on our churches”.
HRSJ was unable to be reached for comment for this story, but those interested in donating to support the parish can do so on the parish website.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).