For over two hundred years, Catholics in greater Cincinnati have worshipped on this ground; more than 160 of those years in this very building! In each generation, the people of our parish community have financially supported the necessary maintenance, repair, and renovation of this sacred space dedicated to inward reflection and outward action. Over the last decade, we have addressed underlying structural issues and repaired the exterior of our church. However, the interior of our church is showing the effects of time and elements.
Adsum is Latin for "I am present," as in a roll call. Beginning May 1, 2023, necessary and overdue repairs and renovations to our interior will commence. So now is the time for each of us who worships here at St. Xavier Church to answer the call, as we are financially able, to attend to this important interior work. Upon completion of this work, by November 1, 2023, our physical space will be revitalized allowing St. Xavier Church to remain present in the heart of downtown and focus its time and attention on continuing its legacy of answering God’s call and caring for souls.
The planned work, discussed in more detail below, is divided into four projects: painting and replastering of the church interior, repairing the stained-glass windows along the north and south walls, updating the sacristy, and reconfiguring the sanctuary. As extensive scaffolding is required to safely perform the necessary painting and replastering work, as well as to provide access to the stained-glass windows, the upper church will be unavailable for worship during the renovation period; we will celebrate all masses downstairs in the Parish Center.
This will be a time of transition and change, but we trust that the Holy Spirit, which has brought us this far, will see us through to the end. With your help, this church which has served generations of Catholics in the greater Cincinnati area, will continue to be a center of worship and ministry for generations to come.
December 4, 2022 - Bulletin insert
January 11, 2023 - Fr. Paul Lickteig SJ's letter to the parish community
February 19, 2023 - Church interior renderings revealed (CLICK TO VIEW)
February 21, 2023 - Invitation to Information Sessions
April 4, 2023 - Online donation link opens
May 1, 2023 - Renovation of the upper church begins
May 20, 2023 - Fr. Paul's letter to the parish community
September 15, 2023 - Fr. Paul's letter to the Jesuit Parish Family
Restoration and Renovation
The last major updates to our church interior were undertaken decades ago as part of a two phased plan. Much of the colorful interior we see today, part of Phase I, dates to 1988 – 1989. Phase II renovations concluded in 1993 with the relocation of the Blessed Sacrament from its central location to its current location at the side altar, which was originally designed for and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The stained glass windows which line the side walls of the church have remained virtually untouched for more than a hundred years and the sacristy likewise has not received much attention.
In the intervening decades, time and the elements have taken a toll on these spaces. Just as a homeowner might do, St. Xavier consulted with professionals, as well as church staff and several members of our parish community, to assess needed repairs, functional updates and associated costs. Now, with both a plan and budget in place, the church interior and sacristy spaces, the sites of our sacramental ministry and communal celebration, will receive much needed care.
Plaster and Paint - Time and seeping water have resulted in falling plaster and flaking paint in many areas of our church interior; recent repairs to the roof and gutters, as well as subsequent moisture testing, have provided reasonable assurance that we can now make needed repairs without fear of new moisture damage. Conrad Schmitt Studios, an internationally recognized firm with more than a century of experience in the decoration and repair of sacred spaces, has been engaged to repair and update the sanctuary and nave space of our church. The new scheme strives to emphasize the Gothic Revival architecture of St. Xavier Church. Our goal is to retain some elements of the current interior color scheme, and also to add new emphases that will further enhance our Jesuit identity and worship environment.
Stained Glass - Parish lore maintains that the colorful windows along the side walls survived the devastating fire of 1882, which caused the roof to fall in and destroyed the interior. However, it is more likely, based on the existence of silk-screened elements along the sides of each panel, that the windows date to after the fire (silk-screening, a technique of applying repeated elements to achieve a uniformed, patterned look did not became common until about 1885). Careful inspection of the windows reveals that over the years decorative details have faded, pieces of glass have been repaired or replaced (with varying degrees of success) and that the lead matrix (the material which holds the glass in place) has become brittle and will ultimately fail.
To ensure that these windows will continue to enhance our worship space for future generations, St. Xavier Church has again contracted with Conrad Schmitt Studios. Anticipated work will be performed off site at Conrad Schmitt Studios’ New Berlin, Wisconsin workshop. The scope of work includes:
- meticulous documentation of the existing condition of each window (performed prior to repair),
- removing each piece of glass from every window,
- cleaning each piece of glass,
- epoxy-mending broken glass,
- replacing poorly matched glass where necessary,
- replicating the faded silk-screened elements along the sides of each window,
- re-leading the windows with a new matrix that matches original profiles but is of a composition that is more resistant to corrosion and deterioration.
Sacristy - The sacristy, located behind the altar, serves as a place for both spiritual and practical preparation for mass and the other sacraments performed at St. Xavier Church. Over the years, the cabinetry and flooring have all fallen into a state of disrepair, and various, now obsolete, items clutter the space. Not only does this make it difficult to attend to the practical aspects of the mass, it also makes it nearly impossible to use as a place of recollection for the priests.
The prior gift of a generous donor provided the impetus to explore options for improving this largely unseen but vitally important area of our church. While a change in pastors and COVID–19 paused progress, planning began anew in 2021 resulting in a plan which will both improve the functional aspects of the space related to practical preparations for the mass and provide a suitable environment for the priest to spiritually prepare himself for the celebration of sacraments.
Sanctuary - In his letter, Desiderio Desideravi, the Pope names the importance of the liturgy and the centrality of the Eucharist as being the key elements of our Christian and Catholic formation. St. Xavier Church was designed to draw worshipers’ attention to the center of the church, where the Eucharist used to lay in repose. In 1993 the Eucharist was moved to its current side altar location.
As part of our current renovation plan, the tabernacle will return to its central position. While the financial costs associate with this move are small as a percentage of total project costs, it will add dramatically to the way that we worship here at St. Xavier Church. Returning the tabernacle to the center restores the heart of our faith to the center of our worship space. Also, part of this project is the addition of prie-dieu (kneelers) in front of the tabernacle and side altars, creating intimate areas for reflection and reverence
Why now? Can’t it wait?
The short answer is as follows. Due to the potential of plaster falling from the ceiling into the pews, the need to address the sanctuary and nave of our church is immediate. Plaster repair will also require us to repaint significant portions of the church. Since it is already costly to repaint and put everything back exactly as it is, we have decided to alter the interior design. Further, as extensive scaffolding will require us to close the upper church, it makes sense to handle certain projects concurrently.
- The stained-glass windows: We need to address the stained-glass window joints cracking and failing because of damage wrought by time and the elements.
- The sacristy: with over $200K already donated for the sacristy project that began in 2018, and based on the needs of priests and ministers, it makes sense to finally complete this project.
- The Tabernacle: Finally, the least expensive element, returning the tabernacle to the center of our altar restores the source and summit of our faith life to its intended position.
Didn’t we just do some repairs?
Over the past decade, as a parish we have slowly been repairing and renovating our church. First, we began with renovating the undercroft and transforming it into our Parish Center. This enabled us to handle various practical matters (such as all the flooding from parking lot runoff and some structural issues). It also allowed us to fully utilize the space beneath our church, creating larger offices and bigger, more adaptable areas for gatherings.
Next, we took care of patching our roof, sealing our outer walls against the elements, and repairing our clock tower. This work took place over the course of years and accomplished two goals. Aesthetically, it addressed the significant toll taken by time and the elements on our liimestone edifice and brick walls. Practically, it patched the several areas where water was getting into our church sanctuary.
The final step, having restored our foundation and sealed our exterior against the elements, we will repair the damage done by water and time to our church interior, preparing it for use by the generation to come.
How will this enhance future mission/ministry?
Finishing this work will allow us to focus our time and attention more directly on the care of souls. The painting will last for a generation. The work on the stained glass is estimated to last for another one hundred years, if not more. We will have a beautiful church capable of holding wonderful events for years to come.
Will you keep the blue?
The blue will remain, but in a different way. After scores of meetings and consultations with professional artists, designers, and St. X parishioners, we have decided upon a new application of color which emphasizes the natural beauty and vibrancy of our church’s interior (pictures coming soon). The walls and columns will be repainted to emphasize the “Gothic Revival” style of architecture. With its Marian overtones and ties to our rich St. X tradition, the color blue will feature prominently in the new design.
Why do the stained-glass windows need to be repaired?
Due to age and some poor repairs in the past, some of the “leading” (that is, the lead joints holding the panes of glass in place) are starting to fail. Since we are closing the upper church for services, it makes sense to also address the issues we are having with the windows. This will not be an attempt to fully restore the windows, either in their design or the functionality (we will not be able to open or close them). Rather, our intention is to do as efficient and basic a repair as is feasible, and restore a touch of beauty in the process.
Why move the tabernacle?
Our church was designed to draw people’s eyes towards the center of the sanctuary. In 1987, the tabernacle was removed from its central location in the sanctuary and the presider’s chair was put in its place. This act removed the tabernacle from its central place in our church (a 500-year-old tradition first popularized by the Society of Jesus among others).
In the intervening years, the Eucharist itself has slowly lost its place of centrality within the lives of practicing Catholics. With around half of Catholics no longer believing in the real presence, and far more choosing to refrain from weekly mass attendance, our return of the Eucharist to the center of our church is intended to change the way we worship and pray. We are called to make the Eucharist the center of our lives.
In the new design, those who wish will be invited to come into the sanctuary to kneel in prayer or sit in quiet reflection directly in front of the tabernacle. Effectively, this will turn the sanctuary into a place of deeper reflection within the church itself.
Why the sacristy too?
The sacristy functions in two ways, both as the place of spiritual and practical preparation for mass and the other sacraments we perform at St. X Church. Over the years, the cabinetry, flooring, and utilities have all fallen into a state of disrepair. Not only does this make it difficult to attend to the practical aspects of the mass, it makes it nearly impossible to use as a place of recollection for the priests.
The state of our sacristy has long been known to those who volunteer at our church. In 2018, due to the gift of a generous donor, a group was convened to plan the renovation of the sacristy. Designs were made, but due to the global pandemic, work was never convened. Thankfully, the donor’s generosity remains. We have a responsibility to fulfill the work we started five years ago.
Why do we have to close upstairs?
We need to close the upstairs because the entire church will be covered with scaffold. Under current rules, it is not possible for us to continue to have daily or weekend mass if these conditions exist. Thus, we will have to close the upper church for the duration of the project.
Will this affect any other day-to-day operations?
We will hold our worship services in the Parish Center, which can hold up to 400 people comfortably. This will include all of our daily masses and other sacraments (including baptisms and funerals). Since our largest masses do not get above 300, we will have room to spare. The parish center will provide a bright and inviting place for worship from May through October. We will be back in the upper church by November.
$4M is a lot to raise. Who will pay?
The repair, restoration, and renovation of St. Xavier Church will be supported by three groups of people.
The first are parishioners, both those with long-standing, multi-generational connections as well as those who are newer members. A church that does not have financial support from its own members will soon become either a museum or mausoleum. Our church holds a vibrant community who understand its worth, and this is ultimately why the campaign will succeed.
The second are people with connections to Jesuit ministries throughout Cincinnati. These are people who may not come to St. X regularly, but who understand the spiritual importance of this church as the starting point of all things Jesuit in Cincinnati. As the line goes, “the long blue line begins at St. X Church”. If you have never heard that line before, that is because I just made it up. Still, its true.
The third group are people who recognize the significance of St. Xavier Church to the downtown Cincinnati community. Even those with no Catholic connection recognize the beauty of this old church and have expressed willingness to see it renewed!
In this economy?
Yes. This was one of the first questions asked. After consulting with leaders in business and economics (who also happen to be St. X attendees), it seems reasonable and feasible for us to support this project in the current economic climate. The work we are doing is necessary for the continued vibrancy of this parish.
How is this different than any fundraising campaign in the past?
In some ways, in can be seen as a final phase of a decade long project to prepare this church for another half-century of service. We now have a track record of raising money and using it responsibly. Previous successful projects reveal the capacity of our parishioners and leadership teams to use resources well and see major projects to fulfillment (such as the parish center and the belltower). With our foundation secure and our outer walls sealed, we are now ready to address the interior, the space for worship.
Can the archdiocese help pay?
Due to an agreement reached by the Society of Jesus and the Archdiocese many decades ago, the AOC takes no financial responsibility for the church of St. Francis Xavier. We are fully self-supporting through the contributions of our parish members.
What are the ways to contribute/donate?
You can donate via check, cash, stock transfer, or online.
History of Renovations
In 1840, the Jesuits were asked to begin their ministry in the school and parish that what would be named St. Francis Xavier. In 1861, the current church structure was built by the contributions of her people. Early in 1882, the church was gutted by fire and subsequently restored by years-end due to those who cared deeply for their spiritual home. Over the course of the 20th century, St. X Church was replastered and painted several times. In 1987, the sanctuary and nave were renovated, resulting in the current space of worship. In 2015, the undercroft was renovated to provide a space for parish offices and gathering spaces for the faithful. Most recently, in 2021, St. X's clock tower was restored. Click here for a comprehensive timeline of the church's renovations since 1845.
Church fire - 1882
Click to read a transcription of a Cincinnati Commercial Tribune article from 1887 describing the first major interior painting of the church post-fire.
Parish Center renovation - 2015
General Chairs: Brittany McQueary, Cary Powell, Greg Vehr
Plan Administrators: Mary Stutler
Information Team: Ryan Alleman, Nick Hummel
Enlistment Team: Diane Roden
Contact Care Team: Kathy England, Chris Hirsch
Communications Team: Mark Komanecky, Jon Powell, Sam Aberle
Leadership Gifts Team: Mary Linda Kuhnhein, Andrew Sweeny
Major Gifts Team: Ed Babbitt, Ralph Ginocchio, Terry Horan
Prayer Team: Fr. Jacob Boddicker SJ, Jan Meyer
C.R.E.A.T.E. Team: Ann Schoen, Jerry Schoen
Committment Events Team: Barry Kirby, Michelle Kirby
Committment Response Team: Michael Guarasci