For the last 100 years, the 125 feet high towers of the landmark St. Peter’s Catholic Church have themselves done double duty, standing sentinel over the central part of Mansfield while at the same time encouraging passers-by to look in a heavenly direction.
The building sits near an intersection that has been home to a Catholic church and school for almost seventeen decades. The first local mass was celebrated in 1850, and the first church, purchased from the Presbyterians, was located on Mulberry Street just north of the current elementary school.
In June of 1870, the cornerstone was laid for a second, brick church that cost the congregation $35,000. Tragically, that building was lost in a 1889 fire. The same year, a new combination church and school building was erected in what is now the church parking lot at the corner of First and Mulberry; the church itself was on the building’s second floor.
During the second decade of the 20th century, and during the pastorate of Father Ferdinand Schreiber, the decision was made to construct a church proper, and property was acquired, lot by lot, to make that happen. That effort included successfully petitioning City Council to vacate the former colorfully-named Strawberry Alley, which ran through the proposed building site.
The choice was made to spare no expense in erecting a magnificent edifice. The services of Akron architect William Peter Ginther (1858-1933) were obtained (Note – while some sources have his last name as “Guinther,” the correct spelling is Ginther). Ginther designed over 500 Roman Catholic churches, schools, and accessory buildings across the country, particularly in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, California, Virginia, and New York. Many of these showed heavy influences of classic styles from Europe; he had earlier made a tour of the continent including the cities of Rome, Milan, Paris, Venice, Florence, London, Berlin, and Vienna.
His work included the very large St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in Akron, which might be considered St. Peter’s architectural “cousin.”
The plans for the church were nothing short of startling. The proposed building was 90 feet by 150 feet in size, fronted with a full pedimented porch supported by Corinthian-style columns, and topped with the two cross-topped towers. The Richardsonian Romanesque exterior was to be of “Berea sandstone,” also known as “Amherst Blue sandstone.”
Berea sandstone is named for quarries near that city. It is fine-grained, with angular, not rounded grains, and is still quarried near Amherst. The Berea formed when sand was carried by streams into the Ohio sea from the Canadian Shield to the north and from the Catskill Delta to the east. Many large public buildings in Ohio, including the Auglaize County Courthouse in Wapakoneta, are built from this type of stone.
The building contractor was Albert Burkhart from Columbus, and cost over $100,000. An additional $50,000-plus in interior furnishings were added, with Carrera marble columns, baptismal font, and other features coming from the noted McBride Studio, which had offices in New York City and Pietrasanta, Italy. Individuals, families, and church organizations donated specific items, including a replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta.
The cornerstone was laid on May 14, 1911, a landmark day in Mansfield church history. According to the Parish’s excellent historical overview on its website (which can be accessed at this location online),
“The line of march was north on Mulberry to Fourth, to Main to North Park and past the courthouse and back to the church. Different societies and visiting Catholics from nearby towns marched in the parade. The music was furnished by the City Band and the military band of the Knights of St. John.
The streets were lined with thousands of citizens. At 3:00 p.m., Bishop John P. Farrelly of Cleveland officiated at the laying of the cornerstone of the new church.”
Delayed five years by World War I, the church was completed in 1916 and on September 16, 1917, St. Peter’s was dedicated, also by Bishop Farrelly. At the conclusion of the dedicatory service, the Te Deum was sung.
The stained glass windows were further delayed in completion and shipment from their place of manufacture – Munich, Germany. The company responsible for the windows, Emil Frei Studios, is still in business in 2017 (its website can be found here). Magnificent murals on the interior were painted by Hungarian immigrant artist Janos Bernat (1910-1964), and his American wife, Martha, created the wonderful Stations of the Cross which grace its walls. An interesting article on the Bernats was published by Richland Source in 2014, and can be accessed here.
In 1979, St. Peter’s was officially listed in on the National Register of Historic Places. On May 15, 2011, the Parish celebrated the 100th anniversary of the cornerstone laying, a video of which can be viewed at this location.
Sources: St. Peter’s Church website; Wikipedia; National Register of Historic Places; Mansfield News; Ohio Architect, Engineer and Builder magazine