It all began on St. Gertrude's Day 1923 ...
The rich history of St. Gertrude's Parish began on November 16, 1923, the feast day of St. Gertrude, when a group representing approximately 25 Catholic families from this area gathered at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Willenbrink. Their purpose was to petition Archbishop Moeller to have Mass celebrated each Sunday in the general vicinity of Madeira.
At the time, there were no assurances that this would lead to a permanent parish and there was not an available priest in the area, so a call was made to the Chancery. A request was made that this group of people be commissioned to establish a permanent church as soon as sufficient funds were gathered. Fr. Albers took on the extra duties of looking after the mission flock of Maderia and saying Mass there on Sundays and holy days of obligation. Beginning on November 25, 1923, members of St. Gertrude's Mission, the name they adopted from the date of their first meeting, had the privilege of attending one of two Masses each Sunday at the Willenbrink home at the comer of Naomi and Miami Avenue.
This small but mighty flock worked very hard to raise the needed funds to build a church. They held endless socials, house parties, dinners, and special collections and soon accumulated enough funds to purchase the site of the first St. Gertrude Church. They began construction in late 1924 and completed the site in the spring of 1925.
Archbishop Moeller died shortly before its completion therefore Fr. Albers held a simple blessing and the first Mass was held at the new church on February 8, 1925. Later that same year, property was purchased south of the church for a possible future site of a rectory. Soon after, the newly consecrated archbishop of Cincinnati, the Most Reverend John T. McNicholas, O.P., formally requested that the Dominican Order take charge of St. Gertrude's Parish.
In the years that followed, many priests and parishioners laid the foundation of what St. Gertrude Parish is today. From outgrowing the status of "mission church," to building and developing a school in 1934 to becoming a full fledged parish in 1944, there continues to be true commitment and sacrifice from our parishioners.
As St. Gertrude Parish continued to grow, so did the need for additional space for education of the children of our parish. What started out as a school of 40 students in grades one through eight has evolved into one of the most premier Catholic schools in the Archdiocese. However, it has taken unbelievable parish support and strength to arrive where we are today. In 1955, enrollment exceeded 505 students so additional space was needed. In 1958, a building campaign was initiated that provided the funds for a new Church and the third addition to the school. The expansion was again an illustration of the unwavering support and strength of St. Gertrude Parish.
The Parish Center was dedicated in 1985 to expand parish facilities and ministries so that St. Gertrude Parish would continue to touch the lives of so many families and individuals in the Cincinnati area. Through strong leadership and support, the parish continued its journey with the Dominican presence to become a strong and unique parish.
By 1950 there were 395 member families, which grew to over 800 families in 1956. With great foresight, additional land was purchased which is the present property that houses the church, priory and the old school. Parishioners gave generously of their resources, time and talent to build in 1959 what we know today St. Gertrude Church on the comer of Miami and Shawnee Run Roads. On Palm Sunday, April 10, 1960, the parish could joyously celebrate the cornerstone laying. The new St. Gertrude Church was dedicated on Sunday, April 16, 1961.
The brick and stone structure envisioned by architect Edward J. Schulte was crowned with a belfry atop a soaring tower. A fourteen-foot-tall bronze figure of Our Lord, hand-forged by German metal craftsman Carl Wiland, welcomes parishioners and guests today above the main entrance canopy. Even a touch of history was forged with the future, our future ... three bells, cast in 1868 were hung in the belfry and dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Joseph and St. Gertrude.
The Dominican Order played a vital role in the vision of this growing parish. When plans were being drawn up for the Church, the Order was so impressed with the location and vibrancy of St. Gertrude Parish, that they requested and obtained permission from Archbishop Alter to build a Priory on the Shawnee Run Road side of the Church grounds. The entire cost of the building was financed by the Dominican Order.
As time passed, another opportunity presented itself to a new generation of parishioners who stepped up to the plate and "Opened Wide the Doors to Christ." It was a brand new time ... a brand new opportunity to give back in the spirit of our founders and continue the tradition of this Dominican parish. Beginning in 1998, a plan was developed again to expand, develop, and refurbish much of what is now the St. Gertrude Parish Campus. Then in 2002, a large scale campaign was launched to raise the funds needed to restore the church to its original 1961 beauty, purchase a new convent for our Dominican Sisters, expand a much needed parking lot, and build a brand new school. A second campaign was established, "A Time to Build" which would see these visions to fruition and further the vision that started over 80 years ago. With the generosity, leadership and faith amongst the St. Gertrude Parish community, the construction of the school building began on October 5, 2004 with completion and dedication in August of 2006.
St. Gertrude was born in Germany on January 6, 1256 and was orphaned at an early age. When she was five years old, she was taken to the Benedictine Abbey at Helfta in Saxony to be educated by the nuns there. She was a lovable, quick-witted child who responded well to those who taught her.
Upon completion of her studies, at the age of 15 or 16, Gertrude entered the community of Helfta. She was strong in character and personality and became a life-giving presence in the monastery. As a young woman, however, Gertrude was not overly pious and became so engrossed in her secular studies that she neglected her spiritual calling. By the time she was 24, she was beginning to find the routines of the monastery tiresome. During the Advent season of 1280, she endured a severe trial emotionally and spiritually. Shortly after her 25th birthday, on January 27, 1281, Gertrude experienced a sudden and unexpected encounter with the risen Christ, which she calls her "conversion." In her deepest heart she heard Christ say to her, "Do not fear. I will save you and set you free."
In 1289, Gertrude heard Christ ask her to write an account of the many graces she had received. Reluctantly, Gertrude wrote a short spiritual autobiography, called "The Herald of God's Loving-Kindness." In it, she describes her awakening, which made Christ so real for her that she was able to overcome all resistance within herself and gradually move toward unconditional surrender to God's love. Her spiritual life was based in the scriptures and nurtured in the liturgy. Her prayer was Christ-centered, especially on His humanity represented by the image of the Sacred Heart, the divine treasury of grace. St. Gertrude experienced an intense love of the Eucharist, a loving embrace of the sinner, friendship for the outcast, and an enduring trust in God's mercy. As she matured, her eyes opened to the mystery of Christ's love in the Church and to its evangelizing mission in the world.
St. Gertrude died on November 16 in 1301 or 1302, but her spiritual legacy lives on in the Church especially in her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus:
"O heart that diffuses gentleness;
O heart that runs over with loving-kindness;
O heart that overflows with charity;
O heart that distills pleasantness;
O heart full of compassion!
O dearest heart, absorb my heart totally in you.
Grant me, dear Jesus, to love you alone in all things and above all things, to cling to you fervently, and to have hope in you always.
St. Gertrude the Great, pray for us!