In 1925, a small group of Catholics in the Madeira area raised funds to build the original St. Gertrude Church on Miami Avenue. Twenty-five years later, there were 395 member families in the parish. By 1956, that number more than doubled. To make room for the growing number of parishioners, our parish launched a building campaign in 1958. On Palm Sunday, April 10, 1960, parishioners laid the cornerstone of our current church building at the corner of Miami Avenue and Shawnee Run. The new St. Gertrude Church, designed by architect Edward J. Schulte, was dedicated on Sunday, April 16, 1961.
Edward J. Schulte, a native of Cincinnati, is perhaps the premier church architect of the twentieth century. Designing over 88 mid-twentieth-century churches notable for their blending of modern idiom with traditional function, he used his job as a way to combat certain erroneous philosophies and modernist architectural movements. Needless to say, his style—very unique and recognizable—garnered much attention.
While he loved more “traditional” architecture, Schulte was not afraid to show that Catholic churches can reflect modern times while retaining truth. In other words, the message of the Church stays the same, but the way that message is conveyed can change. To prove this, Schulte updated his architectural styles to show the agelessness and universality of the Church’s message.
When it came to constructing St. Gertrude Church, Schulte sought to combat the war-torn era that resulted in a widespread “God is dead” mentality. When viewed through this lens, everything inside the church building is given new meaning and purpose. From the stained glass windows to the High Altar, almost every detail gives witness to an overall theme that God is alive and active in the world today.
Even though the design of the church is now outdated and the once-shiny brass columns have turned brown, the message of St. Gertrude Church still rings true, just as the message of the Church is still relevant and true thousands of years later.
A Look Inside—and Outside—St. Gertrude Church
Figure of Our Lord: Above the canopy of the main entrance to the church is a 14-foot tall golden bronze figure of Our Lord, hand forged in Cologne, Germany, by one of the great metal craftsmen of Europe, Carl Wiland. Behind this figure of Christ the King is a stone panel background that contains gold incised symbols of Our Savior, such as contracted forms of Jesus' name in Greek, the Chi Rho, and Alpha/Omega.
Creation Windows: Along the left side of the church are seven large stained glass bay windows depicting the days of creation in Genesis 1. The imposing, bare concrete slabs call to mind the formless emptiness of the Earth, which seemed all too familiar amid the melancholy of the mid-twentieth century. But obdurate coldness is not the end of the story. The light emitted through the windows illustrates the marvelous tapestry of God’s creative work—bringing everything from nothing—through his Word that is Light itself. The seventh window, representing the Seventh Day, depicts illustrations of the sacraments. Here, Schulte and window maker Emil Frei show that God has not stepped away from his creation but rather is fully involved in it through the sacraments and through the Church.
Marian Altar: To the right of the High Altar is an altar dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. Above this shrine is a painting of Our Lady giving the rosary to St. Dominic. The painting, by Carl Zimmerman, a popular Cincinnati artist and art teacher, is flanked by the 15 mysteries of the rosary.
Statuary: St. Gertrude Church’s sanctuary houses three statues. From left to right, the first statue is the statue of St. Joseph the Worker (a feast day implemented by Pope Pius XII in 1955). The second statue depicts the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that Jesus’ heart, which was “pierced by our sins and for our salvation, ‘is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that . . . love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings’ without exception” (CCC 478). The third statue is the statue of St. Gertrude the Great, the thirteenth century Benedictine and patroness of our parish. The statue clearly depicts her own devotion to the Sacred Heart and reminds us of our own call to discipleship.
Anchors: Carved into the exterior stone above the side doors of the church, anchors are a traditional Christian symbol for hope.
Black Marble Wall: Located behind the sanctuary, the polished black marble wall contains sinuous lines and gold stars, depicting prayers rising to heaven. This represents the connection and dialogue we have with God. Prayer gives us hope and shows God’s active participation in the world through his relationship with us.
Crucifix: The crucifix, positioned prominently behind the tabernacle, represents the Tree of Life and contains 12 depictions of the Eucharist. However, one can find symbolism in the corpus as well. If you look closely, you can see that Jesus’ eyes are still open. As we look up and see Jesus in agony on the cross, we are reminded of the purpose of pain and suffering in this life and that it is not a product of God’s indifference. We are not “stuck” here on Earth, suffering for no reason.
Relics: There are relics of St. Gertrude the Great in both the altar of reservation (on which sits the tabernacle) and the altar of sacrifice. There are also over 50 relics of saints and one relic of the cross located in our reliquary in the Holy Family Chapel (located in what was formerly the baptistry).
Stations of the Cross: George Yostel, a parishioner of St. Gertrude Church, designed and sculpted the bronze Stations of the Cross, which were cast in Munich, Germany.
Tester: The large “dish” above the altar is called a tester. The Greek lettering on the tester stands for “Jesus Christ, Conqueror.” This is a stunning statement of belief contrary to a “God is dead” frame of mind.
High Altar: On the marble High Altar is a depiction of a pelican feeding its young. The pelican is tearing its own flesh so that its young can feed on its blood. This is a traditional Christian representation of the perfectly selfless love God has for us.
Saint Windows: Five stained glass windows line the right side of the church. These windows depict four Dominican saints (St. Dominic, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Vincent Ferrer, and St. Rose of Lima) and St. Patrick. (When the church was constructed, the parish’s pastor was Irish.) It is said that heaven is made up of jewels and saints. To help illustrate this, these windows, which go all the way to the ceiling, literally look as if they are holding up the church, just like the saints in heaven.
Depictions of the Holy Spirit: John 14:16 says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever.” The tabernacle, stained glass windows on the left side of the sanctuary, the rosary altar, and the stone panel on the Miami Street side of the church all feature depictions of the Holy Spirit descending, suggesting, once more, that God is maintaining an active role in the world.
The Tower: Overlooking downtown Madeira, the massive tower of St. Gertrude church contains a belfry consisting of three bells dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Joseph and St. Gertrude. Additional symbols of Christ appear etched in the stonework atop of the tower. A cross-laden steeple tops the tower. The cross is overlaid with intricate pattern featuring a heart inscribed with the letters IHS (the first three letters of Jesus' name in Greek). Thus, we have a triumphant sign in the sky of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced for our transgressions and making the love of the Father accessible to all.
St. Gertrude Church is full of symbolism and truth waiting to be discovered. We invite you to spend time in the beautiful church, unpacking its meaning and reflecting on the presence of God in the worship space and beyond.