A Brief History of St. Francis Xavier Parish
In the home of Edward and Catherine ONeill on the corner of Central and Second in Chicago Junction in the year 1875, the Holy Mass was offered by Rev. J. Martin Puetz, marking the first celebration of the Catholic Church in what is now Willard, Ohio. Rev. Francis Joseph Oberly, pastor of Shelby, oversaw the construction of a "mission" chapel in the spring of 1879 to offer monthly Mass for the parishioners and to provide school for 27 children in the 1880-81 academic year, taught by laywoman Annie Frye.
By 1891, the parish cemetery on the west side of town was in use, followed quickly by the completion of a new brick church on August 29, 1897. Completed in only one year, this new house of worship was a miniature version of St. Peters Basilica in Rome, with a seating capacity of 250 to accommodate the 38 families enrolled there. The old church building was moved to this new location on the south side of Washington Street at First to become Xavier Hall, a social and educational center.
Rev. J. C. Herr was the first pastor to reside in the parish, when he began renting a house diagonally across from the church in 1898. At this time, Republic and Plymouth were added as mission churches until 1910 and 1931 respectively. A rectory proper was soon built, and the parish continued to grow in size under pastors Rev. M. J. Coan (1905-21) and Rev. H. J. Foran (1923-35), with many improvements to the facilities and increases in catechesis and sacramental preparations. Notre Dame nuns from Norwalk assisted with weekly elementary instruction in 1924 and Sylvania Franciscan Sisters began a religious vocation school in June 1935 which continued annually.
With Rev. Carmen Nardecchia's arrival in 1958, plans for a new facility began. The current church and rectory were completed in 1962, with Mass first celebrated March 11. Only seven months later, the Second Vatican Council began. The convent, school, and hall saw completion the next year, adding up to a total project cost of roughly $450,000.
Around this time, Francis Foster was ordained a Benedictine priest, the first such vocation from the parish, and the first English Mass was celebrated in November 1964.
Sadly, Fr. Nardecchia died soon afterwards on July 1, 1965. Following temporary administration by Sacred Heart priest Rev. Francis Seper, Rev. Donald Klaus received the pastorate of the parish, followed in 1970 by Rev. James Risacher. In 1975, the parish Centennial was celebrated with a dinner, open house, Ball, and Mass with Bishop Donovan. While Rev. Richard Markus (1976-81) and Rev. James Peiffer (1981-86) were pastors, renewal efforts and outreaches grew. St. Vincent dePaul Society formed, Sr. Bea Herman became the first pastoral associate, RENEW gathered and revitalized parishioners, and the first RCIA brought nine new members into the Church. After a temporary administration by Rev. Thomas Gorman, Rev. Carl Recker became pastor in 1986, leaving after two and a half years due to poor health. Rev. Peter Zafe saw to temporary administration of the parish.
In the first year of Rev. Paul Perry's Pastorate (1989-97) the Tiffin Franciscans withdrew from the school, and the convent was remodeled into the offices and meeting rooms in use today. That same year Mass was first offered in Spanish on a regular basis in the Church. Russell Niedermeier became the first permanent deacon ordained for the parish in 1988, followed quickly by Vincent Foos in 1990 and Paul Jones in 1992. Also in 1992, St. Francis Xavier assumed sacramental duties at St. Joseph Church in Plymouth, leading eventually to the twinning of the two parishes.
After a brief period of administration by Rev. Tommy Rodrigues, owing to Fr. Perry's sudden death on Christmas day, Rev. Melvin Verhoff (1998-2005) was appointed pastor, succeeded by Rev. Stanley Szybka (2005-11). With the arrival of Rev. Eric Culler in July 2011, Plymouth passed to the care of Shelby, while St. Bernard Church in New Washington was twinned with Willard. Fr. Eric departed in July of 2017 to study Canon Law. Fr. George Mahas was pastor after Fr. Eric from July 2017 until July 2021. Fr. Michael Diemer will begin as Parochial Administrator of St. Francis Xavier & St. Bernard beginning July 2021.
Although St. Francis Xavier parish must wait until 2025 to celebrate its sesquicentennial, the school will celebrate 50 years of educating hearts and minds in the 2013-14 school year. May God bless us with many more years of faithful service!