The story of St. Stephen, the oldest Catholic parish in Butler
County, begins in 1830 when property was obtained for a church
on Second and Dayton Streets. In a uniquely ecumenical effort,
the money for this property came primarily from non-Catholic
citizens of Hamilton.
The lots were valued at $400 and an additional subscription
of $300 was raised afterwards. In 1832 a brick building in
the Gothic style was begun. The completed church seated 500
and was dedicated on August 21, 1836. The congregation was
served by priests coming up from Cincinnati once or twice
a month until 1840 when the parish welcomed its first resident
pastor, the Reverend Thomas Butler.
During this period a large number of German immigrants settled
in the area and soon many of the people of St. Stephen spoke
only German. By 1847, the difficulties of a mixed congregation
of German and English speakers became so great that a plan
was presented to divide the parish. It was proposed that as
the value of the property was then appraised at $6,000, one
group would raise $3,000, and pay it to the other group who
would erect a new church. The Germans succeeded in collecting
the amount stipulated in the arrangement. The English speakers,
mostly Irish, then founded St. Mary.
After the separation of the two parishes, St. Stephen came
under the care of the Franciscan Fathers of the Province of
St. Leopold of the Tyrol. Hamilton’s German population
continued to increase to the extent that it became necessary
to build a larger church. To help finance it, the pastor,
Reverend Pirman Eberhard, would borrow a horse and buggy and
drive to neighboring churches in Ohio and Indiana to beg for
contributions. He became known as the Franciscan beggar of
Fr. Eberhard’s efforts helped make the new church possible.
In August, 1853, the cornerstone was placed by the Archbishop.
The new church was built around the old one and was completed
in 1854. During the 1870’s a rectory was built and the
people of St. Stephen purchased and organized St. Stephen
Cemetery. A large school was completed during the 1880’s.
In 1893 a new transept and enlarged sanctuary was added to
the church making it cruciform. At this time two Rose windows
were purchased for $800 and new pews were installed for the
sum of $1,084. Several years later the church was decorated
with hand painted murals, and hand carved Stations of the
Cross were commissioned from South Tyrol, Austria. Art glass
windows were imported from Munich in 1912, at a cost of $3,600,
and the present Tudor Gothic facade and tower were built by
Andrew Benzing of Hamilton for $30,000. A new organ was also
purchased, and after the flood of 1913 marble wainscoting
was added to the walls.
St. Stephen celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary as a
Franciscan parish in 1923. For the occasion the murals were
cleaned and renovated, and a marble communion rail with two
marble angels was added. The church was cleaned and decorated
again in 1959 for the celebration of its 125th anniversary.
In 1984 the parish commemorated its 150th anniversary. Just
a few years later the congregation had to come to grips with
the imminent departure of the Franciscans from Hamilton and
the merging of the parish with St. Mary and St. Veronica.
On April 1, 1989, Reverend Sergius Scherpenberg, the last
Franciscan to serve as pastor, celebrated the final Mass at
St. Stephen Church.
A rich history has been left to us by the priests and people
of St. Stephen’s. It was the oldest church in Butler
County and the fifth oldest in the Archdiocese. It was the
mother church not only of St. Mary and St. Joseph here in
Hamilton, but also Holy Angels in Sidney, St. Mary in Piqua,
St. John in Harrison, St. John the Baptist in Middletown,
and St. Aloysius in Shandon.
1 - St. Julie-Billiart Parish History
Page 2 - St. Stephen Parish History
Page 3 - St. Mary Parish History
Page 4 - St. Veronica Parish History