Lowell church marks 100 years of service
LOWELL — The green, placid grounds surrounding Our Lady of Mercy Church sit in the midst of forests and fields at the top of Lowell Hill Road.
The church building, rectory and landscape, flanked by a well-kept cemetery, feel fresh and quiet on a cool, cloudy morning.
The church’s appearance belies its age. The brick building, with high gabled roof and bell tower, was built in 1954, but it’s only the most recent center of worship for the parish.
Ed Schilling, at 80 a lifelong parishioner, indicates a flat stone with the inscription Ave Maria Church 1866 resting against a small edifice enclosing a statue of The Virgin Mary.
The stone and edifice were dedicated recently after Mass.
The Washington County church marked 100 years of service at the Lowell Hill location recently, when Bishop of Steubenville Jeffrey Montforton and several retired parish priests came to the church for the centennial.
The Ave Maria Church was built in 1866, Schilling said, several miles west of the church’s current location, about halfway between Lowell and Waterford, established mainly to serve the farmers of the area, which at that time was even more rural and agricultural than it is now.
In 1919, he said, the parish built a new church at the Lowell Hill Road location, and in the process used some of the wood and other materials from the original building in construction of the rectory.
“They wanted it to be closer to town, and closer to the railroad,” Schilling said.
In 1987, the parish hall was rebuilt, larger and made of brick, to meet the needs of bigger events.
Heather Schaad, sitting in the sanctuary and watching her daughter Vivian play and look at photos on an electronic tablet, said she has been a member of the parish since 2007. Her husband, Evan Schaad, is the church organist and she sings as cantor. She enjoys the community services the church provides.
“We have a women’s club, we take goodies to elderly members, give people rides to church, our youth group does things for the community,” she said.
Schilling and Schaad said membership in the parish has remained steady over the years, with about 165 families. The church, with its padded pews, vaulted wood ceiling and organ loft that also holds the choir, can seat about 220 people. Schaad said she is among many younger parishioners.
“Younger families are coming in with children; it’s a new generation coming back to the church,” she said.
Schilling said the culture of the parish reflects its pastoral roots.
“We’re farming country, we help each other out,” he said.
Heather Schaad said she associates the church with the major events in her life.
“This where most of my big memories happened – baptisms, confirmations, everyone comes, like a big family,” she said. “This is where the milestones for my family occurred.”
The location and surroundings are serene.
“It’s very peaceful here,” Schilling said.
“You never have to worry about your children, they can run through the fields and run around on the playground, you feel safe here,” she said.
Michael Kelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org