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The Suburbanite
  • St. John the Baptist church founding father to be remembered

  • Next week, historic St. John the Baptist Catholic Church at 627 McKinley Ave. NW will remember the man who brought Catholicism to Stark County.

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  • Next week, historic St. John the Baptist Catholic Church at 627 McKinley Ave. NW will remember the man who brought Catholicism to Stark County.
     The life and death of John Shorb Sr. illustrates the contributions Catholics have made to the Canton, says the Rev. Ronald Klingler, parish pastor.
    Klingler will celebrate commemorative Masses next Saturday and on
    July 24, the anniversary of Shorb’s death in 1824.
    Shorb died following an accident while building the original St. John’s, the city’s first brick church. He was 66.
    Prior to that, the native of Zweibrücken, Rheinpfalz, Germany, and his family hosted the city’s first Catholic Mass in 1817. They frequently were celebrated under an oak tree on the Shorb farm at present-day Fifth and High streets NW.
    GOD & NATURE
    Remnants of that tree eventually were transformed into a “Presidential Chair,” which is housed in St. John’s today.
    “John Shorb and (city founder) Bezaleel Wells had an affinity for trees,” Klingler said, “which is why downtown’s streets were named after trees.”
    In addition to Cherry and Walnut avenues, Cleveland Avenue was once called Poplar Street. Plum Street became McKinley Avenue following the president’s assassination in 1901.
    Klingler noted that the tie between nature and God’s relationship with mankind is a recurring theme, from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden to the lumber used to make a crucifix upon which Jesus died.
    “We’re using God’s creation to embrace God’s glory, which was our reason for building God’s church,” Klingler said.
    Shorb brought his family to Canton from Baltimore in 1807, when the city was a year old. He established the city’s first grocery store at the southwest corner of Second Street and Market Avenue S and later became president of Farmer’s Bank, the city’s first.
    Klingler said Shorb recruited Catholics from Maryland and Pennsylvania. His wife, Catharine, was native of Niederbronn, Alsace.
    DEEP ROOTS
    In 1823, Bishop Edward Fenwick, who celebrated the first Mass in Canton, gave permission to build a church on five acres of land donated by the Shorbs.
    The first St. John’s was completed in 1824. The Rev. John Hill was the first resident pastor. A small iron cross that adorned the first church is still on display at the present church.
    Masses at St. John’s were conducted in English. Neighboring St. Peter’s was established in 1845 by German Catholics, who wanted to worship in their native language.
    No photograph of the original St. John’s exists, but Klingler commissioned local artist Tom Franta to do a watercolor painting of the building in 1999.
    The current St. John’s was completed in 1872. It was designed by Renwick & Kiely architects of Brooklyn, N.Y., who also designed
    Page 2 of 2 - St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
    On its 150th anniversary in 1974, the church was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
    The Shorbs are buried on the grounds of the church.
    IF YOU GO
    Three special Masses will commemorate John Shorb Sr., who is credited with bringing Catholicism to Stark County. The Masses next weekend are at 4 p.m. Saturday and at 8 and 10:30 a.m. on July 24 at St. John’s the Baptist Catholic Church.