Fr. Zachary Kunz, the first pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, was succeeded by an equally energetic missionary friar, Fr. Alexander Martin of the Province of Saint Leopold in Tyrol, Austria. At the time of his ordination, he had desired to be sent to America as a missionary, but his superiors sent him to the Holy Land as a German-speaking confessor. Eventually he received permission to go to Cincinnati as a missionary to work among the German immigrants. He arrived in Cincinnati in 1846, but due to a conflict between his superior and the local bishop, Fr. Alexander went to serve as pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Boston for two years. In a letter to his provincial minister, Fr. Alexander explained that he left Boston for New York because of the problems inflicted upon him by the Freemasons of Boston.
Fr. Alexander heard about the parish left vacant by Fr. Zachary’s death and that church authorities were considering entrust- ing the parish to the Franciscans. Fr. Alexander thought it was ideal for a Franciscan mission church, and that if it were given over to the friars, he would contact his superiors about the details of the transaction In his letter, he added, “If the transaction does not come to pass, which is possible because of the fickle and peculiar mentality of this country, I have another offer from a bishop in the northwestern missions.”
Fr. Alexander was assigned as pastor of Saint Francis Church and he served the people for ten years. It is evident that he had a great deal of trouble with his Tyrolian superiors but none of his contemporaries ever doubted his dedication to the people and his work ethic. During a fierce epidemic of cholera, Fr. Alexander worked night and day caring for the sick, and it almost cost him his life. On one occasion, Father James R. Bayley, later Archbishop of Baltimore, called on him and found him collapsed with exhaustion because of his work among the cholera victims.
In 1853 Fr. Alexander enlarged and renovated the church and built a small rectory next door. Archbishop Hughes rededicated the renovated St. Francis Church in the spring of 1853, and preached the sermon. His final words were truly prophetic:
“Let this day be the commencement of a long period in which religion will prosper in this church – in which piety will be extended – in which the old and the young will al blend together harmoniously their voices of gratitude and their voices of prayer towards God who has favored their undertaking and this day crowned with success.”
This is the third in a series of articles on the history of our parish which will be published throughout our 175th anniversary year. They are adapted from the writings of Fr. Flavian Walsh, O.F.M., Pastor from 1985-87.