In Lancaster, the daily chimes of church bells ring throughout the town. On top of a hill along Chestnut Street, the tall, American Gothic style brick tower of a Catholic church stands high. In August 2022, the parish had a little more reason to ring the bells and celebrate, when the culmination of an almost two-year-long application process finally led to a new designation for the church, now titled the Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption.
Basilica St. Mary of the Assumption is the seventh minor basilica in Ohio and 91st in the U.S. The designation of a minor basilica is based on three factors: history, architectural beauty and liturgical practice. The church traces its history back to the original Catholic church in the Fairfield County area, which was founded in 1819 and is located near what is now the intersection of Chestnut Street and Memorial Drive. Amid the American Civil War, construction of the church’s current location on High Street faced struggles and delays due to the war and was almost never finished, but was finally completed in 1864 with help from donors and parishioners.
“It becomes a place of special visit for Catholics and for the large community,” Father Craig Eilerman, the rector for the basilica, says. “It would be somewhat akin to being put on the National List of Historic Buildings.”