Our founding pastor, 1842-1860
Father Clemens Hammer was born in Jáchymov in Bohemia in what is now the Czech Republic on November 7, 1809. He was ordained in Prague on July 15, 1833 and emigrated to America shortly afterward. In 1840, the founding year of our parish, Bishop John Baptist Purcell appointed Father Clemens Hammer as our first pastor.
Fr. Hammer’s European influence at Old St. Mary’s revealed itself in an appreciation of beauty and in a recognition of the arts; it gave this church, from its earliest days, a rich cultural atmosphere. This was quite a contrast to the plainness of the average American frontier town of the mid 19th century. “Uptown” at St. Mary’s there was a profusion of cultural richness: oil paintings from European masters, imported sculptures, carved altars, and magnificent music—all the fruit of a thousand years of European Christian culture.
This European perspective gave our founding pastor a scope and outlook that was in no way dimmed by his devotion to his mission in a mission land. For though he had left his own land to serve on these frontiers of the faith, traveling throughout the missions of Michigan and Indiana, he represented a tradition that poured into the service of God all the beauty and majesty that the talents of man could produce.
A Bohemian by birth, Father Hammer made more than one European crossing in the service of his church and finally died in his native Jáchymov and was buried in Prague. But before meeting his Eternal Judge to give an account of his earthly stewardship, Fr. Hammer set his lasting seal upon our parish: He sent us the body of a saint, and he sent us the church’s first oil painting. By so doing, he sealed into his church a sense of both history and a sense of beauty.
During his absense, a number of priests served as Interim Pastor, the most famous of which is Fr. Joseph Fernerding, who went on to found numerous other parishes and supervised the building of several churches. He was subsequently named Pastor of St. Paul’s, a neighboring German parish, now closed.
Our parish’s first painting was the work of Francis Xavier Kadlink, director of art at the Art Academy of Prague. It was entitled “Christ upon the Cross” and was the predecessor of the three Marian paintings which to this day still hang above the tabernacle in the sanctuary. Unfortunately, the Kadlink painting was destroyed during the 1890s. In any event, “Christ upon the Cross” began Old St. Mary’s collection of interesting works of sacred art. For about this time a generous donor, listed in the parish records as the widow Remprechter, presented the church with another large oil painting, the work of world-renowned artist Franz X. Glink, whose works are honored in the Munich Cathedral. This picture bore the title “The Immaculate Conception”—prophetic of the dogma not yet promulgated at the time.
In this tradition of praising God through works of sacred art, Old St. Mary’s acquired an unusual array of pictures, statues, and murals. But Fr. Hammer’s range of interest extended well beyond art. His sense of history inspired him to demonstrate dramatically the unity of the Church and its unbroken continuity from the 1st to the 19th century. On one of his visits to Europe, he procured for this newest of churches one of Christianity’s oldest treasures. From the catacombs of St. Pricilla he secured the body of an early martyr, Saint Martura, a Roman matron who gave her life for her faith, and he transported this remarkable relic from its ancient resting place into the New World. The remains of St. Martura are still enshrined beneath the altar, a source of spiritual devotion and a physical link with our common Christian past.
Father Hammer left Old St. Mary’s in 1860 to return to his homeland of Prague. He departed this life in March, 1879, in his hometown of Jáchymov. He was buried in Prague. Generations have grown up experiencing the fruits of Father Hammer’s labors from the foundation of this church at the corner of Thirteenth and Clay Streets.