From Russia with love
The village of Russia, about 40 miles north of Dayton, includes two lofty structures: a water tower and the steeple of St. Remy Catholic Church.
That parish can measure its Catholic character in this remarkable fact: A community of only about 500 members boasts no fewer than three current seminarians, and another of its sons was ordained a little more than a year ago.
More might follow. Father Martin Fox, St. Remy’s pastor, has been counseling other promising candidates for vocations. “I have hope of more young men in the high school becoming priests,” he says, “but I don’t want to count those vocations before they’ve hatched.”
Russia High School is part of a K-12 public complex just behind the church, on property that once housed a parish school. Even after the public school eventually supplanted its predecessor, nuns from the Sisters of the Precious Blood continued to teach public students for a number of years.
Father Fox, 53, is a former director of the archdiocese’s Office of Priestly Formation, where he facilitated continuing education and professional development for clergy. His work included organizing seminars and convocations on various topics including vocations.
“I’m very grateful to the archbishop for that opportunity,” he said. “But it became very clear to me that full-time parish life was what I wanted. I never really stopped being a parish priest.”
Though Father Fox assisted at a couple of Cincinnati parishes during his time at the formation office, “I wanted to be full time,” he said.
His own seminary training didn’t begin during his teenage years. After growing up in Cincinnati’s Clifton neighborhood, the Walnut Hills High School graduate first studied history and journalism at the University of Cincinnati, with plans to pursue a law degree.
He put his journalism training to use by freelancing for the Cincinnati Business Courier and later edited the newsletter of Citizens for Community Values, an organization based in Greater Cincinnati and dedicated to defending the traditional family and to fighting pornography.
In 1988, a young Martin Fox campaigned for the 23rd District slot in the Ohio House. His quixotic effort failed to unseat House Majority leader Bill Mallory, at the time a 21-year incumbent.
“I was one of many sacrificial lambs” to challenge Rep. Mallory, he said. “Or maybe I shouldn’t put it that way, because the Republicans didn’t sacrifice me – I went to them and said I wanted to run.”
After that loss, he served for eight years as public affairs director for the National Right to Work Committee before entering the seminary in 1997 at age 35. Father Fox was ordained in 2003.
No road-to-Damascus moment galvanized his decision to become a priest. “In some sense it always starts earlier than you know it,” he said. “Growing up you have the example of parents and priests, but you don’t appreciate it at the time.”
The longtime city boy arrived last year as pastor in rural Russia, a town that’s part of “The Land of Cross-Tipped Churches.” The first Catholic chapel there was built in 1846; the current St. Remy’s Church in 1890.
“The church is the center of town,” Father Fox said. “You just drive a few miles and you see a steeple.”
Although the region as a whole was largely settled by German immigrants, Russia (pronounced ROO-shee) has a strong French influence. St. Remy’s patron saint was the archbishop of Reims who baptized Clovis, first king of France. The church grounds include a reproduction of the Lourdes grotto, with a French inscription “Je suis l’Immaculée Conception” (photo atop article).
As to how the town got its name, one local legend claims it came from an early settler who had fought in Napoleon’s army. The former soldier is said to have found the west-central Ohio landscape reminiscent of Russia’s steppes.
For Father Fox, taking up the pastoral duties proved fulfilling, and filling. “When I got here everybody was bringing me plates of food,” he said. A cooking enthusiast himself, he began posting recipes online along with his homilies. His favored culinary system: “Cleaning out the icebox and using whatever is in there. That’s the way my mom did it.”
“I make a good Neapolitan ragù, but I’m cutting down on pasta,” he said. He also makes “a pretty good pot roast and chicken soup,” though he defers to the famous sauce made down the road in Piqua by the archdiocese’s oldest living priest, Father Angelo Caserta (whose recipe you can find here).
He arrived at St. Remy six months before its church hosted the ordination of Russia’s Andrew Cordonnier two days after Christmas 2014. (At right: Father Cordonnier receives the laying on of hands from Father Fox. Photo by John Stegeman/Catholic Telegraph.) The parish’s three current seminarians, studying at the Pontifical College Josephinum, are Elijah Puthoff and brothers Ethan and Adam Hoying.
St. Remy’s support for vocations has further been reflected in its generosity to One Faith, One Hope, One Love. The campaign’s five priorities including Fostering Vocations, and Father Fox said local donors also showed a great deal of enthusiasm toward the campaign’s support for Catholic Charities and Social Services. St. Remy parishioners have themselves assisted with school and clinic construction in Haiti and are sponsoring more than 80 students in northern Haiti. The St. Remy Haiti Mission also has plans to create an agricultural school in the Caribbean nation.
To date, parishioners have pledged more than 168% of their local goal for One Faith, One Hope, One Love.
“I want to credit the people of the parish,” Father Fox said. “When I approached them their response was very helpful, not only in donating but in spreading the word and reaching out.
“The people here not only love our Church but love our archbishop and he asked for help. And it wasn’t that difficult. I didn’t have to beg. This is a special thing.”
• Video of Father Andrew Cordonnier’s ordination in Russia can be found here.
• Father Fox is profiled for “The Man Behind the Collar” here.
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