St. Sylvester Church Serves Monroe County’s Catholic Community
By JANELL HUNTER
WOODSFIELD — St. Sylvester Catholic Church has been serving the Monroe County community since 1866 with its congregation gathering in a log structure until its first brick building was built at 334 S. Main St. in Woodsfield in 1867.
Originally part of the St. John the Baptist Church in Miltonsburg, the Woodsfield congregation was formed into a new parish under the title of St. Sylvester in 1866 and was named after Sylvester Horton Rosecrans, the Diocesan Bishop of Columbus at the time of its founding.
The Rev. David Gaydosik has been responsible for overseeing Roman Catholic church parishes across Monroe County since July 3, 2000. St. Sylvester is the most populated of the three sites in the county that celebrate Mass. The others are St. John the Baptist and St. John Bosco Mission in Sardis. Seven cemeteries across the county are maintained by the church as well.
“This is the third church we are sitting in right now,” Gaydosik said of the St. Sylvester building. “The first was a log church, then the brick building. That building was eventually torn down and the current church was built in 1924.”
The current building is made of sandstone gathered from nearby a quarry.
“It is actually sandstone from underneath the hill on which we are sitting,” Gaydosik said. “There was a gas boom in Monroe County in the 1920s, and the two marble side altars were purchased by two brothers out of Pittsburgh that had come down and made a fortune here. That was their way of thanking God for allowing them to make money in that venture.”
The church was founded by mostly Irish and German immigrants, according to Gaydosik.
“The Irish settled to the south of town. They helped build the railroad and helped work in the mines” Gaydosik said. “The Germans came in from the north part of the county. They merged, and this is where they put the church.”
He said serving many parishes across a large, rural geographic area can be challenging.
“We have good people that help me, and they understand that I’m not a superperson,” Gaydosik noted. “The people here have fought and worked hard to keep their parishes viable, and they have great pride in them.”
The parish operates a school that serves students from preschool age through eighth grade. Gaydosik said there are 94 students in kindergarten through eighth grade and more than 40 students in preschool at St. Sylvester’s School, located just behind the church in Woodsfield and adjacent to the cemetery.
“It’s holding its own. People see the value in Catholic education. One of the main supports of the school are the parishes,” he said.
The churches and parishes of the county are members of the Diocese of Steubenville, which was formed in 1944 and oversees 15 counties across Appalachian Ohio.
“All church property in the Diocese of Steubenville is property of the diocese. So without the diocese we wouldn’t exist,” Gaydosik said. “The diocese is a major source of resources for us and, yes, we support them, and without us they wouldn’t exist. So it is a mutually beneficial relationship.”
He noted that because of decreasing population in the area and a declining number of priests, the church has merged parishes.
“Being a priest, you don’t do it for the money or the glory. And the difficulty with multiple parishes is that I don’t have the close relationship with families because I have Mass here, then I have to race to Miltonsburg, then down to Sardis,” Gaydosik said. “It’s not like back in the old days when every parish had its own priest and after Mass the father greeted everybody and was there for most every community function.”
Sardis has never had a resident priest, but the church there was started as a Roman Catholic Mission in Hannibal and remains a mission. The Miltonsburg church at one time did have its own resident priest.
Gaydosik said native Monroe County resident and retired priest the Rev. Virgil Rieschman and retired priest the Rev. Walter Heinz both help him to serve the county’s parishes.
When Gaydosik was first ordained, he became an assistant at a large parish in St. Clairsville. There he kept office hours and said his focus was more on administrative duties.
“In the country, people call and say ‘Father, I need to talk to you,’ and whenever we can get together that’s when we talk,” Gaydosik noted. “And that’s not to say that in St. Clairsville or in a city parish the priest isn’t available. Yes, he is. But I think the pace of life in the country setting is what makes it different.”
He said a drawback to having a country church may be that it does not have as many programs as city churches because there is not enough population to support them.
“In some ways, maybe the people out here would benefit from some of the things you can do in a bigger parish, but we try to do the best we can with the numbers we’ve got,” Gaydosik said.