The Eastern Catholic Maronite Parish of St. Anthony of Padua has been part of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati since 1910, when founding parishioners arrived from the Middle East, fleeing the Ottoman persecutions and the onslaught of World War I. Many families from Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Egypt began a new life here in Cincinnati and celebrated the Maronite liturgy in a building at Third Street and Broadway Street in downtown Cincinnati. In 1955, the faith community was forced to move and purchased the current church building on Victory Parkway.
War and violence during the 1980s and 1990s had a significant impact on the growth of the local Lebanese population. Between 1982 and 1990, another wave of immigrants fled Lebanon and settled in Cincinnati and Dayton. The Lebanese immigrants chose Cincinnati for two main reasons: the higher education programs offered in the city (mainly in the medical field) and the presence of a Maronite Church. The Maronite priests and community of St. Anthony of Padua assisted in establishing and building the Maronite community of St. Ignatius of Antioch in Dayton.
The Maronite Church dates back to the early Christians of Antioch, when “they were called Christians for the first time” (Acts 11:26). According to tradition, St. Peter founded the Church at Antioch and became its first bishop. The Maronite Church takes its name from the priest-hermit, St. Maron, who died in 410 A.D.
An Eastern Rite Catholic Church, the Maronite Church professes the same apostolic faith, celebrates the same sacraments and is united with the pope of Rome and all Catholics throughout the world. She has Her own hierarchy composed of a patriarch, who is Her father and head, and over 40 bishops who shepherd the many eparchies (dioceses) in Lebanon, the Middle East, the United States and throughout the world. The patriarch governs the Church in a synodal manner with his body of bishops, as is customary in the Eastern churches. Today, Maronites have spread around the world where they seek to “flourish like the cedars of Lebanon” (Psalm 92:12), while following the example of their predecessors in the faith, such as St. Aquilina, St. Sharbel, St. Rafqa, St. Nimatullah, Blessed Estephan, and Blessed Jaques Haddad.
The main worship service, which traces its roots to Antioch, is referred to as the Divine Liturgy, also known as the “Service of the Holy Mysteries” or “Qurbono” (Offering). The Divine Liturgy (Holy Mass) is the essence of the Maronite Catholic Church’s existence. All other services and activities in the church are centered around this one act of divine worship which Christ instituted for their sanctification. The Maronite liturgy is one of the oldest in the Catholic Church, and Maronites around the world pray in the Syriac language, a dialect of the Aramaic that Jesus himself spoke. Antioch’s school of theology stressed the humanity of Christ. This is best seen in the Maronite liturgical texts, which focus on the humanity of the Son of God who experienced the human condition — even death.
The Maronite mind has always been in awe of the mysteriousness of God and presumes a great distance between Creator and creation. However, the distance is bridged by God’s self-revelation. The reason is that the inner life of God is a divine mystery beyond limited human knowledge and understanding. Two things account for this: the Jewish Christian origins of the Maronite Church and its familiarity with the Scriptures. Yet, the process leads to mystical union with God — for the more one loves God, the more one encounters God. The search for God then leads to wonder, communion and prayer.
The Maronite approach to prayer is that it is the process of “being” in the presence of God who is always present to all creation. To encounter creation and humankind is to meet and embrace God. The early Syriac writers drew upon the Semitic biblical idea of the heart as the center of the spiritual life. The Greek writers relied upon a more philosophical idea of the heart as the center of the intellectual life. The Maronite tradition sees the heart as the focal point for all life. The heart is the place for the deepest communication with and presence of God. To live is to pray, and to pray is to live in the awareness and experience of all creation as made in the image of God.
Looking to the future, St. Anthony of Padua Maronite Catholic Church continues to be a vibrant community, serving hundreds of Maronites and Eastern Catholic faithful in the Cincinnati area, Northern and central Kentucky, Eastern Indiana and beyond. A well-known part of the parish’s cultural history is its annual festival, A Taste of Lebanon. Since 1940, this popular celebration has served authentic Lebanese food and featured traditional music and dance.