Someone was wielding an axe. The sound was a primitive bell, ringing out, leading the horseback-riding missionary to the settlement he had been looking for. In September 1808, the Dominican missionary Edward Dominic Fenwick, O.P., arrived in central Ohio, having found the 40 or so pioneers who had written the bishop of Baltimore, pleading with the bishop to send a priest to minister to their spiritual needs.

Fr. Fenwick, a native of Maryland, had recently established the Dominican Order in the United States. Accompanied by just three other friars, Fenwick had arrived in Springfield, Kentucky, in 1806. The friars began building their church, dedicated in 1809, and a men’s college, which was finished in 1812.

By 1808, Fenwick began to receive letters from Bishop Carroll concerning the needs of Catholic settlers in Ohio. The historian V.F. O’Daniel describes Fenwick’s labors: “In Kentucky he had practically lived in the saddle for seven or eight years, going from place to place ‘in search of stray sheep,’ to employ a phrase that has been canonized from its use by the saintly apostle of Ohio.”

In a letter to an English friend, Fenwick describes his missionary journeys, saying, “It often happens that I am compelled to traverse vast and inhospitable forests wherein not a trace of road is to be seen. Not infrequently, overtaken by night in the midst of these, I am obliged to hitch my horse to a tree and, making a pillow of my saddle, recommend myself to God and go to sleep with bears on all sides.” Traveling the expanse of unsettled lands, Fenwick lived St. Dominic’s zeal to preach, heading fearlessly into the wilderness.

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