Thursday, March 22, 2001

At Immaculata

Benefactor finds eerie surprise

        This probably doesn't qualify as an official miracle, but it's surely better than a mere coincidence.

        The whole thing started with kitchen cabinets. Or maybe it started with women who figured they had cooked enough meals in their lifetime. Anyway, renovation was begun in the early '90s on some apartments in Highland Towers in Mount Adams.

        Owner Joseph F. Rippe says the kitchen cupboards were nearly pristine. “Like that old joke: "What did you make for dinner?' And the answer is "reservations.' All I'm saying is that our cabinet doors hadn't been opened much.”

        So he hauled the cabinets a few blocks to the old Immaculata School, now parish center for Holy Cross-Immaculata Church on Guido Street. Even if you don't belong to that church, you may have trudged its 85 steps on Good Friday. The tradition began 142 years ago, and last year about 12,000 people braved a chilly rain to make the pilgrimage.

School on the hill

        “I think this church is important to Cincinnati, even if you're not Catholic. A tradition.” But the church was particularly important to Mr. Rippe. He not only worships there, but his parents went to school on the hill, his father at Immaculata and his mother at Holy Cross.

        “They have a lot of meetings there now,” he says, “and I thought they could use a place to put their papers and dishes and things of that nature.”

        Nothing is ever simple.

        The walls in several classrooms were so crooked that the cabinets wouldn't fit. It was looking as though the free cabinets were going to get a little pricey. “I said I'd take care of it,“ Mr. Rippe says. “I didn't want it to cost the church anything, and I thought it should be done right.”

Carpenter stunned

        A workman started stripping the walls, through the old plaster and down to the studs. Mr. Rippe, former president of Provident Bank who now presides over a decidedly successful real estate empire, took a personal interest. He and the Rev. Richard Parks, Immaculata's priest at the time, were wandering though the building. It was Mr. Rippe's birthday, March 30, 1992.

        Just as they walked into a room, the carpenter pried loose a chunk of plaster, exposing an old blackboard.

        Two words were written there in chalk:

        Joseph Rippe.

        Joseph F. Rippe's father. He guesses his dad had signed his name to the board around 1910. “He quit school in the seventh grade to support his mother. But he always loved the place.”

        The three men were stunned. “The carpenter said the guy upstairs is trying to tell us something,” Mr. Rippe remembers. If Mr. Rippe thought God had a message for him, it must have been “More.”

        After the cabinets were installed the Mr. Rippe helped polish the handles. And then restored some badly tarnished brass candlesticks. “One thing led to another,” the 73-year-old Mr. Rippe says.

        Before you know it, he had sunk $225,000 into the addition of a meeting room and kitchen. Mr. Rippe says it's more than just fancy rooms. He says it makes the church stronger, shows some pride in its tradition.

        But maybe his view is skewed by what he sees in his office. No matter where he sits, he can see a little section of blackboard, mounted in a shadowbox with his father's name in chalk. A minor miracle.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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