John Bender and the Sisters of Charity
By Josh Zeller, Communications intern
Pictured in 1908, the old Bender family home became ‘Seton Cottage’, and was inhabited by the Profitt family, caretakers of the cemetery grounds.
Delhi Township, as settled as it has become, has always managed to retain its insistent patches of wilderness; the way that the squirrels scurry about, and the deer dance around at night, there is a sense that some of the wilderness of the town’s frontier days has remained. The Motherhouse property is a particularly beautiful example of this phenomenon, but it wasn’t always so expansive.
The first large plot of land was acquired by the Sisters of Charity on Nov. 27, 1880 from the Betz family, who granted the Sisters 31.25 acres, in exchange for a handsome conveyance of 43 acres of land (McCann 162). The property was continually built up from there when further land was acquired through the Betz, Schumann, Stephan, and Bender families. John Bender—the man who lends his surname to the road that now runs along the Motherhouse, though it was not laid out until long after he lived—became the main figure in the Motherhouse land acquisition, however, because the landowners around him had granted him right-of-way; this meant that the front avenue would remain a very public environment, down which “market wagons and other vehicles” constantly sped (McCann 163).
The steps leading up to S. Annette Frey’s ancestral home can still be found on the Motherhouse property.
In 1906, the Sisters acquired new land from the Betz family just north of Delhi Avenue, at the east end of the old Biggs farm. They then looked to the 20-acre Bender property—which had been offered to them in 1899 for $9,500—and through negotiation secured the property for just $7,500. The only stipulation was that John Bender’s son, Henry, be allowed to stay in the old family house, and given a half-acre to raise chickens on. This effectively gave the Sisters right-of-way, and the Motherhouse property became the peaceful, private setting that it is currently known to be (Mahoney 9).
The Bender legacy is still kept alive today through S. Annette Frey, the great-great granddaughter of Jacob Bender, who came to Delhi from Dudweilder, Germany in 1832. The 34 acres of land he bought that year was a part of what was then called “Section 23,” which looked markedly different then from its current form. Hilly and wild, the property was cut through by Rapid Run Creek and the Old Rapid Run Road (Mersch 41).
When Jacob passed away in 1860, he left his land to his three sons, Simon, Henry, and John. John, who was born in 1828 in Germany, came over to the United States with his parents, eventually marrying Mary Geppert at Our Lady of Victory Church. Together they had eight children, including Francis, born in 1869. Francis’ last child was Dorothy (born in 1913), S. Annette’s mother (Mersch 41).
John Bender became the main figure in the Motherhouse land acquisition, and also happens to be S. Annette Frey’s great grandfather.
“… [M]y grandparents lived with us, part of their lives, to the end of their lives….” S. Annette remembers. She grew up with them around the house, until she was in the eighth grade. In 1950, after a long history of heart problems, Francis died in the hospital.
Memories of her grandfather Francis linger—“[M]y grandfather used to make goetta, and he used to make me stir the kettle while he was making it.”—but because she was still a child when her grandfather passed away, S. Annette never thought to ask him much about his family. However, Sister had an aunt, S. Anita Frances (a Sister of Mercy), who told S. Annette about her great grandfather, John Bender—S. Anita Frances would take a bus to River Road, and visit him and his wife at their house on the Motherhouse property. By the time of S. Annette’s entry into religious life in 1955, this house was still standing, though a different family inhabited it. In the years since, the family’s ancestral home had to be demolished; all that remains today are the concrete steps which still lead up steeply to where the house once stood.
But that has not demolished S. Annette’s curiosity about her ancestors— and there are still many Bender descendants living today. “… [T]here are a lot of people that are around,” she says, “but I don’t know where they are, and who they are.” S. Pat Malarkey, who ministers at Bayley, has told her about a woman residing there who talks about being a Bender. Also, while working the Motherhouse front desk, Sister has encountered someone with a connection to the old Bender property. It seems that, just as nature insists, so too can the people of the past remain in a place, through the ancestors and artifacts that they have left behind; there is always a desire to get to know them better, as they were when vibrant and full of life.
Althoff, Shirley and Schmidt, Peg. The New Pioneers: The People of Delhi, 1830-1900. Cincinnati: Delhi Historical Society, 1989. Print.
Mahoney, S. Benedicta. We Are Many… A History of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, 1898-1971. Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, 1982. Print.
McCann, S. Mary Agnes. The History of Mother Seton’s Daughters. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1923. Print.