In February 1917 America was at war. Like other parishes throughout the United States, St. John the Baptist Church in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati had readily given its quota of men to the armed forces during World War 1. Eight of them had already been killed in action.
Father Richard Wurth, Franciscan pastor of St. John the Baptist Church, was deeply saddened by the loss of these eight young men and considered how he and his parishioners could merit a special protection of God for the others serving in active duty. He remembered how the wood-carving peasants of Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps had escaped the Black Death in the 17th century by vowing to produce a Passion Play every ten years in thanksgiving.
With hope in his heart, Father Wurth decided on a similar strategy. He produced Veronica, or the Holy Face, a play centered on the passion and death of Christ. After the third and final performance, he called all of the actors together backstage. Realizing there had been no more battle-related casualties, they joined hands in thanksgiving and solemnly pledged to present a passion play annually thereafter for the continued protection of those serving in the war. The following year 1918, the St. John Passion Play was established. Since that time, that promise has not been broken.
The closing of St. John the Baptist Church in 1969 almost meant the demise of the Play. However, several committed cast and crew members were determined to keep it alive and organized the St. John Passion Play as a charitable nonprofit corporation. Since then the Play has been performed in numerous churches and auditoriums throughout the greater Cincinnati area.
The cast and crew of the St. John Passion Play come from all walks of life and denominational affiliations. All of us share a common bond and purpose which is to bring scripture alive in a dramatic and moving way, to fully realize the promise of John 3:16. We are honored and privileged to continue this unique ministry and Cincinnati Lenten tradition.