Saturday, January 2, 2010

Closing Catholic Churches in Cleveland

St. James Catholic Church – Lakewood
April 10, 2010

We went to the Saturday Vigil Mass with our daughter, son-in-law and their two boys. Interestingly my son-in-law’s father served the first Mass in the current church.

From a brief history supplied to me by the parish I learned that St. James the Greater Parish began in a borrowed storeroom at West 156th and Detroit; the Reverend Michael D. Leahy was named the pastor in July 1908. In 1912 the parish purchased land at Granger and Detroit and the buildings on the property were used to begin a school. In October 1913, the cornerstone was laid at the combination school, church and auditorium building (which ultimately became the gym).

As the parish grew ground was broken for a new church in April 1925. The basement church was completed August 15, 1926. Construction of the upper church began in 1929 and it was a real work of art.

Modeled after the Cathedral of Monreale in Sicily, the new church had 11 different kinds of marble imported from Michelangelo’s quarry in Italy; ceiling design and murals with intricate hand painted, richly gilded and iconic graphics; and stained glass windows designed and created by George W. Sotter, known as “The Tiffany of Church Stained Glass Windows.”

This beautiful and marvelous church was dedicated May 21, 1935. New church bells were hand-cast in Holland by the Petit and Fritsen Co., established in 1660, and installed on May 16, 1955.

In 1995, a million dollar restoration campaign began to do major capital improvements to the church and the rectory.

As with some many parishes they experienced growth and then decline, school enrollment dropped and in 2005, St. James merged its day school into Lakewood Catholic Academy. Prior to that, in 1994 the convent was converted into a day care center and with the assistance of the City of Lakewood, services were offered to families in the area.

The brief history about the parish, written at the time of their 100 year anniversary had a closing statement, “We have come a long way from our humble beginnings of sixty families gathered in Christ for the first Mass on July 5, 1908. We are proud of where we came from and where we are now as we continue to grow in faith and community. May the Spirit continue to guide us on our journey to the future.” That future ended June 26, 2010

Assumption of Mary Church – Brook Park
March 20, 2010

Attended the Saturday Vigil Mass, and my observation, the attendance was good. From a comprehensive four page History of the Parish I gleaned the following.

In 1850, the western section of what is now Cleveland and Brook Park was known as Rockport Village. A handful of German settlers, mostly Catholic and primarily farmers, settled in a section known today as the parish of Assumption of Mary. It was a long and tedious ride to attend Mass at St. Mary’s in the flats; it was close to a three hour with horse and buggy.

In March 1851, a half acre parcel of land was bought for a cemetery by a few Catholic Germ settlers in Rockport Township. It was used as a burying place by the Catholics of that section and for miles around. Not until 1860 was the question proposed of building a church. In that year, under the direction of the Rev. A. Krasney (then stationed at St. Peter’s in Cleveland with charge of a number of missions), a small frame church was built near the site of the present cemetery on a one acre tract of land bought in 1859.

The Rev. Michael Mueller was appointed the first resident pastor of St. Mary’s Rockport in July, 1865. Due to the rapid increase of the congregation, the church became too small; hence it was necessary to build a larger one. The new church was brought to completion during 1868 and dedicated in the fall of that year by Bishop Amadeus Rappe. The original church became the school house.

In the 1920s, Father Hyland set up a tent on West 130th Street north of the New York Central underpass to be used as a church. This was the start of Annunciation Parish which I think was considered a mid point between St. Mary’s Rockport and St. Patrick’s on Rocky River Drive.

The end of World War II affected a big change in St. Mary’s. Veterans had to be housed, so a housing project was built on Brookpark Road. One hundred and thirty young families were added to St. Mary’s increasing the parish to 400 families. Many changes occurred thereafter including converting the rectory into a convent for the nuns. In 1954, Archbishop Edward F. Hoban chose to change the name of the church from St. Mary’s to Assumption because of the proclamation of this dogma.

With the coming of Fr. Raymond Trapp to Assumption in 1961, plans ere begun to move the parish center to newly acquired property on Smith Road. By the Fall of 1962, a new building was completed on 10 acres purchased from Holy Cross Cemetery which housed the new church and twelve classrooms along with a large social hall beneath the church. The First Mass was celebrated on Thanksgiving Day, 1962.

The parish underwent growth then declined and the school was closed in the spring of 1987.

Fifteen years ago when the parish’s history was written it concluded with the following comment: “By the grace of God and the work of many faithful parishioners, the parish is doing well in its 135th year. It is hoped that the many good memories and good intentions of our people will be a firm foundation for future years of service to God and his people.” Now, one hundred fifty years after those German immigrants founded this parish it has all come to an end.

St. Casimir – Cleveland – Revisited
March 21, 2010

I decided to join one of the prayer vigils at St. Casimir to show my support and my timing couldn’t have been better. Walter “Wladek” Szylwian, the 96 year old legend was there. In an article by Joseph Feckanin in March 24, 2010 issue of 'The Neighbor News,' he refers back to the closing Mass on November 8, 2009, and states, “A single act of deep religious conviction by a devout man, then 96-years old, gave the people of St. Casimir’s the courage to stand up to the bishop and demand that their church stay open.

“Wladek, the altar boy at St. Casimir, a long ago Polish immigrant and member of St. Casimir’s for over half a century, pulled the plug of the microphone as Bishop Lennon was about to address the congregation at the church’s final mass.

“The bishop stood there dumbfounded as a mass exodus of parishioners led by women walked out of the church in protest.

“Wladek, on the altar at the time was immediately removed to a nearby pew by an undercover security officer…”

When Wladek arrived at the prayer vigil he was given a hero’s welcome. Later in his article Feckanin states, “Walter, beaming with joyful emotion, joined in the prayers and sang the closing song “America the Beautiful…” And, “Walter said he has the faith and hope that St. Casimir will reopen and wants to be the one who plugs the mic back in.”

I hope I’m there.

Historic St. Peter Catholic Church – Cleveland
March 14, 2010

In my journey to these now doomed churches I have tried to learn some of their history. After all, many of these churches were built by immigrants who gave their love and their talents to build a home for the worship of their God. The least I could do was learn about their work.

St. Peter, because of its long rich history presented a huge challenge. I was lucky to get information from two sources; one a book by Reverend Thomas F. Pike, and the second, a write up by a friend from my St. Ann’s and St. Ignatius’ days who was a parishioner at St. Peter until they closed.

In “A Guide to Cleveland’s Sacred Landmarks,” written by Reverend Thomas F. Pike in 1992, he states, “Founded in 1853 by Father John Luhr to serve recently arrived German immigrants, St. Peter Roman Catholic Church has the distinction of being the oldest continually operating Catholic parish in Cleveland.” Or it was until April 4, 2010. Ironic isn’t it, the last mass was celebrated on the day we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. Pike goes on to say, “The congregation of St. Peter’s erected its first combination church-and-school in 1854. This was followed by the construction of the present sanctuary in 1859. Additions and improvements since that date have included a 250-foot bell tower with a spire in 1865 and revisions to the interior in 1885, 1929, 1943, and 1965.”

My friend topped Pike with the following wealth of information. “Some years ago, Cleveland’s aging and dying St. Peter parish (established in 1857) in downtown Cleveland was given over to a young priest for renovation due to the damaging effects of an earthquake. The architecture was German-Victorian Gothic, and, in many ways, was a twin of the old St. Mary’s in which thousands of Ignatian students worshiped just across from the high school. The interior, as seen in historic pictures, was what the liturgical reformers rightly termed "clutter." (Perhaps "Catholic kitsch" would also be accurate.) Fr. Robert Marrone gutted the inside, painted the walls a light gray color, removed all the tchotshke from the sanctuary, and pretty much discarded all else but the stained glass windows.

“The replacements were simple. Movable chairs, divided into two facing groupings along the central axis, form an unusual arrangement, one that follows the rectangular floor plan. A marble agape table is placed in the apse, and is the only object there, excepting a crucifix on a standard. A simple Virgin and Child statue is situated on one side of the front of the nave. On the other there is a highly stylized wood carving of the Good Shepherd. The overall visual result is stark simplicity.

“The liturgy begins with Marrone coming into the center of the church, sitting right in the middle of the congregation, and pausing for a few moments of reflection. All of the introductory liturgy is then presented from the exact center of the aisle. A reader’s raised lectern stands somewhat nearer the apse, but still within the grouping of the congregants. The feeling of unity is really quite real–far more so than the theater-in-the-round effect presented in more modern church designs.

“Marrone moves to the sanctuary to begin the Sacred Mystery. He, of course, faces the people. Before the breaking of bread, many of the congregates move into the apse and surround the communal table. Eventually the Eucharistic ministers gather around him. (Communion is distributed just outside of the sanctuary to the partakers as they return to their chairs.)

“One of the ideals of the liturgical reformers is encapsulated in the phrase 'the gathered community.' St. Peter’s achieves this feeling–for such it is–far more than the 'centrum' style arrangements, in my opinion.

“Devotees of older architecture will be interested in the roof-supporting compound columns, with unusual capitals, that were left intact. The groining in the ceiling vaults remain to be admired, although the ceiling’s surface is without decorative additions. The original stained glass windows, dating from 1909, are especially beautiful both for their artistic qualities and their clear Biblical narratives. And there is a lovely and accomplished choir accompanied by a piano. The group is conducted by a Notre Dame nun of great musical skill. (She shifts between a baby grand and an organ in the loft, and she favors Erik Satie and J. S. Bach, although motets and more traditional pieces are also included.) By the way, the gathered actually sing with enthusiasm.

“It’s difficult to characterize the make-up of the parish, since most of the community comes from hither and yon, not from the surrounding neighborhood. (Members live in five of the seven counties that make up the Diocese of Cleveland. ZIP codes on the mailing list number above 20.) They are neither leading-edge liturgical reformers, nor are they die-hard, Latin-demanding, pre-Vatican II reactionaries. My impression is that all are drawn to a liturgy style which offers the best of the Church both before and after 1965.

“To the enormous consternation of the 700, or so, families who make up the community, St. Peter Church was selected to be clustered out of existence in April, 2010. The "parishioners" who believed in, and valued so very deeply, the whole experience of liturgy and especially of the Christian fellowship inherent in the group, this decision by the local ordinary came as a tremendous shock. They considered the community to be vibrant, to use the then-contemporary idiom. As one 70-year-old, cradle Catholic mused, "In all my years, this is the first time that I have actually looked forward to attending Mass on Sunday."

“There is much more to say about the community: the various Christian charitable ministries carried on in the surrounding inner-city, the mentoring program in a nearby public elementary school; the help and funds extended to women’s shelters; and the very active–and intelligent–religious education program presented throughout the year for the intellectual benefit of the members.

“Well, centuries ago, we were assured that all things change. The adage never included any comment on whether the change was for the better, or otherwise. Beyond the value given to the St. Peter community by its members, there is also the historical aspect of the building. The parish had been founded in 1857 as a German ethnic church. It has been in continuous operation since then, and, based on this fact; it is Cleveland’s oldest church.

“Perhaps, sadly, the American trait of being a throw-away society will eventually result in a diocese reduced to 1960-type space-ship architecture. Holy ships instead of holy spaces? Beam us up, St. Scotty?”

Then there are these vignettes; one humorous, the other all too heartbreaking.

The first. Apparently there used to be a kaffee klatch event on Thursday mornings at St. Peter, some priests came over to visit. The doorbell rang one morning. One of the visitor-priests got up and answered. He came back with a puzzled look and told Fr. Marrone that there was a woman who claimed that she was there to clean.

Fr. Marrone said, "So?"

The Priest replied, "But she has a mink coat on...."

Fr. Marrone replied, "This is St. Peter’s."

The second. After he left the church one Saturday while there to help clean my good friend emailed me this observation, “The area was swarming with homeless folk. I left around lunch time, so there were even more hanging about. When the bishop sells off the property, including the Cosgrove bldg., wonder where they will go for food, washing machines, and social services.” Sad, isn’t it? I guess this church wasn't vibrant enough.

St. Cecilia Catholic Church – Cleveland
March 6, 2010

I went to the Saturday Vigil Mass and truly enjoyed the experience. The parish was started in 1915, and per Fr. Dan Begin the Pastor, it was a real mixed bag of ethnicities; German, Poles, Irish, Italian, and, he thinks, even some Japanese. This is confirmed in “A Guide to Cleveland’s Sacred Landmarks,” written by Reverend Thomas F. Pike in 1992, he states, “St. Cecilia’s was established by Father John T. Farrell in 1915 to serve the various nationalities residing within the greater East 152nd-Kinsman area.” Over the years the parish became African-American. Fr. Begin told me that eventually whites came back to the parish making it one of the few, perhaps only, parishes that did that. The nave of the church is the original. Sometime in the 1940s the church was expanded widthwise to accommodate its growing congregation. The church bulletin said the prior week’s collection was $2,879.00 and I’m told there are weeks when the collection is in the low $4000 range. So my guess is they’re financially solvent.

On the parish’s web site, is a link to “Revival at St. Cecilia, Feb. 20, 2010.” I’m assuming it was written by Fr. Dan. It reads in part, “For those of you who attended the revival Ash Wednesday and the two days following, I don’t have to tell you what an awesome experience it was. As a priest for 35 years this June, I have to say this is the best start of Lent that I have ever had in my life. The revivalist was a man with a message that knew how to deliver it. The 55 voice choir provided inspiration that was truly straight from God as it touched our ears, hearts and souls. The attendance which averaged at close to 500 on Wednesday and Friday and a little smaller on Thursday brought people together to experience 'Church', healing, celebration and inspiration. The free fish and shrimp dinner put on by our parishioners filled our bellies with tasty, hot, and healthy food as the revival fed our spirits. We finally locked up after midnight exhausted yet touched deeply by the whole experience. Truly the Spirit of God was present and active in our midst.” Let’s see if I understand this right, collections are strong, participation is excellent but this parish, serving many elderly and impoverished Catholics must close. To cite what some of our other Christians used to ask, “What would Jesus do?” I certainly don’t know but I strongly believe he would say, “Please take care of these poor, caring souls.”

Interestingly the parish polled the parishioners asking them several questions about their plans for worship in the future. The results were announced on March 6, just 7 weeks before the final Mass on April 25. Out of the 142 parishioners who responded only 29 have decided where they will attend Mass after St. Cecilia closes. Seven said they may not go to any church after the closure; 15 may not attend Catholic Church after the closure; 11 will probably attend a non-Catholic church. That's 23% of the respondents.

Observation and Comment: At the Saturday Vigil Mass I noted there was one woman in a wheel chair, four who walked, albeit haltingly, with a cane, and the man who played the piano used a walker. The Roman Catholic Church in America isn’t doing a good job of engaging its people (and yes, I accept parents play a huge role in this). Then add to it, they’re driving older Catholics away. Unbelievable!

Annunciation Parish – Cleveland
February 13, 2010

We attended the Saturday Vigil Mass.

The Our History section of the church’s website,, states, “In the early 1900’s the area adjacent to and along W. 130th, known as Settlement Acres, became the home for a large number of Slovenian, Croation, Polish, and Italian Catholics. To serve this growing population, Annunciation was started as a mission parish out of St. Mary’s on Brookpark Avenue. Our original name was 'St. Mary’s of the Annunciation' which Bishop Schrembs transferred to us in August of 1924 from a parish that was in Ohio City for a short time in the 1800’s. Our first Mass was celebrated by Fr. Hyland in a tent at Cimperman’s Grove, a private picnic area south of Sprecher Avenue. Services moved into the dance hall pavilion on the grounds while a church and school building was being built at Bennington and W. 130th. The cornerstone was dedicated there in October of 1924 and the new building along with a rectory was completed in 1925.”

It continued, “On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the parish in 1949, a campaign began to build a new church building. Ground was broken in August of 1950 and the first Mass in the new church was on Easter Sunday 1952. Over the altar hung a painting of the Annunciation, a personal gift from Archbishop Hoban. It was at the dedication Mass in July 1952 that the parish ceased to be called 'St. Mary’s of the Annunciation' but simply 'Annunciation.' The new church structure was the most modern on W. 130th and was a tribute to the people who built the neighborhood and who valued the place of the parish in their lives."

The soloist, Amy, was extraordinary. She has a beautiful voice. In a conversation with her we learned she studied Opera at Baldwin-Wallace so it’s no surprise she sounded so good. She doesn’t know where she will attend Mass when Assumption closes but some church ought to sign her up quickly. Frankly I wish she’d come to an east side church. Like so many we have talked to at the churches we visited she is very unhappy with the way the church closing process has been handled.

On May 16, after 85 years, Annunciation Parish will cease to exist.

Corpus Christi Church – Cleveland
February 6, 2010

Corpus Christi was established August 9, 1935. In the Silver Jubilee Anniversary booklet (1960) it says, “Our Pastor (Rev. Anthony Bernard Orlemanski) came to this area twenty-five years ago upon the command of the Bishop (Floyd L. Begin) to establish a new parish. The growing number of Polish speaking Catholics was the motivation for this parish. For years he led them to God using the language of their ancestors.” On December 25, 1936 the First Midnight Mass was celebrated in the new church.

The parish grew to the point that a new, bigger church and a new school were dedicated on November 21, 1954. Again, in the Silver Jubilee booklet it says, “From a small group of Polish speaking Catholics to the present (1960) multi-lingual background of a Territorial-Parish of over seventeen hundred families is a remarkable accomplishment of both, people and priest, in this tireless labor of twenty-five years.” The Historical Data Section confirmed the growth of the parish. In 1955 there were 1,549 Baptisms; 1,113 First Communions, 493 Marriages, and 938 Confirmations. Obviously a very vibrant parish.

On the Saturday of my visit, Mass was celebrated by a visiting priest from Lake County who gave an excellent homily. The organist and soloist was a woman from St. Stanislaus Parish on loan I guess to help this soon to close an old Polish parish; the seventh parish of Polish heritage that I have visited on my journey. The last Mass will be celebrated on April 17, 2010.

St. Clement Church – Lakewood
February 6, 2010

St. Clement is not being closed but I couldn’t resist including the note in the today's Plain Dealer’s Tipoff column by Michael K. McIntyre.

“The Rev. Joseph Workman, new pastor of St. Clement Catholic Church in Lakewood, asked a heavy theological question while delivering the homily during Mass last week: ‘Why are we here?’

He asked the congregation for responses and got a few, but none were what he was looking for. He kept asking for more.

He probably didn’t expect such a literal answer.

From the back of the church, the voice of a man all too familiar with the diocese’s consolidation plans intoned: ‘Because St. Hedwig closed.’

The congregation erupted in laughter.”

The Church of The Blessed Sacrament – Cleveland
January 23 and 27, 2010

We went to The Church of The Blessed Sacrament in the 3300 block of Fulton for the Saturday Vigil Mass. They have a beautiful stained glass window over the choir loft. It's large and round with Jesus next to a Monstrance. I tried to take a picture of it after Mass but by then the sun went down and there no longer was any light to shine through. So I went back during the week for a morning Mass. The timing was great; I got to talk to parishioners and got some real insight. I talked to one lady who has been a parishioner for over 50 years, she doesn't know where she's going when the parish closes, probably will go where a relative goes. Some of her peers are going to watch Mass on cable and send their donations to the site presenting the Mass. I learned that the pastor has been there 22-23 years, and he has no idea where he'll be assigned when the parish closes on April 10, just 10 short weeks from now. I guess it’s a secret.

The parish started in 1903 and the early church was a frame building. The current church was built in 1953 and many of the parishioners still call it the “new church.” It’s a pretty church, the altar and stained glass windows on the sides are understated but the stained glass window over the choir loft is one of a kind – just beautiful. The combination of The Stations of The Cross, which are hand carved, and the stained glass window of Jesus and the Monstrance gives this lovely church it own unique signature.

I’m told the church has $800K in savings and could easily last 5-6 more years. Further I learned that Bishop Pilla told all the pastors a few years back that he had no church closing program but, and it's a significant but, he asked the pastors to come to him when they felt their parish could no longer survive and steps would be taken to shut it down. In my opinion that would be kind of a natural death; the parishioners could grieve and feel sorry about what was happening. Unfortunately the way it’s being done today just makes people angry, I liken it to euthanasia -- we'll decide when you die.

I also learned that the religious artifacts are being appraised and having a value put on them. Kind of confusing here because I thought that blessed or consecrated items are not to be sold -- per Canon Law or at least past practice. It brought me back to the days when you'd buy a rosary and then have it blessed; you couldn’t buy a blessed rosary.

Then I heard a rumor that blew me away. I didn’t try to research it or corroborate it but I’m told that in roughly 4 weeks there is going to be a meeting at St. John Bosco where Bishop Lennon wants to discuss a $250 million fund raising project for capital improvements. I mentioned in my blog that the 2nd collection at Sts. Philip and James was for the Bishop's Fund; no one, not one single person put any money in the basket. If the fund raising project is proposed it’ll be interesting to see how well the donations flow from the inner city and the inner ring suburbs.

St. Emeric Update
January 23, 2010

A good friend offered the following insightful comments regarding St. Emeric.

“Some of the byproducts of the clustering process are the very real and intense sadness and regret caused by the loss of a much-loved or memory-filled sacred place, as the Catholic Churches in the neighborhoods of ethnic Cleveland create. There is, however, more than nostalgia involved in parishioners' deep emotional reactions; there is a true sense of loss for some for something of great value. As a single example, consider this vignette concerning the closing of St. Emeric, located just behind the West Side Market on the Edge of the Cuyahoga River valley.

In the winter of 2009, a group of protesters who call themselves Endangered Catholics stood once a week in front of St. John the Evangelist Cathedral. They held vigil lights as they maintained a silent and orderly prayer protest against the scheduled closing of various churches.

One afternoon an African-American came along and stopped to talk, and as she did, she began to cry. She recalled that had it not been for the daily food served freely by the parishioners of St. Emeric, she, her siblings, many neighborhood children, and adults would not have had anything to eat. She expressed deep gratitude, yet she also lamented the recent closing because there were few, if any, alternative hunger centers now available in the nearby area. The speaker was now a college student. Her distress became more pronounced, as evidenced by her very real tears.

Incidentally the parishioners of St. Emeric prepared one hot meal, six days a week, and they had been doing so for a number of years. It looked very much like a lesson learned from the parable of Lazarus and Dives.”

St. Joseph Church – Lorain
January 17, 2010

On a very foggy Sunday my wife and I headed toward Lorain and it was worth the drive. St. Joseph parish was started my German immigrants in 1896. The church itself is on the upper level of the building; the first floor has four classrooms and it’s always been that way. The parish hasn’t had a resident priest for years. Rev. Mr. Luis Maldonado was appointed Administrative Deacon back in 1992 and has run the parish ever since. Mass is celebrated by visiting priests often times by the Fathers of St. Joseph. The Sunday we were there a Fr. Tosco, originally from Italy, was the celebrant. I don’t know how large the parish was in its heyday but today the numbers are small. There is only one mass – Sunday at 10:00 AM, that’s it. The closing mass will be on March 7.

St. Rose of Lima – Cleveland
January 8, 2010

In 1999 St. Rose published a booklet celebrated their 100th anniversary; it contained a nice history of the parish. In October 1899 a small group of German and Irish immigrant Catholic families met to discuss the formation of a new parish, “The families were part of a growing Catholic population that had moved to the west side with the expansion of streetcar lines and the increased availability of property.” Under the Bishop’s direction the 40 families bought the Marshall homestead, remodeled a lower parlor and on Christmas Day 1899 celebrated the first Mass. Ten years later the parish had grown to 1,000 members. By 1927 this growth had continued to the point that they decided to build a bigger church. But, because of cost constraints they built only the basement which served as the main church for many years. By the early 1950s as the parish grew to more than 6500 members the basement church was renovated. Shortly thereafter the parish grew to 7500 members. That precipitated a building fund campaign which resulted in the current church being built and dedicated in 1957. A Universe Bulletin story about the new church said, “Out of years of waiting, planning and saving has emerged a stunning structure whose gold-leafed tower stands 125 feet over Detroit Ave. The sleek and simple lines of the 1,100 seat church have given a flash of light to the aging neighborhood." That flash of light will be dimmed soon.

An interesting side note. In 1998 the Tridentine Rite was introduced at St. Rose. It was, I believe, one of only two such masses in Cleveland; the other at Immaculate Conception on Superior. Bishop Pilla in one of his last acts appointed a new pastor in 2006. According to what I’ve read one of the new pastor’s first acts was to an end to The Latin High Mass. Three years later Bishop Lennon is putting an end to the parish.

St. Philomena Church – East Cleveland
December 25, 2009

Went to my own parish for Christmas Mass; altar all decorated for Christmas, I thought it looked terrific. This has been our parish for over 25 years. For as long as I can remember St. Philomena has had a reputation for having a short mass. The homilies are seldom longer than five minutes; the priests have developed the skill of tying the readings into their homily and delivering the message clearly and quickly. For many years there were three priests; the pastor, a priest in residence and one always on loan from Benedictine High School. They all kept the homilies short and sweet, especially the Benedictines.

St. Philomena will survive the clustering but not as a parish, it will be site for masses and ministry and be part of Communion of Saints Parish.

St. Ann’s Church – Cleveland Heights
December 20, 2009

On the church’s web site,, the history section states, “It was June 1915, when Bishop John P. Farrelly entrusted Father John Mary Powers to establish a new parish in Cleveland Heights. On September 12, 1915, ground was broken for the structure known as Powers Hall. It would serve as the main church building for thirty-seven years. Father Powers’ leadership helped the parish grow through The Great Depression and World War II. His resourcefulness would help amass the necessary architectural additions to build a larger facility, mainly from Cleveland’s downtown banks and New York City’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel. In July 1948, building began on the new church building, and it was dedicated on December 11, 1952. The inscription carved above the front doors reads Haec Est Domus Dei (“This is the house of God”).” And indeed it is.

Fr. Powers, the Pastor from 1915 to 1966, was a visionary – from his insight in selecting the location for the parish on what was the Stillman Farm, to his ability to acquire building components during the depression, to his legacy of forming one of the still vibrant parishes in Greater Cleveland. He left a very positive mark on many generations of Cleveland Heights Catholics. It’s always special to return to St. Ann’s (for those who believe it should be St. Ann I defer to my 8th grade diploma which says St. Ann’s).

The final mass of St. Ann’s Parish will be on January 10, 2010 at noon. On the following Sunday, January 17, 2010 there will be the Opening Mass for the Communion of Saints Parish in what I believe will be called St. Ann Church (not parish). The Communion of Saints parish will include parishioners from St. Ann’s, St. Louis, Christ the King Parish in East Cleveland which was closed in 2009, and St. Philomena Parish in East Cleveland which will no longer be a parish but will be a second location for mass and ministry within the Communion of Saints Parish. Confused? Maybe some expert on Canon Law can clarify the terminology if I’m wrong.

In the church bulletin was a letter from the Pastor, Fr. James Singler. After doing fine work (my opinion) for the past 13+ years at St. Ann's, he's being transferred to St. Augustine Parish in Barberton where he will be the Pastoral Vicar. Nice title but sounds like a demotion to me.

St. Ann's will always be special to me. I was baptized, received my First Holy Communion, received the Sacrament of Confirmation and graduated from St. Ann's. It was my parish for the first 24 years of my life until I married and moved out of the parish.

St. Louis Church – Cleveland Heights
December 27, 2009

This church is closing in January and while geographically it’s my parish I haven’t attended mass there for almost ten years. That said, the church has a special connection; all four of our children were baptized and received their First Communion at St. Louis. Back then Fr. Klein was the pastor; my memory of him is that he was a very rigid person. When our daughter Peggy was born the birth certificate listed her as Peggy Ann but Fr. Klein told us there was no St. Peggy so he baptized her Margaret. It’s something I never understood because even back in the '60s children were baptized with “family” names and it was OK, after all Ann was a saint.

St. Louis parish was started in 1947 and the church was built in the mid 1950s. Like many churches it was redesigned after Vatican II; the altar was moved to the side of the building which brought all the worshipers closer to the altar and the celebrant. St. Louis, like most of the redesigned churches, lost some of their appeal to me. I still prefer the older churches with the focus on the altar at the end of the aisle, communion rails, and the inclusion of the religious icons all of which give me more of a sense that it is The House of God.

Interestingly I believe that St. Louis was started because the Catholic population of Cleveland Heights had grown so much in the early twentieth century that St. Ann’s parish was getting over crowded. Now with outward migration, St. Louis is being closed on January 10, 2010 and the parishioners are being asked to join the new parish, “Communion of Saints,” which will include St. Ann’s church (no longer the name of the parish but the parish headquarters), the parishioners of St. Philomena Church in East Cleveland (an auxiliary location for masses and ministry), and the parishioners of Christ the King Parish which was closed earlier in 2009.

St. Lawrence Church – Cleveland
December 13, 2009

Located on East 81st Street near Union Avenue, St. Lawrence, a Slovenian church, was established in 1901 to serve Slovenians in the Newburgh area of Cleveland who had been part of the Saint Vitus Parish. This puzzles me because these two churches are at least 5 miles apart, a huge distance in 1901, especially without today’s mode of transportation.

In The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History there is a section about the Slovenes, “A South Slav people whose homeland, Slovenia, declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, began settling in Cleveland in the 1880s, with immigration heaviest in the periods 1890-1914, 1919-24, and 1949-60.” Another passage says, “Census data for 1910 listed 14,332 Slovenes in Cleveland, making it at the time the 3rd-largest Slovene city in the world. The 1970 census listed 46,000 foreign-born or mixed-parentage Slovenes in the Cleveland area. By the early 1900s, Cleveland had the largest Slovene settlement in the U.S., retaining that status into the 1990s.”

St. Lawrence is a beautiful church as can be seen in the main altar above, the side altar below along with the Special Intention/Devotion site. The church is scheduled to close in June 2010.

Saints Philip and James Church – Cleveland
December 5, 2009

When I called the rectory to ask about the ethnic background of the builders of the church, the pastor told me Saints Philip and James is a “United Nations” parish. So, on Saturday, December 5, we attended the 5:00 PM mass to be a part of their nation.

Officially established in 1950 the church has an arched ceiling with wooden beams. A check of the history of the parish reveals that they had a very active CYO program in the 1950s and 1960s and were very proud of the successes they achieved.

Just an observation, not an editorial comment. My wife and I both observed that no one donated to the 2nd collection for The Bishop’s Fund. I don’t know if there was a message there or not but I found it interesting. The church will close in June, their 60th anniversary.

Our Lady of Mercy Church -- Cleveland
November 28, 2009

Our Lady of Mercy Church is West 11th in Tremont, right across from Lincoln Park. It’s a Slovak church that per The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History had its beginnings as an offshoot of St. Wendelin, a Polish church. The Encyclopedia states the Slovaks objected to traveling through the industrial valley to St. Wendelin and wanted to establish their own parish. It states further, “The Polish Nationalist pastor of Sacred Heart Church on W. 14th promised them a priest if they affiliated with the POLISH NATIONAL CATHOLIC CHURCH. They then organized the parish of St. John Baptist, which opened in 1915. The Polish Nationalist link drove many back to St. Wendelin's. Mounting problems finally forced the St. John parish to approach the Roman Catholic diocese for assistance. Bp. JOSEPH SCHREMBS† agreed to accept the repentant congregation in 1922.”

The parish grew and in 1947 started the construction of a new church. The Encyclopedia says, “The Romanesque-style church was dedicated on 23 Oct. 1949. The church's interior incorporates much of the Slovak peasant heritage, with a large mosaic featuring Mary, Our Sorrowful Mother, the patron of Slovakia.”

Our Lady of Mercy is a relatively small church but quite beautiful. At night the light on the bell tower shines on the cross on the top of it and creates an inspiring night time effect. The church is scheduled to close in May 2010.

St. Hedwig Church – Lakewood
November 22, 2009

St. Hedwig is on Madison and West 129th. It’s our sixth Polish parish that’s being closed – and not clustered with another parish. So out of the twelve parishes I’ve visited so far, six were Polish and none were clustered – seems a little strange, I guess I’m missing something here.

St. Hedwig, founded in 1914, was probably the first Polish church on the far west side; it’s located in Lakewood. As with many churches it is built on an upper level with the basement used for social gatherings. It’s a relatively small church that’s in excellent condition. There is a painting of The Risen Christ on the ceiling above the main aisle and no matter if you’re going up the aisle or down the aisle the painting looks like it’s facing you.

One of the ushers I met told me he had been married at St. Casimir, was now a member of St. Hedwig and soon would be looking for a new parish; I’m not sure there are many Polish churches left standing.

Sacred Heart of Jesus – Cleveland
November 15, 2009

This church is special to me. My deceased mother-in-law was baptized, received her First Holy Communion, and was married in this parish. This would be the fifth Polish church (and counting), where we attended mass, that’s being closed – forever.

In a history of Sacred Heart of Jesus, it states, “As the United States became a rapidly-growing commercialized nations after the Civil Was, industry grew in many areas of the country especially among the larger cities of which Cleveland numbered among them. During the 1870s many Poles seeking relief from religious oppressiion, poor economic conditions and political dominance of other nations, left their own country and came here seeking a better life for their families and themselves…”
The first mass in the first church was celebrated on Christmas Day in 1889. The second church is now the basement of the current church and you can still see the crown moldings. The basement church was complete with side altars too. When the current church was built there was some disconnect between the architect and the pastor. The pastor wanted windows in the bell tower so a stained glass window of the Sacred Heart of Jesus could be installed there. That stained glass window is now in the chapel behind the main altar and can be seen in the picture on the right.

The Sunday mass was well attended. I’m told the parish is solvent, they have no debt and have money in the bank. That said, after over 120 years, the parish will be shut down.

St. Wendelin Church – Cleveland
November 8, 2009

On a bright Sunday morning my wife and I went to the 11:00 AM mass at St. Wendelin which is located on Columbus Road just northeast of West 25th Street. The church is yet another architecturally beautiful church. The Tremont History Projects has a nice recap of the history of the church; it was written in May 2008. Slovak immigrants petitioned the diocese to have a church to serve the needs of the Slovak community and the first St. Wendelin Church was built and in December 1903 the first mass was celebrated. The parish grew so quickly that by the 1920s five masses were celebrated on Sundays. Around that time a new church and a new school were built.

There is one paragraph in the history of the parish in the Tremont History that demonstrates the commitment and pride of the parish. “In 1943, people could attend one of six Masses, one of them being in the Slovak language. In that year, there were 136 baptisms, 33 couples were married, and 41 of the parish faithful were buried from the parish. During the second world war years, families from St. Wendelin gave over 674 of their sons and daughters to the war effort.”

The history sadly ends with the following though the writer couldn’t have predicted the irony. “In Autumn of 2002, parish leaders declared a Year of Jubilee to mark the parish’s centennial celebration. A large, 100-year-old statue of St. Wendelin was taken out of storage, was repaired, and was placed inside the church where a confessional once stood. The bell, which had been removed from the belfry, was reconditioned and now sits in the church building. St. Wendelin’s looks forward to being a vibrant place to worship in the years to come.” The church is scheduled to close in May 2010.

St. Barbara Church -- Cleveland
October 31, 2009

St. Barbara is yet another Polish church being closed. Located in Old Brooklyn the history of the parish states it was established in 1905 and had four different buildings; the most recent was dedicated in 1952. Like so many of the early churches, St. Barbara has a solemn beauty to it as can be seen in the picture below.

What’s special about churches like St. Barbara is they maintain their ethnic heritage. Like a number of other churches I’ve visited the Sunday bulletin has sections written in their native language. I have no idea about the finances of this church but it’s obvious that the parishioners took great pride in it; it’s very well maintained and spotless. Note the sign on the church with the mass schedule and the parish plea.

St. George Church – Cleveland
October 10, 2009

I got to St. George at Superior and East 65th Street one week before the formal closing. There were so few of us at the 5:30 PM mass on Saturday that the mass was celebrated in a small chapel on the first floor. If you ever checked out the parish web site it proudly, but sadly, states it’s “The oldest Lithuanian parish still functioning in America.” Or it was until October 18, 2009.

The web site, says the church was founded in 1895 and in a Plain Dealer story in 2005 they imply the church looks its age. The church itself is on the second level and was in need of a lot of repair. I’m told the closing mass was packed and this church can easily hold 800-900 people, so there were a lot of Lithuanian Catholics there to bid their church farewell. A very interesting history of Lithuanian immigrants can be found on the parish web site; the history link has some excellent information in an article by Algis Ruksenas.

St. Patrick Church – West Park
October 4, 2009

On the first Sunday in October I headed to the West Park section of Cleveland for the 10:00 AM mass which was very well attended. I can only imagine that the other three weekend masses are also well attended. There were many young children in attendance and when mass began they all gathered, left the church and went to class. The returned at the Offertory with drawings they created for their parents and the church. Frankly it was special to see children and their young parents involved in their faith, it’s something I don’t see much of at my parish, St. Philomena.

In St. Patrick’s web site,, the history section states, “The community was finally organized as a parish in 1848. On March 17, in the home of a parishioner, Bishop Amadeus Rappe of the fledgling Cleveland diocese said Mass, heard confessions and baptized members of the new congregation. Monthly services continued in parishioners' homes until a frame church was completed in 1854.

As the 2,100 families comprising St. Patrick Church celebrate the parish's 150th anniversary (in 1998), they can be proud to be part of the legacy of faith which began so modestly on the feast day of the church's patron.”

On June 6, 2010, St. Patrick, a parish founded primarily by immigrant Irish Catholics, as well as some Germans, will merge with Ascension and Annunciation to form a new parish. So, after a mere 165 years it will end.

One interesting point, the Irish sure know how to plan. Right across the street is a funeral home and there is a cemetery on the church property. I don’t know how long the cemetery has been there but “in the old days” it would have been possible to roll the casket across the street right into the church, have a funeral mass, and bury the deceased right outside. No motorcades necessary. And probably right back to the funeral home to toast the deceased. The Irish sure know how to do it.

St. Emeric Church – Cleveland
September 26, 2009

Nestled behind the West Side Market, St. Emeric web site describes the parish as one of the Cleveland Diocese’s small gems. On the web site,, St. Emeric is described as the largest church of the ethnic Hungarian community in America. The church houses the impressive Millennial Mural, which captures the essence of its community—a Hungarian-Catholic people of the United States of America. If all the foliage abutting the cul de sac where the church is located was cleared you would have an excellent view of the industrial flats. The parish began in 1904 and the current church was built in 1925. It’s a very lovely church with nearly a century of tradition. When I was there on a Saturday in late September there were a number of parishioners sharing pictures of the church and of their classmates from many years ago. Some had pictures of their parents who attended there 60+ years ago. One of the ironies of closing the church is that the parish has a non-diocesan priest who has been here for over 20 years and is from a Hungarian region of Romania. Per Mike O’Malley in the Plain Dealer article in March, “In its appeal, the parish noted that its pastor, the Rev. Sandor Siklodi, was sent here by a Hungarian bishop in Romania, so Lennon cannot reassign him to another parish. One of Lennon's reasons for downsizing was to reassign his shrinking pool of priests. But the Cleveland diocese actually loses a priest by closing St. Emeric's, the parish argues”.

I guess the diocese won’t have to prohibit Rev. Siklodi from acting in his ministry as a priest in the Cleveland Diocese, he can just head home. Köszönöm szépen Fr. Siklodi, Viszontlátásra.

Holy Trinity Church – Lorain
September 20, 2009

An early September story in the Plain Dealer by Mike O’Malley stated: “A rare religious fresco painted 63 years ago by ‘the Michelangelo of Cleveland’ could be lost in the downsizing of the Catholic Diocese. Romeo Celleghin, an Italian immigrant who settled in Cleveland in the early 1920s, transformed sanctuary walls and ceilings into breathtaking works of art, giving supplicants a peek into the heavens -- angels, saints and God himself. Celleghin, who painted in dozens of churches in Northeast Ohio, claimed his greatest masterpiece was a fresco at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Lorain, a 103-year-old parish scheduled to close Dec. 13. The elaborate painting on a concave plaster wall blooms over the main altar into a curved ceiling.”

I obviously had to see this one, so on a Sunday morning in September, my wife and I headed to Lorain for mass. This Slovak church was dedicated in 1927 and renovated in the 1950s. The painting was as advertised, a true work of art – spectacular. It’s crushing to wonder what will happen to this masterpiece when the church’s doors are closed in December.

One of the amazing things about the location of this church is that it is three blocks away from St. Stanislaus Church (Polish) which was also established in the early 1900s and is also being closed. It dumbfounded me that two Catholic churches would be built so close together – even though cars were certainly not the method of transportation back then. One of my wise friends pointed out to me that back in the early 1900s churches were also the social center for families and the different heritages tended to band together.

St. Hyacinth Church – Cleveland
September 13, 2009

By sheer luck I learned St. Hyacinth was closing in September so I was able to attend mass the week before it closed. It was established in 1906 as a Roman Catholic Church rooted in the Polish tradition. As the Poles immigrated to America many worked their way to Cleveland and the steel mills. They started St. Stanislaus Church around 1873 and as more Poles arrived two other churches were started; Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1889 and St. Hyacinth. As with St. Casimir the church was in excellent condition and beautifully maintained. Little did I realize that I would be attending mass at six or seven Polish churches that were being closed forever. I never realized how large the Polish population in Cleveland was in the early 1900s; the number of churches they started is a testament to their faith.

St. Adalbert Church – Cleveland
September 6, 2009

In July, Michael O’Malley wrote a story about the history of St. Adalbert Church. He interviewed the daughter of a black Roman Catholic who attended mass at St. Agnes Church 82 years ago and who was politely told by the white pastor after mass that the “colored church” was on 79th Street. That church was Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament which O’Malley states was started in 1922 as Cleveland’s first and only black Catholic Church. Again per O’Malley the church was closed in 1961; it was in need of major repairs so the congregation joined St. Adalbert which used to be a Bohemian Catholic Church, built in 1922. A quote in O’Malley’s excellent in depth article, “… and Cleveland's first black Catholic congregation moved into its new home, painting the faces black on the statues left behind by the Bohemians. Life-size statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are now Africans”.

"It helps us to relate our spirituality with our natural being," said church secretary Linda Gamble. "If God made us in his image and likeness, he's got to look something like us."

So, on a bright Sunday morning in early September, my son and I attended the 10:30 AM mass. Coincidentally this mass was celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the Knights of Peter Claver. That day I learned that Peter Claver (1581—1654) was a Jesuit priest who was born in Spain. He did his ministry in Columbia working with the slaves who were shipped there, converting many of them to Catholicism. He was declared a saint in the late 1800s. The Knights of Peter Claver was started in 1909 as a fraternal organization for black Catholics; the Ladies Auxiliary was formed in 1922.

The mass was celebrated by Bishop Roger Gries, and it was very memorable and moving. Black Catholics show a whole lot more passion for their religion than do most of their white counterparts. The hymns and singing were truly spiritual. The “Sign of Peace” took five minutes – all of the parishioners went to each person at mass and offered, “Peace be with you,” including us, the visitors. The parishioners’ good will and friendship was something I never experienced before. I got more spiritual benefit out of attending mass here than I had in years. I made a commitment that I will attend mass here at least one more time before it closes in May.

St. Procop Church – Cleveland
August 29, 2009

As summer was ending my son, daughter-in-law and I planned on attending the Saturday vigil mass on August 29. Sadly the final mass was the next morning and the Saturday mass was cancelled. The parish had a rich history; started in 1876 as a Bohemian parish, the church was built in 1902 and proudly had the flag of the Czech Republic out front the weekend it closed. I wish we could have seen the work of those immigrant craftsmen whose work was done so many years ago.

St. Casimir Church – Cleveland
May 21, June 21, and October 25, 2009

On the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend my son, my daughter-in-law and three of our grandchildren attended mass at St. Casimir. Approaching the church was nothing special. It was built in 1919 by Polish immigrants and is surrounded by a chain link fence. Once inside it was spectacular. As you walk toward the altar you are actually walking down hill, the church was built so the pews in the back were at a higher elevation so those in the rear of the church could have a better line of sight to the altar. There in front of you was a magnificent altar carved of ivory and wood. The picture below shows the beauty of the altar far better than I can describe it. I was so taken by this church; its beautiful altar, very well maintained church and its “special” feeling that I had to attend mass there two more times before it closed. And, it convinced me that I had to keep my commitment to attend other churches before their doors were locked to see first hand the work done in the early 1900s by those immigrants who loved their “new” country yet who wanted to bring with them the history of churches from their homeland.

The final Polish Mass was celebrated on November 8, 2009. Mike O’Malley reported that on subsequent Sundays through November approximately 100 Polish Americans gathered to protest the church’s closing and to sing hymns in Polish and English. Then in a story by Joseph Feckanin in the December 9, 2009 edition of The Neighborhood News it was reported, “Since the church’s closing, its pastor, Monsignor Leo Telesz, has retired from active ministry and his associate, Fr. Jan Wahala, has been prohibited by the Cleveland Diocese (as of November 15) from acting in his ministry as a priest in the diocese. Fr. Wahala was on loan from Poland to minister to the Polish population here.” My comment – unbelievable, you have to hope there’s more to this than has been reported (or announced by the diocese) but it sure seems like a head shaker. Dziękuję Fr.Wahala.