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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

CATHOLICS, ROMAN - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

CATHOLICS, ROMAN. Roman Catholicism in Cleveland followed a pattern common to other industrial midwestern cities. The Catholic population grew dramatically in the 19th and early 20th centuries, especially as a result of European immigration, then leveled off and declined after World War II. Diocesan administrators successfully met the challenges of providing churches, schools, and a variety of social-service institutions for immigrants. They also enforced discipline on an often fractious laity and clergy. Numerous confrontations resulted from the insistent demands of ethnic groups for separate churches and schools. Cleveland's bishops gradually established a modern administrative structure to control the increasingly complex organization. Vibrant inner-city parishes and schools, most organized along ethnic and language lines (nationality parishes) rather than geography (territorial parishes), were the heart of Cleveland Catholic life until after World War II, when Catholics increasingly trekked to the SUBURBS. The postwar years, marked by the Second Vatican Council and social upheavals, challenged much that was familiar to Cleveland's Catholics.

The first significant number of Catholics in Cleveland were German and especially Irish immigrants who came in the late 1820s and 1830s to construct and maintain the OHIO AND ERIE CANAL and to work in developing businesses. They were attended initially by itinerant missionaries. The city's first permanent priest arrived in 1835; the first permanent Catholic church building, ST. MARY'S ON-THE-FLATS, was dedicated in 1840. The Diocese of Cleveland was erected in 1847. It encompassed the northern third of Ohio until the separation of the dioceses of Toledo (1910) and Youngstown (1943). The first bishop, LOUIS AMADEUS RAPPE† (1847-70), moved quickly to establish institutional foundations. Within the city of Cleveland, 16 parishes were erected, most of which soon possessed a parochial school. By 1872 approx. 4,700 students attended these schools, which were staffed by nuns from Europe, from orders such as the SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME and the URSULINE SISTERS OF CLEVELAND. The bishop founded ST. MARY SEMINARY for the training of priests and began developing a growing network of Catholic institutions, including what later became SAINT VINCENT CHARITY HOSPITAL AND HEALTH CENTER. The success of Bishop Rappe's work, however, was marred by a series of disruptions. Believing that immigrants should be Americanized as quickly as possible, Rappe at first refused to erect ethnic parishes. This decision angered the GERMANS, who complained to Rome so loudly that the bishop reluctantly built separate German churches. By the 1860s, Rappe had angered many IRISH by, among other steps, appointing, French-speaking priests to their parishes. Due to these and other problems, Rome forced Rappe to resign.

During the tenures of bishops RICHARD GILMOUR† (1872-91) and IGNATIUS F. HORSTMANN† (1892-1908), the Catholic population of Cleveland grew rapidly, primarily as a consequence of the flood of job-seeking immigrants, increasingly from southern and eastern rather than northern and western Europe. The number of Catholic parishes, schools, and social-welfare institutions grew correspondingly. Greater Cleveland's approx. 14 parishes in 1870 expanded to 65 in 1908, including more than 34 nationality ones; some of the territorial parishes were Irish in fact if not in name. Both Gilmour and Horstmann insisted on the obligation of parishes to build a schoolhouse, even before the construction of the church building, and on the obligation of parents to send their children to Catholic schools. Teaching sisters were encouraged to come to Cleveland, and, especially with the establishment of a diocesan school board in 1887, significant efforts were made to set and maintain standards so that parents would be assured that the quality of parish schools was at least equal to that of public institutions. There were 7,500 students enrolled in the city's parish schools in 1890 and more than 20,000 by 1909. (See PAROCHIAL EDUCATION (CATHOLIC).) These efforts to build a high-quality Catholic school system, however, did not occur without controversy. Aware of nativist sentiment, Gilmour founded the Catholic Universe (1874, later the Catholic Universe Bulletin), both to publish news of special interest to Catholics and to defend their values against Cleveland's frequently anti-Catholic newspapers, especially Edwin Cowles's CLEVELAND LEADER. Nativist Know-Nothingism flared in the 1850s in the city, and anti-Catholic speakers always drew large audiences. However, such sentiment was never as powerful or violent as in such cities as Philadelphia and Cincinnati.

The internal unity of Cleveland Catholicism was also disrupted by divisions from within, as in other cities. Nationalities battled for control of church property and often requested separate institutions that the church administration could not provide. Of the 30 Cleveland parishes organized between 1892-1908, only 8 were territorial; the rest served various nationalities. The ever-present danger of schism was occasionally realized, as at ST. STANISLAUS CHURCH in the early 1890s, where factionalism eventually resulted in 1894 in the formation of the IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY PARISH. Factions of German and Irish priests continued to disrupt the diocese. It was Bp. JOHN P. FARRELLY† (1909-21) who brought Cleveland Catholicism into the modern era. A forceful administrator, he did not tolerate ethnic bickering and interference in diocesan affairs and significantly, reduced its force. Farrelly sought to bring structure and administrative order. Roman-trained and deferential to Roman authority, he personified a broad change in the style of episcopal leadership that occurred throughout the Roman Catholic church in America. He brooked no opposition from either clergy or laity and sought to create in the Cleveland diocese the centralized control and bureaucratic management becoming typical in business and government. Numerous episcopal agencies and bureaus were established, including the CATHOLIC CHARITIES CORP. (1919). Building on the work of his predecessors, Farrelly went a long way toward unifying and standardizing the parochial schools and teacher training.

Between 1909 and World War II, both bishops Farrelly and JOSEPH SCHREMBS† (1921-45) broadened facilities and programs for Cleveland's Catholics. Except during the Depression, parochial school attendance grew, and the diocese established secondary schools and colleges such as Notre Dame College and URSULINE COLLEGE, both for women. Cleveland Univ., the former St. Ignatius College, became JOHN CARROLL UNIVERSITY at this time (1923). The number of parishes increased, reaching about 90 in 1947, and parishes changed in character. New ones were increasingly territorial rather than national, because the restrictive immigration laws of the 1920s and then the Depression virtually halted the influx of newcomers. Earlier immigrants' American-born children gradually dominated Cleveland Catholicism. New parishes were generally located on the edges of the city or in the suburbs. Cleveland Catholics participated increasingly in the activities of the church nationwide and confronted the social and ideological issues that frequently agitated it. Bishop Schrembs helped create the National Catholic Welfare Conference and, in 1924, local units of the National Conference of Catholic Men and the National Conference of Catholic Women. In 1935 the SEVENTH NATIONAL EUCHARISTIC CONGRESS was held in the city.

Cleveland Catholics reacted to the Depression in a variety of ways, most supporting Franklin D. Roosevelt, others Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement, and some the controversial Fr. Charles E. Coughlin of Royal Oak, MI. A group of Catholic Workers, with Bishop Schrembs's moral and financial support, founded the Blessed Martin de Porres House of Hospitality in Cleveland in 1938 and Sacred Heart Hospice 1 year later. Schrembs soon found himself in a dilemma regarding his old friend Coughlin, whose supporters formed a Cleveland branch of the National Union for Social Justice in 1936. As Coughlin increasingly engaged in invective and personal attacks, Schrembs began to distance himself, but never entirely repudiated the controversial priest.

The number of parishes (nearly 125) and parochial school attendance reached new highs in Cleveland in the early 1960s. However, the decline of old, urban nationality parishes counterbalanced the opportunities in newer suburban parishes. Parishioners' exodus from the city was heightened by freeway construction, urban renewal, and the movement of AFRICAN AMERICANS into old, often ethnic neighborhoods, especially on the east side. These changes, exemplified in the 1966 HOUGH RIOTS, resulted in parish and school closings, mergers, and reorganizations in the late 1950s and 1960s, carried out by Bp. EDWARD F. HOBAN† (1945-66). Catholics in Cleveland, as elsewhere, were also affected by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and the new ideologies of the 1960s and 1970s. Beliefs and practices were questioned. The numbers of seminarians studying for the priesthood, of sisters serving the diocese, and of students enrolled in the city's Catholic schools declined steadily from the mid-1960s. More parish and school closings and mergers followed.

But change did not always mean crisis. Responding to the needs and opportunities of post-Vatican II Catholicism, Bp. CLARENCE G. ISSENMANN† (1966-74) liberalized and broadened the governance of the diocese, as did his successor, Bp. James A. Hickey (1974-80), who also reorganized and streamlined the diocesan administrative apparatus. For Catholic newcomers, Bishop Hickey established SAN JUAN BAUTISTA for Hispanics (1975) and formed apostolates for Filipino- and Vietnamese-Americans 2 years later.

Especially concerned about race relations in Cleveland, Hickey issued strong pronouncements in 1976 and 1977, following court-ordered busing, to prevent Catholic schools from becoming havens for those fleeing integration and to promote the hiring and enrollment of minorities in parochial schools. In 1978 he established the Bishop's Black Advisory Committee. For the growing numbers of Catholic charismatics, Hickey organized the Charismatic Office in 1976. By the early 1980s, under the leadership of Bp. Anthony M. Pilla (1980- ): the needs of a diverse urban and suburban Catholic population were being met; enrollments in Catholic schools, though still declining, were no longer doing so precipitously; the number of seminarians had leveled off and even increased between 1982-84. Cleveland Catholics could look forward to the future with considerable confidence.

Henry B. Leonard

Kent State Univ.

Houck, George F. A History of Catholicity in Northern Ohio and in the Diocese of Cleveland from 1749 to December 31, 1900 (1903).

Hynes, Michael J. History of the Diocese of Cleveland (1953).

Jurgens, W. A. A History of the Diocese of Cleveland (1980).

Work Projects Admin., Ohio Historical Records Survey Project. Parishes of the Catholic Church, Diocese of Cleveland, History and Records (1942).

See also RELIGION and, PAROCHIAL EDUCATION (CATHOLIC); also specific Roman Catholic churches and religious orders.

Last Modified: 13 May 1998 11:00:48 AM

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