May 26th, 2008
2281 Columbus Road. The Early Days: Reverand Joseph Koudelka, the pastor of St. Michael Church on Scranton Road, first approached Bishop Ignatius Horstmann about the possibiity of establishing a parish to serve the needs of the Slovak community. Bishop Horstmann recognized the language difficulties this community faced and their need to continue their ethnic traditions. It was on May 3, 1903 that a group of pioneer parisioners received Bishop Horstman’s approval to build a new church. This new church was given the name, Saint Wendelin.
The next step was to find a location for the new church. Word spread that a property along Columbus Road near W. 25th St. had become available. This property, which was owned by the Meckes family consisted of two lots measuring 120 ft. by 330 ft. On the property stood a brick buildeing which was purchased for $6,500. The front part of the building was remodeled into a parish house, and the rear of the building was transformed into a two-room school. On one side of the property stood the Phoenix Brewery. On the other side, there was a salooon.
A New Church is Built: The parish founders took bids and made decisions about the construction of the new church. During the summer and fall of 1903, a new wooden frame church and convent were constructed. The church was built and furnished for a sum just over $14,000. The Pearl Street Bank loaned the parish $11,000 to help cover the costs of construction.
On Sunday, December 6, 1903 the first Mass was held in the new St. Wendelin Church. Father Koudelka was the celebrant as the community gave thanks to God for this new place of worship. The collection at that first Mass totaled $90.17. The Christmas collection tallied $344.47, and the total parish income for that first year totaled $7,560.
The Birth of a School: In October of 1904, the parish school started enrolling children. There were two schoolrooms in the convent building staffed by two sisters from the Notre Dame order. They each received a salary of $25 a month.
In 1905, a new brick school building was built to accommodate the increasing enrollment. The cost of the new school was $7,570. It housed classrooms, and it was also used for club meetings. Four sisters of Notre Dame were now teaching St. Wendelin students in four classrooms. The growth of the school continued at a rapid pace. Before long, there were five sisters teaching the children of the parish.
The First Fathers: Rev. Joseph Koudelka from St. Michael’s Parish directed St. Wendelin Parish during those founding days in 1903. He also celebrated Mass every Sunday from December 6, 1903 until March of 1904 when Father Thomas Wilk was installed as the first resident pastor. Father Wilk’s tenure was short though as Rev. Oldrich Zlamal arrived from St. Cyril & Methodius Church in Youngstown as the new pastor of St. Wendelin Church in November of 1904.
Father Zlamal guided the parish for the next four years from November 1904 to August of 1908 until he was transferred and Father Augustine Tomasek replaced him as pastor.
Tremendous Growth: One of the greatest problems facing the parish in its early days involved the rapid infusion of new parisioners. This situation was eased by the addition of extra Masses on Sunday. There were three Masses hyeld on Sunday from 1912 to 1915. A fourth Sunday Mass was added in November 1915, and a fifth Mass was celebrated beginning in 1917 and continuing through 1927.
Teachers were added at a quick pace to meet the demand to educate the youth of the parish. From the school’s beginning with 100 students in 1904, school enrollment ballooned yearly until the school was educating over a thousand students in 1928.
Expansion becomes a must: Rather than turn away Catholic children to public schools due to lack of space, Father Tomasek saw to it that every child could receive an education on Parish grounds. Constantly reconstructing existing buildings into classrooms quickly became an espensive proposition. The need to acquire additional land for expansion was clear. Parish leaders decided that the 181 ft. by 169 ft. tract of land at Columbus and Freeman was the preferred site for future expansion of the parish grounds. It was on this site that the new church and school were to be built.
The plans for the new construction had to be put on hold, however, due to world tensions and expected shortages brought on by World War I. Building materials became unavailable.
In 1924, a special meeting was held by the Van Swerigen brothers, owners of the Cleveland union Terminal and officials from the Nickel Plate Roalroad, diocesan officials, including Bishop Joseph Schrembs, and Father Tomasek. The meeting was called to discuss the sale of property the parish owned on Freeman Avenue. An agreement was reached to sell the property, on which stood the pastor’s and sisters’ homes, for $75,000.
A New School and Church: With the money from the sale of the property on Freeman Avenue, the parish purchased the land on which the current church and school buildings sit. The cost of the property was $19,743. Once the property had been secured, parisioners were eager to begin construction of the new combination church and school building, and an additional $26,000 was raised through the generous contrubutions of the people.
A search for an architect was launched, William Jansen was hired, and construction of the buildings began in 1924 after approval by Bishop Schrembs. On March 26, 1925, the cornerstone of the church was blessed by Rt. Rev. Joseph Smith, Vicar Gene4ral of the Diocese, then later on November 26th both buildings were blessed by Bishop Schrembs. The furnishings for the church, including the altar and p4ws, totaled just over $15,000, while school furnishings cost $3,379.
Meanwhile, other changes were taking place on the property. The old wooden church structure was being converted into a hall, and the rectory and convent structures were being moved from Freeman Avenue to their current places on the property.
A Place to Gather: Over the next decade, time and the elements took their toll on the converted hall structure and in 1936 plans were drawn for the new hall and gymnasium structure which is the present structure, and on September 26, 1937, Auxialiary Bishop James McFadden blessed the new structure which became the home for countless sporting events, social gatherings, dances, concerts, card parties, and picture shows.
Through wise stewardship, all parish indebtedness wsas paid off completely by July 3, 1943. In 1942, Father Tomasek undertook a program of renovation to the church and school structures including painting in the school building and redecorating of the church. Also, the organ was modernized, the sanctuary was enlarged and a new floor covering was installed. New stained glass windows were installed.
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.
Post-War Years: The years after the war were years of growth and prosperity. In 1953, the parish celebrated its 50th anniversary. Just a few years later, in 1955, Msgr. Tomasek celebrated his Golden Jubilee. In 1957, Msgr. To0masek suffered a stroke, was unable to continue as pastor, and Father Edward Stanko took over as pastor until the mid-60’s.
Times of Change: The sixties saw societal moves that dramatically changed the makeup of neighborhoods all throughout Cleveland. Older, ethnic neighborhoods began to thin as parisioners moved to the growing suburbs. School enrollment also began to decline. By the parish’s 60th anniversary, Father John Kraynik was pastor. He led the parish effort to clean and redecorate the interior and exterior of the church and led the parish into the next decade.
In 1976, the school operation was merged with Urban Community School, and Ursuline Sisters took over from the Sisters of Notre Dame. In 1977, Father Jerome OLajack was named pastor, bringing with him fresh ideas and a strong sense of Slovak pride. Father Lajack worked hard to maintain and improve the existing buildings, while a greater involvement of the laity was seen throughout the parish due to an outgrowth of the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. Throughout the 80’s there began a number of social activities that drew people back to the parish from all parts of the area.
As the parish entered the decade of the 90’s, societal and ecclesial changes became apparent that would significantly change the face of the parish.
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.
Entry Filed under: Churches