St. Elizabeth of Hungary


St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church sits on the corner of Buckeye Road and East 90th Street in Cleveland's Lower Buckeye neighborhood. In the late nineteenth century, the neighborhood became home to thousands of Hungarians immigrants who were drawn to the area by nearby factories and mills, especially the Cleveland Malleable Iron Company and the Eberhard Manufacturing Company, which were known to these immigrants as, respectively, the "old" factory and the "new" factory.

Hungarian immigrants initially worshiped alongside Slovak immigrants at St. Ladislas Church, located on the corner of Holton Avenue and East 92nd Street. However, when a dispute broke out between Hungarian and Slovak parishioners as to which mass should be said in which ethnic group's native language, the Hungarians were induced to leave St. Ladislas and form a parish of their own. That new parish became St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish, the first Roman Catholic Hungarian parish in the United States.

The first parish church was built in large part as a result of the efforts of Father Karolyn Boehm. Arriving in America in 1892, Fr. Boehm temporarily held masses for the parish in a nearby hall and led the efforts of the parish in constructing a small wood-framed church on the corner of Buckeye Road (then called South Woodland Avenue) and East 90th Street (then called Bismark Street).

On June 4, 1893, the cornerstone of the first St. Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Church was laid. This first church provided seating for up to 800 Hungarian immigrants at a single mass. Within a decade, however, it was too small to accommodate the thousands of Roman Catholic Hungarian immigrants arriving in Lower Buckeye. As early as 1907, Father Szepessy, the second pastor of St. Elizabeth began to petition the Bishop of Cleveland for permission to raise money to build a new church that would hold up to 1300 parishioners. Permission was finally granted by the bishop and, in 1918, construction of the new church was begun.

The new church, designed by French-born architect Emile Uhlrich, was completed in 1922. The church is a large rectangular building with a gable roof and exterior masonry walls composed of large smooth grey blocks of stone. A prominent feature of the Church are its twin bell towers which flank the front of the building, each topped with a brass dome and an internally illuminated cross. The two exterior side walls of the Church are each graced with six large stained glass windows with semicircular arches. The Church has a front entrance way consisting of ten wide and deep stone steps that lead up to three large metal front double doors with semicircular arches above them. Each doorway is flanked by stone columns, and above the doors, arches and columns is a decorative triangular pediment. The fa├žade of the building also features a large ornate circular window with carved stone decoration directly above the front doors.

De-industrialization and suburbanization induced the Hungarian population to begin leaving the Buckeye neighborhood in the 1960s. Today, few Hungarian-Americans live in the Buckeye neighborhood. A small group of Hungarian-Americans--most of whom live in Cleveland's suburbs, however, continue to worship at St. Elizabeth of Hungary. The church now serves as a symbol and reminder of the once thriving and bustling Hungarian-American population that resided in Cleveland's Buckeye neighborhood for nearly 100 years.

Audio Show

"They Stayed"

Robert Purgert, the president of the St. Elizabeth's finance council, discusses Hungarian immigration to Cleveland.

First Hungarian Roman Catholic Church

Robert Purgert, the president of the St. Elizabeth's finance council, recounts the events leading to the founding of the first Hungarian Roman Catholic Church in North America.

A Monument To Hungarian-Americans

Robert Purgert, the president of the St. Elizabeth's finance council, explains St. Elizabeth's significance to the Hungarian-American community.

Photos Show

Reverend Karoly Boehm (1853-1932)

Reverend Karoly Boehm, an immigrant from Hungary, was the first pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church and a central figure in the early development of the parish. It was primarily through his efforts that the first parish church was built.

Photograph courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections

View of Buckeye Road, 1916

The first St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church is seen on the left side of this 1916 photograph. By this year, the church had proved to be to small to serve the parish, many of whom complained to Pastor Fr. Julius Szepessy that they could not get into the church to worship on Sundays.

Photograph courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections

St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Exterior

The present St. Elizabeth Roman Catholic Church was constructed between 1918 and 1922. The imposing structure was built at a cost of $350,000, a huge sum in that era. The church is a neoclassical structure that displays Renaissance and Baroque elements.
Photograph courtesy of Cleveland State University Library, Special Collections

Processional Leading To St. Elizabeth's, 1930

St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church was built to serve the needs of the large Hungarian immigrant community that settled in the Lower Buckeye neighborhood in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This photograph of a religious procession on Buckeye Road in 1930 provides a glimpse of the size and vibrancy of the neighborhood's Hungarian population as well as a view of the ethnic retail shops across the street from the church.

Photograph courtesy of Cleveland Public Library

St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Interior

The vast auditorium-style interior of St. Elizabeth of Hungary acts as a reminder of the vital role that this Catholic church played in the lives of Buckeye residents during the first half of the 20th century. The church not only served the spiritual needs of the surrounding community, but provided educational services, recreational opportunities, and a place for social networking to both Hungarian immigrants and second generation Hungarian-Americans living in Cleveland.
Photograph courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections

A church and neighborhood in need

With the decline of industry in the area during the 1960s, the Buckeye Road area faced severe economic challenges. Nearby factories and foundries closed their doors; the retail district all but disappeared; and most Hungarian-American residents eventually moved to the suburbs. St. Elizabeth remains the last remnant of the neighborhood's once large and vibrant Hungarian population.
Photograph courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections

Cite this Page

Jim Lanese, “St. Elizabeth of Hungary,” Cleveland Historical, accessed March 6, 2015, http:/​/​clevelandhistorical.​org/​items/​show/​203.​
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