Google “St. Malachi” and you’ll get a hodgepodge of Malachis (with an i) and Malachys (with a y). The distinction is two people and roughly 1,500 years. St. Malachi (with an i) was a minor prophet identified in the last section of the Old Testament. St. Malachy (with a y) was a 12th-century Irish monk and Bishop of Armagh in Northern Ireland. Yet St. Malachi (with an i) Church, the venerable house of worship on Cleveland’s near west side, was named after the monk (the one with a y) and not the prophet (the one with an i). Why the disconnect? No-one knows. But the net effect is that a Roman Catholic Church bears the name of a Hebrew prophet.
What we do know is that St. Malachi Church is part of a thriving parish on Washington Avenue in Cleveland’s Irishtown Bend neighborhood (what hipsters now call “Hingetown”), and that the parish recently celebrated its 150th birthday. But St. Malachi Church is nowhere close to the parish’s oldest building. That honor goes to the rectory, which was built in 1834. There’s also a St. Malachi School building, which dates to 1885. Replacing an earlier structure built in 1867, it was initially a girl’s school administered by the Ursuline Sisters. It remained a girl’s (and later co-ed) parochial school until 1968 when it merged with St. Patrick School to found Urban Community School. Lastly, there’s Malachi House, a hospice on Clinton Avenue that dates to 1910. The Washington Avenue church we see today—which includes an 18-room convent for the sisters of St. Ursula—is actually a rebuild. Erected in 1947, it replaced the original Gothic-style structure (completed in 1871) which was destroyed by fire in 1943.
Around 1865, Amadeus Rappe, Cleveland’s first bishop (installed 1847), organized St. Malachi Church to better serve Irish citizens who lived around the “Old Angle” and worked in the manufactories and warehouses that filled the Flats. Father James Molony became the church’s first pastor, serving from 1865 to 1903. Prior to construction of St. Malachi Church, much of the Irish population worshiped at St. Patrick Roman Catholic church on Whitman Avenue in Ohio City. During construction of St. Malachi, parishioners also attended St. Mary’s on the Flats (the colloquial name of the parish of Our Lady of the Lakes) at Columbus and Girard Streets near the present-day site of Rivergate Park. To this day St. Malachi remains part of the St. Patrick parish.
St. Malachi Church was formally dedicated in March 1871. It soon became known as a “port church,” because the cross on its steeple was illuminated to help guide ships on the lake. The spire that held the lighted cross was destroyed by a storm in the 1870s and never rebuilt.
The parish grew rapidly, and by the turn of the 20th century St. Malachi Church ministered to roughly 2,000 families. Then came a rapid slide, as myriad homes were constructed on Cleveland’s west side and most residents left the Flats. By 1928 church membership had fallen to 60 families. The 1935 construction of Lakeview Terrace on West 25th Street bolstered membership considerably, and by 1938 St. Malachi's membership had rebounded to 400 families.
Then came the fire. On December 23, 1943—75 years to the day from its first mass—the church went up in flames, likely the result of a boiler explosion. Church elders immediately decided to rebuild, although construction was delayed until after World War II. The new Romanesque structure, designed by George W. Stickle, was dedicated on June 29, 1947. Built of multi-color Tennessee crab-orchard stone, the church features decorative buttresses, lancet windows and a square tower complete with battlements. Rescued from the old church, the baptismal font and most of the statues were reinstalled in the new structure.
The parish’s numbers dwindled again in the 1950s and 1960s but then rebounded. By 1995 Father Anthony Schuerger was ministering to more than 1,200 families. The parish school also moved ahead—surviving a severe enrollment drop by merging with St. Patrick to form the Urban Community School in 1968, with campuses at St. Malachi and St. Patrick (by then relocated to Bridge Avenue). In 1976 the school building at St. Wendelin Church on Columbus Avenue in Tremont was incorporated into the Urban Community School, replacing St. Patrick. The St. Malachi school building served as the campus of Urban Community School until a new facility was completed in 2005 at West 48th Street and Lorain Avenue.
St. Malachi Church has always been about serving neighborhood residents. But as the near west side grew steadily poorer in the latter decades of the 20th century, St. Malachi upped its game. It instituted the Backdoor Sandwich Ministry and a Monday Night Meal program. In 1985 it converted a nearby warehouse into Malachi Center, which continues to assist the homeless, organize after-school and adult-education programs, and provide men’s and women’s support groups. And following the donation of four row houses on Clinton Avenue, Malachi House of Hope (now Malachi House) opened its doors in 1988. Since then, it has served as a final home and care facility for thousands. St. Malachi Church may no longer visible to Lake Erie sailors. But in partnership with sister parishes St. Wendelin and St. Patrick, it and its many satellite facilities remain a beacon of light.