Filed Under Religion

Saint Stephen Roman Catholic Church

St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church, located on West 54th Street near Lorain Avenue, is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful interiors in Cleveland. Included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, its spacious inside is adorned with intricately carved alters and statuary, stained glass windows, and ecclesiastical artwork.

The highly ornate interior of St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church is a reflection of the German parish that funded and built the church. In 1860, residents of German descent constituted one third of Cleveland's population. They remained the largest ethnic group settling in the city until the mid 1890s. While many of Cleveland's German inhabitants arrived from within the United States, other Germans immigrated from their homeland for reasons including religious persecution, political unrest, and economic depression. Many were professionals and skilled craftsmen, and Cleveland's German population quickly became one of the most influential and prosperous ethnic groups.

The parish was founded in 1869 in response to the growing German population on Cleveland's West Side. St. Stephen's was the daughter church of St. Mary's of the Assumption of Mary Church on West 30th Street, and was organized to serve the German-speaking residents west of West 44th Street. A two-story building was constructed in 1869 that housed both a school and church. The parish continued to grow, and the cornerstone for a new St. Stephen church was laid in 1873.   Initially delayed due to the Panic of 1873 and the economic depression that followed, finances to resume construction on the church were in part gathered by the mortgaging of personal properties by parishioners. The present church was completed and consecrated in 1881.  

By the turn of the century, St. Stephen's was home to the largest number of German Catholics in Cleveland.   To meet the educational needs of the growing parish and surrounding German community, a new brick school house was opened in 1897 and construction of a high school was completed in 1916. Enrollment in schools continued to increase through the mid century, and a ten-room addition to the original school was completed in 1952.

St. Stephen's, like many other urban Catholic churches in Cleveland, found itself facing a shrinking congregation and declining enrollment in its schools throughout the second half of the 20th century. Due to a combination of the pressures for Germans to assimilate following the World Wars and the general exodus of more prosperous residents from the area, much of the German and Catholic population disappeared from the surrounding neighborhood.   The high school was consolidated with Lourdes Academy in 1970 to form Lourdes-St.Stephen's High School for girls, which merged with St. Peter's High School the following year to become Erieview Catholic High School for girls. The elementary school was consolidated with St. Michael's and St. Boniface to form Metro Catholic Parish School in 1988.   While maintaining a variety of organizations and societies associated with German heritage, St. Stephen's expanded its ministry to be inclusive of new Catholic settlers in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood; in 1970, the church became the headquarters for a Hispanic ministry. Masses are still held in German the first Sunday of every month.

Audio

The Interior of St. Stephen Roman Cathholic Church Fr. Michael Franz describes the interior of the church. He features descriptions of the the stained glass windows, hand carved wood furnishings, and the Johnson-Holdcamp pipe organ. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Tornado Damage, 1953 Fr. Michael Franz, pastor of St. Stephen Church, describes the storm damage incurred in 1953. Roof and window damage led to restoration and the installation of newly acquired windows from another Cleveland German church. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

St. Stephen Tower The St Stepehn church tower dominates the main entrance from West 58th Street. Source: Image provided by The Center for Public History and Digital Humanities, Cleveland State University. Date: 2011
Saint Stephen Illustrated With Steeple, Ca. 1890 In 1907, St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church was embellished with an imposing Gothic-style square bell tower.  Original plans for the church included a large steeple, but such structures were prohibited at the time of its construction.  The cost of the tower addition was estimated at $18,000.00. Source: Photograph courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections. Date: 1890
Stained Glass: Christ at the Marriage Feast at Cana. In 1906, the original stained glass windows found in St. Stephen were replaced by cathedral style windows depicting narratives from the bible as well as Christian figures and symbols.  Imported from Munich, Germany, these were commissioned through the Bavarian Institute of Art and created by Mayor Studios at a cost of $13,500.00.  A dozen of the windows were damaged by a tornado in 1953, many of which were soon-after refashioned employing the services of the same German studio.  Three windows completely destroyed by the storm were replaced in 1993 with stained glass removed from St. Joseph's church on E. 23rd Street and Woodland Avenue prior to its demolition.   Source: Photograph courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections.
The High Altar at St. Stephen Church Germans were among the first settlers in what is now known as the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, with an ethnic community being formed as early as the 1840s.  This community built Saint Stephen's as a symbol of their prosperity and strength.  Even as the effects of assimilation and suburbanization resulted in the disappearance of the German community following World War II, the monumental and elegant interior of the church remains a reminder of the neighborhood's earliest residents. With nearly every piece of wooden craftsmanship in the church having been prepared in Germany, it is no surprise that the statuary displays Germanic physical characteristics - the most noticeable being the blond-haired representations of Mary. Source: Photograph courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections Date: January 12, 1987
St Joseph's Altar, St. Stephen Church The statues, pulpit, alters, shrines, and stations of the cross were all handcrafted in Munich, Germany, and imported in 1893.  The oak statues were unique for the time period, as statuary from the second half of the 19th century was generally cast in molds and made from plaster. Source: Photograph courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections Date: January 12, 1987
St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church, Exterior Constructed of Amherst stone in a cruciform shape, the church's decorative buttresses, pointed arches, and vaulted aisles reflect the High Victorian Gothic style popular in the United States between 1860 and 1890.  The church was designed by the architectural firm Cudell and Richardson, one of he most innovative and important firms in Cleveland during the last quarter of the 19th century.  The firm designed a series of Cleveland churches in this Gothic style, as well as a variety of residential, commercial, and institutional buildings. Source: Photograph courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections.
Interior of St. Stephen Roman Catholic Shurch Prior to its installation at St. Stephen's, the free standing oak pulpit (on left) was officially recognized during the 1893 Columbian Exposition In Chicago, Illinois. The pulpit and canopy extend more than twenty five feet from the ground. Source: Photograph courtesy of Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization. Date: January, 1987

Location

1930 W 54th St, Cleveland, OH 44102

Metadata

Richard Raponi, “Saint Stephen Roman Catholic Church,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 28, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/649.