Filed Under Religion

The Conversion of St. Paul Shrine

"A Church Without Boundaries"

The Episcopal congregation of St. Paul's in Cleveland made its third stop on its eastbound journey at the southeast corner of Case Avenue (East 40th Street) and Euclid Avenue in 1876. Founded in 1846 at the American House Hotel at Superior Avenue and West 6th Street, St. Paul's held services in rented rooms until it completed a frame church at Sheriff (East 4th Street) and Euclid Avenue. In 1851 St. Paul's built a brick Gothic church on the same site that served the congregation until 1876, when prominent members convinced church officials to build on the site further east on Euclid Avenue in the middle of Millionaires' Row.

The new Victorian Gothic structure was designed by architect Gordon Lloyd of Detroit and built by Andrew Dall of Cleveland. Berea sandstone was used to complete the cruciform plan with a 120-foot bell tower complete with exaggerated turrets and pinnacles. The interior features decorative wood trusses in an inverted ship's keel style and Tiffany stained-glass windows. Neighbors' homes at the intersection included John D. Rockefeller on the southwest corner and Jeptha H. Wade and Sylvester T. Everett on the north side of Euclid.

The first service in the new St. Paul's was held on Christmas Eve, 1876, where the city's aristocracy would come to worship. Notable socially prominent patron services were routine at St. Paul's including weddings and the funeral of Marcus Hanna attended by President Theodore Roosevelt. St. Paul's tower bell tolled to summon Cleveland's nabobs to services but the sound proved too much for some neighbors. "Some arrangement was made," wrote reporter S. J. Kelly of the Plain Dealer, in which an annual $100 contribution to the church would silence the bell for more than 15 years. In 1902, an enthusiastic bridegroom handed the janitor five dollars and the bell pealed thereafter!

The church served the congregation for 52 years until it moved again eastward to Cleveland Heights. St. Paul's sold its magnificent building to the Cleveland Catholic Diocese which re-dedicated it as the Shrine of the Conversion of St. Paul on October 2, 1931. In 1932 a convent was built on the grounds and Cleveland Bishop Joseph Schrembs invited the Franciscan Order of the Poor Clare nuns, a group that had come to Cleveland about a decade before from Austria, to establish the devotion of Perpetual Adoration and to "pray for the needs of the city" at St. Paul, a devotion which continues today. The millionaire neighborhood dissolved in the 1930s and St. Paul Shrine assumed various ministries during its ensuing 85 years as a Catholic institution.

The neighborhood surrounding the former Millionaires' Row was heavily populated during and after World War II, and the Shrine drew many worshipers to its services. In 1949, the Diocese declared St. Paul a parish to serve the community north and south of Euclid Avenue. In the early 1950s, many Puerto Rican migrants arriving in Cleveland were drawn to St. Paul's by Fr. Thomas Sebian, a Spanish-speaking priest in residence there. Along with Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Hough, St. Paul Shrine contributed to the expansion of the Puerto Rican community on the East Side before many Puerto Ricans re-centered on the Near West Side in the 1960s. The St. Paul Shrine congregation peaked in 1978 with more than 700 members, who represented a diversity of people. Continued change in the neighborhood brought varied worshipers while St Paul's maintained its vibrancy as a "way station for shorter term parishioners" and a place for those struggling with addictions or homelessness. St. Paul's welcomed the gay community and other marginalized communities to its services, leading one close observer to liken it to the "Island of Misfit Toys."

The Shrine of the Conversion of St. Paul was decommissioned as a parish in 2008 yet remains a Shrine for Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a destination for faithful from around the city and the world. In fact, some of its nuns, trained through St. Paul's missions to India, are now cloistered at St. Paul's. The Shrine of the Conversion of St. Paul remains an anchor on Euclid Avenue drawing worshipers from millionaires to the homeless.

Audio

Features of the Church of the Conversion of St. Paul Fr. Phillip Bernier, former pastor of the parish at St. Paul Shrine, describes features of the church building. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection Date: August 9, 2007
The Invitation of Cloistered Poor Clare Sisters Fr. Phillip Bernier tells of Bishop Schrembs' invitation of the Poor Clare sisters to come to Cleveland from thier home in Austria to serve the community in perpetual adoration. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection Date: August 9, 2007
The Stained-glass Windows Many of the windows in St. Paul Shrine are replacements of former Tiffany glass. Fr. Phillip Bernier tells of these more vivid windows designed by the Zettler studio in Munich. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection Date: August 9, 2007
The Congregation of St. Paul St. Paul served various and diverse communities over the years as a Catholic parish. Fr. Phillip Bernier describes its vibrancy on Euclid and East 40th. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection Date: August 9, 2007

Images

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, ca. 1915 Into the early twentieth century, St. Paul's stood amid the leafy verdure of Cleveland's "Millionaires' Row." Over the ensuing decades, however, commercial, industrial, and multifamily residential structures replaced many of Euclid Avenue's grand estates, and by the late 1920s, St. Paul's Episcopal congregation followed the city's departing bluebloods into the Heights. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
St. Paul's Shrine This image shows the church and the rectory on the left. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
The St. Paul's Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament, ca. 1930s This postcard view shows St. Paul's soon after it changed from Episcopalian to Catholic. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
The Main Altar of St. Paul Shrine The main altar at St. Paul Shrine was installed when the Cleveland Catholic Diocese purchased and consecrated the church in October 1931. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Courtyard of the Franciscan Sisters, ca. 1930s The Poor Clare nuns are in residence on the grounds of the Shrine. This postcard depicts their courtyard. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
John D. Rockefeller's Home at 3920 Euclid Avenue This house, at the southwest corner of Euclid and East 40th Street was across the street from St. Paul's Church. Rockefeller spent $40,000 on its construction in 1868, two years before he formed the Standard Oil Company. The house was demolished in 1938. Source: Cleveland Public Library Digital Gallery
Episcopal Windows The original Episcopal church's windows are simpler and have a vague symbolism, in stark contrast to the Munich-style Zettler windows that were added later. Creator: J. Mark Souther Date: February 22, 2016
Purgatory Window One of St. Paul Shrine's Francis Xavier Zettler windows, this unusual window depicts the mass being said as souls in purgatory await their release to Heaven. Creator: J. Mark Souther Date: February 22, 2016
St. Paul Shrine Nave, 2016 St. Paul Shrine was beautifully restored in the early 2000s. Creator: J. Mark Souther Date: February 22, 2016

Location

4120 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, OH 44103

Metadata

Jim Lanese, “The Conversion of St. Paul Shrine,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 25, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/758.