In the 1880s, Polish immigrants began settling in Tremont. Many of these new arrivals found work in the booming steel mills just down the hill in Cleveland’s industrial Flats. They frequently referred to their new neighborhood as Kantowo, a village in northern Poland that, before 1945, was part of Germany. By the late 19th Century, two other heavily Polish neighborhoods also existed in Cleveland: Warszawa (now known as Slavic Village) and Poznan (the area around East 79th Street and Superior Avenue).
Tremont’s new Polish residents established St. John Cantius Catholic Church in 1898, with services held initially in a refurbished streetcar barn at Professor Street and College Avenue. The rear portion of the structure was used as a school and residence for the pastors and the sisters of Saint Joseph. New structures—a combination church and school along with a separate parish house and convent—were erected in 1913. The current church, designed by architects Gabele & Potter, in what is often called the Polish Cathedral Style, was erected on the same site in 1925. The church’s namesake is Saint John Cantius (1390–1473), a Polish priest, scholar, philosopher, physicist and theologian, who was named patron of Poland and Lithuania in 1737, and canonized 1767 by Pope Clement XIII. Along with many other Cleveland churches (including Tremont’s Saint Augustine, Annunciation and Saint Michael), St. John Cantius shares a “mother church,” Saint Patrick’s, which was founded in Ohio City in 1853, six years after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland was established.
By 1908, the St. John Cantius congregation had grown to 400 families. Although today’s group is somewhat smaller, the church remains vibrant, celebrating masses daily in several languages. Other landmarks of the Polish community in Tremont (e.g., the Polish Library Home and the Polish Daily News) have disappeared. However, visitors and residents still enjoy hearty Polish meals at nearby Sokolowski's University Inn, which will celebrate its centenary in 2023. Saint John Cantius Church also is the site of Tremont’s Polish Festival, held each Labor Day weekend.