Filed Under Architecture

St. Colman Catholic Church

St. Colman Catholic Church, located on W. 65th Street near Lorain Avenue, was founded in 1880 as a response to the rapidly growing Irish immigrant population on Cleveland's West Side. Father Eugene M. O'Callaghan, former pastor of the predominately Irish St. Patrick's Catholic Church, held the first mass in a rented home off of Gordon Street (W 65th Street). Later that year, the first church was constructed on Gordon Street and the home was converted into St. Colman School. With over 1,000 worshipers in 1883, the church was expanding in both its size and the role it played within the surrounding community. A new school was built on Gordon Street in 1885, and a convent was constructed for the Sisters of St. Joseph to begin their residency the following year. By 1904, a larger 3 level schoolhouse opened that included a 1,000 seat auditorium in the basement.

Taking four years to construct, St. Colman Catholic Church opened its doors in 1918. The classical style structure could accommodate 2,800 people. St. Colman continued to expand, with a convent added in 1921, and both a second school and rectory constructed in 1930. The Church continued to act as the centerpiece of the neighborhood's Irish community until the middle of the century.

The West Side Irish community remained stable until the end of World War II. Soon after, however, the community dissolved as a result of the general exodus of Cleveland residents away from the urban core. In this changing environment, St. Colman Church evolved to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse and less prosperous community. With the 1904 school being closed and demolished in 1974, St. Colman opened one of the West Side's first preschools in its 1930 school building. Additionally, the church expanded its role ministering and providing social services to the outlying neighborhood through the development of a recovery program, literacy projects, an outreach ministry, and HUD supported housing for senior citizens.

In an effort to downsize the Cleveland Catholic Diocese, Bishop Richard Lennon announced that St. Colman would merge with St. Stephen in March 2009. This order led to local grassroots efforts by the community to have Lennon reconsider his decision. Rev. Bob Begin visited Lennon on two occasions to make the case for St. Colman. A flurry of appeal letters were sent to Lennon, arguing that the parishes’ social services had a tremendous impact on the urban poor, and that the church was financially stable. The works done by both Begin and St. Colman’s parishioners convinced Lennon to keep the church open.

However, not every church was spared closure. St. Emeric church closed on June 30th, 2010, leaving hundreds without a parish. Enter St. Colman; Rev. Begin collaborated with St. Emeric’s parishioner Eva Szabo, to hold monthly masses at St. Colman. Begin started learning Magyer, a Hungarian language, in order to prepare for St. Emeric’s churchgoers. He told the Plain Dealer, “I’ll learn to speak Hungarian enough to do the prayers.” The masses continued while Szabo and others continued to fight for their parish.

When Rev. Begin turned 75, he had to retire under church law. St. Colman’s parishioners disagreed, wishing for Begin to stay longer. In their efforts, they submitted over 3,000 signatures and letters to Lennon to change his mind about Begin’s retirement. Lennon listened and offered Begin to work for one more year, to which Begin accepted. Begin officially retired in 2014, but continued to help and assist the church and those in need.

Audio

Father O'Leary's Legacy Sister Ann Kilbane describes how Father O'Leary's reaction to prejudice against the Irish community helped create something beautiful. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
St. Colman's Ethnic Heritage Sister Ann Kilbane briefly describes the history of the Detroit Shoreway's Irish community. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

View From Intersection at W. 65th and Lorain Avenue Staking the church's presence throughout the surrounding neighborhood, twin 130 foot bell towers extend from a two-story central pavilion. Photograph courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections
St. Colman Interior, 1928 St. Colman was designed as a symbol of pride for Cleveland's West Side Irish community. Beyond Father O'Leary's costly decision to use all real materials for the church (no composites or false finishes), he also employed Irish craftsmen to show the quality of work that could come out of Ireland. Having traveled to Rome in order to choose marble for use in the church's interior, materials were then shipped to Ireland. The altars, communion rail, pulpit, and Stations of the Cross were completed in Dublin under his direction. Despite this attention to detail in the craftsmanship and materials used, no debt had been accrued by the church upon the building's completion. Photograph courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections
St. Patrick's Day March from Madison Avenue to St. Colman Church, 1980 Among the first inhabitants of what is now considered the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood were the Irish. Initially, the Irish population in Cleveland was relatively small in comparison to its total population. With the advent of the potato famine in the middle of the 19th century, this changed drastically. By 1870, the Irish made up 10% of Cleveland's total population. Attracted by factory and dock work, Irish enclaves were developed around the east and west bank of the Cuyahoga River, and along Detroit Avenue. Another Irish community settled between W. 45th Street and W. 65th Street; St. Colman Church was a focal point of this community. St. Colman would remain a stronghold of the West Side's Irish community until its gradual dissolution following World War II. While the church continues to act as a symbol of Irish origins in Cleveland, the postwar history of the parish reflects the organization's continued service to the surrounding community. Photograph courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections
St. Colman School, 1954 Although Catholic schools can be traced back to America's colonial origins, they would not come into prominence until the late 19th century. The development of Catholic schools was, in part, a reaction by ethnically and religiously defined communities to anti-Catholic/racial bigotry and a public school system that espoused a Protestant world view. More so, the creation of parochial Catholic schools was an extension of the neighborhood church's role in providing services to America's rapidly growing Catholic, ethnic population. As the children of the working immigrant poor were more likely integrated into the labor force rather than attend school, these early Catholic schools primarily served the needs of America's growing Catholic middle class. As Catholic ethnic communities became increasingly prosperous and assimilated into mainstream society, the popularity of Catholic schools boomed. Attendance reached its peak in the mid 1960s, with over 5.5 million students in Catholic schools. Since then, the popularity of Catholic schools (and their respective parishes) has steadily declined as the Catholic immigrant communities dissolved and moved away from the core of cities. Urban Catholic schools increasingly became surrounded by non-Catholic and, often, economically disadvantaged communities. Enrollment numbers dropped to nearly half by 2009. Similarly, St. Colman School served the neighborhood's ethnic community. In 1920, St. Colman School was the largest Catholic school in the Cleveland Diocese. Of approximately 1,100 students enrolled in 1927, nearly 700 were of Irish descent. As the Irish community moved away, a less affluent Appalachian population settled in the school's vicinity. Enrollment dropped, and the school was closed in 1974 due to a lack of students. Photograph courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections
Rear Exterior of St. Colman Church The construction of St. Colman's Catholic Church was headed by Rev. James O'Leary, the parish's second pastor. Reflective of a time when Cleveland's Irish community was increasingly becoming assimilated into mainstream society while still battling anti-Irish sentiment, the monumental building was designed to act as a symbol of the community's strength and sophistication. With plans for the church being developed as early as 1905, the choice of its classical style drew from the influence of Cleveland's Group Plan and the progressive-era ideals that found architectural representation in the City Beautiful movement. Many of the building's Italian Renaissance features were initially developed by Count Lenore of Rome. The details of the church, however, were eventually transcribed into working plans by Cleveland architects E. Schneider and E. J. Potter - both of whom specialized in church architecture. Photograph courtesy of Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization
St. Colman Central Pavilion With the Cleveland Catholic Diocese facing a decrease in parishioners and available funds, it was announced in 2009 by Cleveland's Bishop that St. Colman's would be one of many churches to close as part of a reconfiguration plan. Father Robert Begin, the pastor of St. Colman's, publicly denounced the decision, filed an official appeal with the Church, and led a grassroots campaign to fight the Diocese's order. Begin succeeded in his efforts to save the parish by convincing representatives of the Diocese that the church was both financially stable and played a critical role in providing social services to the surrounding neighborhood. Photograph courtesy of the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization.

Location

2027 W 65th St, Cleveland, OH 44102

Metadata

Richard Raponi and Katherine Gerchak, “St. Colman Catholic Church,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 29, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/185.