Filed Under Religion

St. Helena Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church

Located on West 65th Street near Detroit Avenue, St. Helena Romanian Catholic Church marks the site of Cleveland's largest Romanian enclave during the early 20th century. St. Helena's was built under the guidance of Father Epaminonda S. Lucaci, the first Romanian priest to serve in the United States. Responding to requests from Cleveland's growing immigrant population, the Romanian bishop sent Father Lucaciu with instructions to organize a parish and construct a church - plans of which had been discussed within Cleveland's Romanian community since as early as 1902.

With about 2,000 Romanian immigrants, Cleveland was home to one of the largest immigrant Romanian communities in the United States during the early years of the 20th century. While the majority of Romanian immigrants were members of the Orthodox church, many belonged to the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite. Commonly referred to as "Greek Catholics", these Uniates acknowledged the role of the Pope as the head of the Catholic Church. While essentially sister churches, differences quickly arose between the two religious sects during meetings held in 1902 to discuss the founding of a Romanian church. This necessitated the construction of two separate churches. St. Mary Romanian Orthodox Church would be built on Detroit Avenue in 1908, claiming the honor of being the first Romanian Orthodox church constructed in America. Established three years prior, in 1905, St. Helena's was the first Romanian Byzantine Rite Catholic parish in America. The site was purchased on West. 65th to serve the Byzantine Rite Catholics, just blocks away from where St. Mary's would construct a church. While plans were developed and funds raised for the construction of the parish's new home, church services for St. Helena were held at St. Malachi Roman Catholic Church on West 25th Street. Taking four months to complete, St. Helena's was dedicated in 1906. This simple frame structure was the first Uniate Romanian Catholic church constructed in the western hemisphere.

Since its dedication, St. Helena Romanian Catholic Church has continued to serve Cleveland's Romanian Uniate Catholic community. The history of the structure reflects the aspirations and experiences of Cleveland's west side Romanian community. From its original minimalist design to the eventual resurfacing of the building with brick in the 1940s, changes to the structure reflect the transition of Cleveland's Romanian enclave from a transient immigrant community into a permanent settlement.

Images

St. Helena Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church, 1910 The church's simple design and lack of ornamentation was a reflection of the ambitions of Cleveland's Romanian population. Money was to be saved and sent back home, and there was no need to create a monumental structure that signified the success or prominence of its membership. Photograph courtesy of Cleveland Public Library, Stanley L. McMichael Collection
St. Helena's After Modernization, 1966 In 1965, St. Helena's was updated to give the structure a more modern appearance. Maintaining its general form from renovations completed prior to World War II, changes were made to the design of the steeple and the West 65th Street main entrance. This modernization was reflective of an invigorated sense of importance placed on the role of religion in the Romanian community. Following World War II, Cleveland witnessed the arrival of approximately 2,000 displaced political refugees from the newly formed Romanian People's Republic. These new immigrants to America, along with a strong anti-communist faction of the Romanian community in America, developed organizations to protest communist rule of their homeland, aid refugees, and provide relief to those still living in Romania. These organizations often were associated with or directly tied to Romanian religious communities. Photograph courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections
Romanian Boarding House Prior to World War I, the immigrant Romanian population in Cleveland was primarily male. With plans of saving money to return to their homeland or send back to their families, many Romanian immigrants lived in boarding houses located between West 65th Street, West 69th Street, Herman Avenue, and Tillman Avenue. These boarding houses would sometimes accommodate as many as 20-30 people, with up to 10 men in a room. Photograph courtesy of Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization
Folk Dancing in Edgewater Park Pictured above are traditional Romanian peasant costumes being worn for a folk dancing performance at Edgewater Park. Similar costumes were commonly worn by Romanian Americans on special occasions such as ethnic festivals and holidays. Such displays took on additional significance once permanent settlements were developed in Cleveland following World War I. Choreographed dances and intricately designed costumes were used by Romanians Americans, and other immigrant groups throughout the United States, as a method of preserving their ethnicity, culture, and traditions. Photograph courtesy of Cleveland Public Library
St. Helena's Exterior, 1958 Shortly before World War II, St. Helena's was resurfaced with brick and expanded. While the building maintained the original design and character of the wooden structure, the brick church was a symbol of the Romanian neighborhood's transition from a transient to a permanent settlement following World War I. Although the community decreased in size, the Romanian enclave stabilized and became rooted in Cleveland's West Side - as reflected through the development of structures such as a community bank, homes, and a brick church that could stand the test of time. Photograph courtesy of the Cleveland Public Library
St. Helena, 1906 Nearly 1,500 Romanians from Cleveland and surrounding communities attended the dedication of St. Helena's church on October 21, 1906. Reverend Boehm, pastor of the predominately Hungarian St. Elizabeth's church, gave the dedicatory address. St. Helena's congregation consisted of about 500 members. Photograph courtesy of Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization

Location

1367 W 65th St Cleveland, OH 44102

Metadata

Richard Raponi, “St. Helena Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church,” Cleveland Historical, accessed January 16, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/207.