Filed Under Religion

Our Lady of Mercy Church

"The Little Cathedral"

According to an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, when the new Our Lady of Mercy church opened in October 1949, its Slovak-American parishioners called it "The Little Cathedral on the South Side." The exterior of the small church does, in fact, bear a resemblance to St. John Cathedral in downtown Cleveland. Designed in the Romanesque style, Our Lady of Mercy is constructed with crab orchard stone— similar to what was used in the 1946-1948 reconstruction of St. John's Cathedral. Our Lady of Mercy was designed during that same time period by the same architectural firm—Stickle, Kelly and Stickle—that oversaw reconstruction of St. John Cathedral.

The history of Our Lady of Mercy parish tracks to the early twentieth century. At that time, the Tremont neighborhood, then called South Side, was home to myriad immigrants from Eastern Europe, including Poles, Ukrainians, Rusins, and Slovaks. By 1915, neighborhood Poles, Ukrainians and Rusins could worship at a neighborhood church, but Catholic Slovaks had to travel to St. Wendelin Church on Columbus Road. The trip was lengthy and potentially dangerous, especially for children, who had to cross three streetcar lines and either cross the railroad tracks or negotiate the Abbey Avenue bridge to reach St. Wendelin.

In 1915, Catholic Slovaks living in Tremont petitioned the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese to grant them a parish of their own in Tremont. Their petition was denied, leading to a brief schism within the Diocese. In 1917, a small wood-frame church was built on West 11th Street which, from 1917 to 1922 was known as St. John the Baptist. In 1922, the rift between Tremont's Slovak Catholics and the Diocese was mended, and permission was granted to worship at the small church whose name was changed to Our Lady of Mercy.

Over the next quarter century, a number of improvements—including enlargement of the sisters' house and construction of a new school building, were made by Rev. John Krispinsky, the parish's long-serving second pastor. During this era, Father Krispinsky also became active in the Tremont neighborhood—assisting at the Merrick Settlement House and supporting the 1939 Valleyview Homes public housing project. Building on the church grounds was completed in 1949 with the dedication of the "The Little Cathedral on the South Side."

In 2010, Our Lady of Mercy Church was closed as part of Bishop Lennon's parish-reorganization plan. Only a few years later, however, the three-building complex became a textbook example of adaptive reuse. Following a $5 million renovation, Our Lady of Mercy is now home to Hermes Cleveland (a sports- and events-management firm) and MCM Company (historic renovation specialists), which together purchased the three-building property from the Diocese of Cleveland. A third tenant, The Historic Preservation Group, has also signed on and others are expected soon.

Images

Our Lady of Mercy Church This small church on West 11th Street in Tremont, known as the "Little Cathedral," bears a remarkable resemblance to St. John Cathedral in downtown Cleveland. It was designed in 1948 by the same Cleveland architectural firm that designed the 1946-1948 reconstruction of the downtown Cathedral. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
The Little Cathedral Slovak-American parishioners at Our Lady of Mercy referred to their new church as the "Little Cathedral on the South Side." The new church was officially dedicated on October 9, 1949. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
A Slovak Working Class Journey This mural in Our Lady of Mercy Church on West 11th Street in Tremont tells the story of ethnic Slovaks, who in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, left their fields in central Europe to come to America. Here in America, as the mural depicts, they found work in steel mills, coal mines, and in retail businesses. Source: Slovak Institute of Cleveland
The First Our Lady of Mercy Church This white, wood-framed structure was built by its Slovak-American parishioners in 1917. The church was originally called St. John the Baptist, but the name was changed to Our Lady of Mercy in the 1920s. This church served the parish's needs until 1948 when construction on the "Little Cathedral" began. Source: Slovak Institute of Cleveland
Early Church Campus In this 1928 photograph, three of the church buildings of Our Lady of Mercy parish are shown fronting on West 11th Street, right across the street from Lincoln Park. From left to right are the church, the rectory, and the convent. Source: Slovak Institute of Cleveland
Our Lady of Mercy School Shown in this photograph is Our Lady of Mercy parochial school, built in 1926. The school was located at 2423 West 11th Street. It closed in 1973. Source: Slovak Institute of Cleveland
Rev. John W. Krispinsky Father John Krispinsky (1895-1991) was the son of Slovak immigrants who came to America in the late 19th century. Father Krispinsky served as the second pastor of Our Lady of Mercy, ministering to the parish from 1927 until 1964. In addition to his parish duties, Father Krispinsky was active in Slovak national causes. He was a founding member of the Slovak Forum, an organization of Slovak-American professionals in Cleveland which, in the early 1930s, advocated for an investigation into whether the government of Czechoslovakia had met the conditions of the Pittsburgh Pact to ensure that Slovaks had an equal voice in the Czechoslovak government. When Father Krispinsky died in 1991, he was the oldest priest in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Source: Slovak Institute of Cleveland
Students at their Desks This photo shows a seventh grade class at Our Lady of Mercy school in the 1940s. In September 1964, nearby St. Augustine school merged with Our Lady of Mercy. Classes continued at Our Lady of Mercy until June 1973 when the school closed. Source: Slovak Institute of Cleveland
Breaking Ground Father Krispinsky, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy parish in Tremont, leads the May 1948 groundbreaking ceremony for the new church later known colloquially as the "Little Cathedral on the South Side." Source: Slovak Institute of Cleveland

Location

2425 W 11th St, Cleveland, OH 44113

Metadata

Tremont History Project and Jim Dubelko, “Our Lady of Mercy Church,” Cleveland Historical, accessed December 2, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/493.