Filed Under Religion

St. Wendelin Catholic Church

On July 29, 2012—nine months shy of its 110th birthday—St. Wendelin Catholic Church opened its doors. The Romanesque structure on Columbus Road had been closed since 2010, when Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon shuttered 50 area churches, citing low attendance, insufficient priests and budget problems. Parishioners of 11 of the affected churches appealed to the Vatican, which subsequently decreed that Lennon had not followed proper procedure when closing the churches. Roughly a dozen churches have subsequently been reopened. "This is a good day, wouldn't you agree?" crowed St. Wendelin’s Reverend Robert Kropac on July 29th. "Welcome home," added parishioner Jeff Koscak.

St. Wendelin Parish was established on May 3, 1903, by Bishop Ignatius F. Horstmann, with administration of parish by Father Joseph Koudelka, the pastor at St. Michael Parish. St. Wendelin was the first Slovak Roman Catholic parish on Cleveland's west side. Masses initially were said in private homes and a rented hall. On December 6, 1903, Father Koudelka celebrated St. Wendelin’s first mass in its own facility: a wood-framed church built for $14,000 on Columbus Road near West 25th Street (then called Pearl Road). On one side of the property was the Phoenix Brewery. On the other side, a saloon.

The following March, St. Wendelin welcomed its first pastor, Father J.P. Kunes, who was succeeded shortly thereafter by Father Thomas Wilk. In October, 1904, the Sisters of Notre Dame began classroom instruction. There were two schoolrooms in the convent building, staffed by two sisters who were paid $25 per month. In 1905, a new brick school building was built to accommodate the increasing enrollment. The cost of the new school was $7,570. The school grew rapidly. Before long, there were five sisters teaching the children of the parish. By 1928, the school was educating more than 1,000 students annually.

With a rapidly growing congregation and student population, the need for more land and larger facilities became dire. Parish leaders found a nearby tract of land at Columbus Road and Freeman Avenue. It was on this site that the current church and school, designed by architect William Jansen, were built in 1925. Through wise stewardship, all parish debts were paid off by 1943. The church and school structures were thoroughly renovated. The organ was modernized, the sanctuary was enlarged and new stained glass windows were installed. That same year, people could attend one of six masses weekly; 136 baptisms were performed and 33 couples were married.

By the 1960s, urban decay and new freeways were taking their toll on virtually every inner city community. The St. Wendelin parish was no exception. Membership slipped and school enrollment declined. Older neighborhoods like Tremont began to thin as parishioners moved to the suburbs. In 1976, the school operation was merged with Urban Community School, and Ursuline Sisters took over from the Sisters of Notre Dame.

Still, St. Wendelin held on. Buildings were renovated and new social activities frequently drew people from around the Cleveland area. In 2002, parish leaders declared a Year of Jubilee to mark the centennial. A 100-year-old statue of St. Wendelin was taken out of storage, repaired, and placed inside the church where a confessional once stood. The bell, which had been removed from the belfry, was reconditioned and now sits in the church building. Still, the Lennon ax descended in 2009, when 50 churches were closed over a 15-month period, including St. Wendelin in 2010.

Since St. Wendelin’s re-opening in 2012, both the neighborhood and the pews have enjoyed population increases. Accordingly, St. Wendelin announced a large property-beautification initiative in July 2015. Of particular note is a Parish Prayer Garden which will be built behind the rectory. The Garden will include a walking prayer labyrinth, benches, a bike rack, and new foliage. The Garden will be accessible to all parishioners and the greater Tremont community. Consistent with the mission of churches worldwide, things at St. Wendelin are looking up.

Images

Old Parish Hall Original St. Wendelin Church at 2281 Columbus Rd. It was built in 1903 and became the parish hall in 1925. It was razed in 1937 to make room for the present parish hall and gymnasium. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Columbus Road, north of Brevier Avenue, 1923 Looking south toward St. Wendelin's Roman Catholic Church along the east side of Columbus, north of Brevier Avenue. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1923
Monroe Avenue and West 25th Street, 1924 View from Monroe Avenue in 1924 during construction of the rail trench between Gehring Street and Columbus Road. Visible in the background is the original St. Wendelin Church on Columbus Road near West 25th Street. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: January 4, 1924
Monroe Avenue and West 25th Street, May 1, 1925 View from Monroe Avenue in early 1925 during construction of the rail trench between Gehring Street and Columbus Road. Now visible in the background are the new St. Wendelin church and school under construction. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: May 1, 1925
Monroe Avenue and West 25th Street, September 1, 1925 View from Monroe Avenue in late 1925. The exteriors of St. Wendelin church and school appear to be complete and an adjacent building has been removed.   Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: September 1, 1925
Decorations in St. Wendelin Church, 1935 Three paintings by Camillo Tango, a Cleveland artist, on the ceiling of St. Wendelin Catholic Church. The three paintings portray Saints Cyril and Methodius (left), Coronation of the Blessed Virgin in heaven (center) and Jesus ascending into heaven (right). Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1935
St. Wendelin Girls Class, 1939-1940 Front row: Helen Frankovich, Martha Terus, Elsie Bednar, Irene Grega; Back row: Mgr. Florence Abella, Josephine Kossuth, Irene Sima, Marcella Furman, Josephine Bednar, Elsi Ference. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1940
Saint Wendelin Parish House, 2015 Creator: Chris Roy Date: 2015
Saint Wendelin Catholic Church, 2015 Creator: Chris Roy Date: 2015

Location

2281 Columbus Rd., Cleveland, OH 44113

Metadata

Chris Roy, “St. Wendelin Catholic Church,” Cleveland Historical, accessed January 23, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/735.