Father Albert A. Koklowsky

Hough’s “Slum Priest” and His Parish

In the wake of the Civil Rights movement, the Hough Riots broke out in Cleveland in 1966, bringing attention to the predominantly African American community’s need for change. Growing racial tension between blacks and whites crippled Hough, like similar racially transitioning neighborhoods in many cities in the 1960s. Father Albert A. Koklowsky, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, heard the plea for reform.

Father Koklowsky was born in Clifton, New Jersey, and attended St. Joseph’s Preparatory Seminary in Holy Trinity, Alabama, in 1929. He was ordained in the Order of Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity in 1944. Father Koklowsky worked at parishes in North Carolina (1946), Mississippi (1953-1958), and Puerto Rico (1958) prior to being transferred to Our Lady of Fatima.

Our Lady of Fatima Church was founded in 1949 and was built where the former League Park movie theater stood across Lexington Avenue from League Park. The first pastor to serve the church was Rev. Raymond Smith. In 1958, the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity took charge of Our Lady of Fatima Parish. Father Koklowsky was transferred to Our Lady of Fatima Parish in 1963 to serve the members of the growing Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican population that St. Agnes Church was not able to serve. The two parishes later merged to form St. Agnes–Our Lady of Fatima.

Father Koklowsky’s goal for the Hough community was to help rehabilitate housing and assist African Americans with job training and placement. Sister Henrietta Gorris C.S.A. and several nuns from the Sisters of Charity assisted Father Koklowsky. They began their work in Hough by educating the residents with techniques on how to keep their houses and themselves clean. They later began to work on housing projects on Lexington Avenue.

The first renovation that Father Koklowsky worked on was an apartment complex attached to Our Lady of Fatima’s rectory. Father Koklowsky turned the apartment complex into a convent and community center. This project would provide new housing for Sister Henrietta and three other nuns belonging to the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. He would later refurbish housing on Lexington Avenue for members of the community. These residents would pay rent to HOPE Inc.

Father Koklowsky started HOPE Inc. in 1965, a private non-profit developed for projects that the city of Cleveland was unable to assist. Father Koklowsky’s weekly column in the Catholic Universe Bulletin provided the goals and visions he had for Hough to be achieved through HOPE Inc. This column was entitled “a voice from the slums” and would feature the story of a different person in the community each week. The readers of the column learned how they could help those who lived in Hough.

The column readers assisted Father Koklowsky and Our Lady of Fatima by donating and raising funds to restore houses or initiate public programs. The parish also utilized the publicity generated through the Plain Dealer to gain funds and create connections with contractors and lawyers, who donated their time to assist Father Koklowsky and Our Lady of Fatima with their project.

Father Koklowsky was transferred to Sacred Heart Chapel in Lorain, Ohio, on September 1, 1969. He left behind the foundations of housing rehabilitation through his private non-profit HOPE Inc., which was underfunded. HOPE Inc. clung to life until the 1980s when it faded into obscurity, but was far from completing its task of revitalizing Hough.

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6800 Lexington Ave., Cleveland, OH 44103