Back in 1842, five years before the Diocese of Cleveland was established, Father Peter McLaughlin organized the earliest-known St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the city. Father McLaughlin, a proponent of temperance (abstaining from alcohol), was Cleveland’s third resident priest. The celebration began with Mass at St. Mary’s on the Flats, the only Catholic church in the city limits at that time, continued with a parade of the Catholic Temperance Society and ended with a banquet attended by family and friends.
As the United Irish Societies, an umbrella organization of Irish organizations, prepares to sponsor the 2017 parade, the day’s festivities follow the same formula: Mass, parade and a banquet. Shannon Corcoran of St. Patrick Parish in the West Park neighborhood of Cleveland, is the UIS executive director.
Margaret Lynch, executive director of the Irish American Archives Society, who is compiling a history of the parade, said the committee was preparing for what it thought would be the 150th parade this year. “But now the Irish American Archives Society is assisting the parade committee in commemorating the parade’s 175th anniversary.”
She said several years of intensive research into old newspapers and archives revealed that the public celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Cleveland “has a longer history than we once thought.” Lynch said researchers checked scanned copies of The Plain Dealer that date back to 1845, 19th century membership rosters from the Ancient Order of Hibernians that are housed at Western Reserve Historical Society, and books of minutes from a group called the Irish Literary and Benevolent Association that are part of Cleveland Public Library’s Special Collections, as well as the diocesan archives.
Margaret said William Manning, a telegraph operator, kept a diary 1867-1873 that references events in the Irish community. In 1903, he wrote a history of St. Patrick Parish on Bridge Avenue in Cleveland describing early St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. The parish was established in 1853 and served a predominantly Irish population in its early years. Also, documents from Raymond “Rip” Reilly, a longtime parade director and publicist, that are stored at WRHS provided additional information.
One thing has remained constant through the years: St. Patrick’s Day observances begin with Mass for many people.
The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, which has stood at the corner of East Ninth Street and Superior Avenue since 1852, was the location for many early St. Patrick’s Day Masses, Margaret said. Bishop Joseph Schrembs, who was appointed bishop of Cleveland in 1921, began celebrating Mass on March 17 at St. Patrick’s on Bridge every year until his health began to fail in 1942.
For many years, Margaret said the West Side Irish American Club marched as a body from its club on Cleveland’s West Side to the nearby St. Colman’s Church, then marched downtown to participate in the parade. Now that the WSIA is based in Olmsted Township, members travel by chartered buses to continue the Mass tradition at St. Colman’s before marching in the parade.
The Irish American Club East Side attends Mass as a group at SS. Robert and William Parish in Euclid before heading to the parade.
Other parishes with Irish roots also have St. Patrick’s Day Masses, including St. Patrick Parish in West Park, which celebrated its first Mass on March 17, 1848.
“For most parade participants, attendance at Mass is a strong family tradition,” Margaret said.
UIS will honor four people at the parade this year: Roger Weist, grand marshal, St. Patrick’s Parish, Bridge Avenue, Cleveland; Angela Murphy, Irish Mother of the Year, Holy Trinity Parish, Avon; John Lackey, inside co-chair, St. Christopher Parish, Rocky River; and Margaret Lynch, outside co-chair, Our Lady of Angels Parish, Cleveland. They will process into Mass which will be celebrated before heading downtown for the parade and banquet.
Maintaining their faith and heritage
More than a dozen parishes that served a predominately Irish population were established in the Diocese of Cleveland from 1837 to 1903.
Phil Haas, diocesan archivist, said Irish started arriving in Cleveland in the early 1800s, when the city was still young, to work on the canals. Others came later to escape the Potato Famine, 1845-1852. He said nationalities tended to settle in an area and would establish churches and other organizations.
According to the book “People of Faith,” a compilation of parishes and religious communities in the Diocese of Cleveland that was written for the 150th anniversary of the diocese in 1998, these are the parishes that were predominantly Irish when established, and the years they were founded.
1848 — St. Patrick (Rocky River Drive, West Park)
1853 — St. Patrick (Bridge Avenue)
1854 — Holy Name (Broadway Avenue – originally called Holy Name of Mary community, then Holy Rosary Parish before being rededicated to the Most Holy Name of Jesus in 1883)
1857 — St. Bridget (Perry Street – merged with St. Anthony Parish in 1938, purchased by the state and demolished in 1961 for the Inner Belt Freeway)
1860 — St. Augustine (West 14th and Howard streets)
1865 — St. Malachi (Washington Avenue)
1865 — Immaculate Conception (East 41st Street and Superior Avenue)
1871 — St. Columbkille (East 26th Street and Superior, closed in 1957 and demolished in 1958 for the Interbelt Freeway)
1871 — St. Edward (St. East 72nd Street and Woodland Avenue, merged with nearby Holy Trinity Parish, St. Edward’s demolished in 1976)
1880 – St. Colman (West 65th Street)
1898 — St. Thomas Aquinas (Superior Avenue and Ansel Road, closed 1993)
1903 – Blessed Sacrament (Fulton Road between Storer and Trowbridge avenues, closed in 2010)
1837 — St. Vincent de Paul (W. Market Street)
1887 – St. Mary (S. Main Street)
1873 – St. Mary (Reid Avenue and Eighth Street)
1851 – St. Patrick (North Main Street; original church in 1858 was on Hamilton Street)