The Diocese of Cleveland will mark the 170th anniversary of its establishment at the noon Mass on April 24 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Cleveland.
When the diocese was established by Pope Pius IX in a papal bull issued on April 23, 1847, the city of Cleveland was only 51 years old. Ohio had become a state just 44 years earlier, in 1803, and James Polk was serving as the country’s 11th president.
At that time, the Diocese of Cincinnati, which was carved from the Diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky in 1821, served all Catholics in Ohio. It was headed by Bishop John Baptist Purcell.
Father Louis Amadeus Rappe, a priest from France, was serving as a missionary in the Toledo area when he was chosen as the first bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland. His statue — created from bronze by noted sculptor Luella Varney Serrao and dedicated in 1889 — stands outside the cathedral at Superior Avenue and East Ninth Street. Bishop Rappe selected the location, which was “in the country” at that time, for the cathedral. Construction began in 1848; dedication was on Nov. 7, 1852.
The cathedral is one of many parishes established by Bishop Rappe, who was born in France in 1801 and ordained in 1829. He arrived in the Toledo area to do missionary work about 1841. On Oct. 10, 1847, he was consecrated as a bishop and he was installed as the first bishop of Cleveland a week later, on Oct. 17.
By the time he resigned in 1870, the diocese had grown tremendously to 160 churches; 90 parish schools; a seminary; six academies for girls; seven religious institutions for men; 22 religious institutions for women; three hospitals and seven asylums. The Catholic population was 100,000, according to the diocesan statistics for 1870 that appeared in the 1871 Catholic Directory.
Bishop Rappe spent the rest of his life ministering in Vermont, where he died in 1877. He is buried in a crypt in St. John’s Cathedral here. Many of his papers and other artifacts from the early days of the diocese – including a chalice used by Bishop Rappe – are stored in the diocesan archives.
In the ensuing 170 years, the diocese has grown to become the 23rd largest diocese in the country with 677,219 Catholics in eight counties. The dioceses of Toledo and Youngtown were established from the Cleveland diocese in 1910 and 1943, respectively. The Cleveland diocese has 185 parishes, a pastoral center, a mission in El Salvador, 250 diocesan priests in active ministry, 79 religious order priests, 144 diocesan deacons in active ministry, more than 1,000 religious women and brothers, 324 lay ecclesial ministers and the largest school system in Ohio, with 90 elementary schools, 20 high schools and 67 prekindergarten programs for a student population of 43,159. Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland, is one of the largest comprehensive health and human services organizations in the region. It delivers more than 150 services at 60 locations to more than 400,000 individuals annually.
A search is under way for a new bishop, since Bishop Richard Lennon, the 10th bishop, retired in December 2016 because of ongoing health challenges. Toledo Bishop Daniel Thomas is the apostolic administrator of the diocese until the new bishop is installed.