A parish is resilient and adaptable, Bishop Nelson Perez said on Oct. 6 as he began the liturgy celebrating the 145th anniversary of St. Mary Parish in Lorain. St. Mary’s is the oldest Catholic parish in the city.
It is the nature of the Church to adapt to the world around it, the bishop said, noting that the parish and the Church are not the same as they were 145 years ago when St. Mary’s was established.
Just as doctors used to make house calls, so did the early priests, including Father Louis Molon, when he visited Catholic families in Black River Township. Those visits evolved into Mass being celebrated in homes and eventually led to the building of St. Mary’s in 1879. As the city began to grow, so did the number of churches, which were built in areas based on ethnicity or territory. St. Mary’s continued to grow and in 1924, St. Mary Academy and a convent were opened. St. Mary High School closed in 1969 when Lorain Catholic High School was built.
A fire burned the original church and then, as many Lorain residents remember, the tornado of 1924 hit and once again, the church was destroyed. After celebrating Mass in the school gym for the next seven years, the church was rebuilt and dedicated in June 1931.
In 2009, the Diocese of Cleveland announced that St. Mary’s would merge with Holy Trinity and form a new parish with a new name. However, the Vatican later ruled that St. Mary’s would remain and the church could keep its name.
Bishop Perez, who familiarized himself with the parish history, told the congregation, “145 years ago, Irish immigrants landed here (in Lorain) and built this church because they had a dream. Each generation has handed something down to the next. Now you are tasked to go and hand your love of Christ on to the next generation and pay it forward.”
The parishioners subscribe to that because St. Mary’s is well known for its commitment to social justice and service in the community. At least 90 volunteers serve meals and the parish has a monthly choice food pantry. At least 200-300 people are served the fourth Monday of each month. Their work led to the opening of the St. Joseph Overnight Shelter, which expanded to become the St. Elizabeth Center of Catholic Charities on Caroline Avenue in Lorain.
In keeping with the Irish traditions of the parish, bagpipes led the celebrants into and out of the church. They quipped that the recessional song was “Wearing of the Green,” since that was the color of the vestments worn by celebrants Father Dan Divis, the pastor, and Bishop Perez, as well as, Deacon Luis Maldonado.
Parishioners had a chance to meet and take photos with the bishop during a reception after Mass.