The Slovenian community celebrated the 125th anniversary of St. Vitus Church in Cleveland with a Mass and dinner on Sept. 30. It was the first American-Slovenian Roman Catholic parish founded in the state and in the Diocese of Cleveland. St. Vitus is at 6019 Lausche Ave., in what for many years was a predominately Slovenian neighborhood.
Bishop Nelson Perez was the main celebrant and homilist at the 11 a.m. liturgy. Father Joseph Boznar, pastor, was concelebrant and Deacon Robert Kovach Jr. assisted.
Members of the clergy, altar servers, Knights of Columbus, Holy Name Society, parish organizations and representatives and members of the Slovenian community -- in nationality dress -- gathered at the nearby St. Vitus Village senior citizen apartment complex before lining up on Lausche to walk to the church.
Parish representatives greeted the bishop in Slovenian and English and presented him with a bouquet of red flowers before Mass began. Readings, the Universal Prayer and songs also were in both languages.
In his homily, the bishop asked each member of the congregation to turn to his or her neighbor and wish them a happy birthday for the parish. He noted that Father Boznar, who is the sixth pastor of St. Vitus, has been at the parish for 46 years. ?I was in fourth grade when he became pastor,? Bishop Perez said. ?And I never imagined back then that I?d be the bishop of Cleveland and would be celebrating Mass for the 125th anniversary of a Slovenian parish in Cleveland,? he quipped.
He offered congratulations to the parish, which has persevered and grown since its establishment by a young priest from Slovenia. He talked about the importance of nurturing both faith and culture. ?People brought their culture and their faith with them when they immigrated,? he said.
Bishop Perez also talked about how Jesus told his disciples to go and spread the Gospel to the world. ?They didn?t get a manual. They were just told to go and preach. And that word eventually reached the Slovenian people and touched their hearts. It was transferred from them and eventually reached here,? he said. ?And then a young priest was told by his bishop to build a church,? the bishop said, referring to the roots of St. Vitus Parish.
He asked members of the congregation how many had been in the parish for 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70 years, expressing amazement at the length of time for some. ?How about 80 years?? he asked, as a few hands popped up. ?Really,? he remarked. ?Anyone here 90 years?? he asked. As a couple of people raised their hands, ?Wow,? he said.
?Each generation had its moments of discord, then resolution, and all of it helped to make this church a special place. It didn?t just happen because of the priests. Pastors come and go. It was the people of this parish working together with the pastor and continuing to hand the faith on to the next generation