Current and former parishioners, families and friends jammed into St. Jerome Church, 15000 Lake Shore Blvd., in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood, to celebrate the parish’s 100th anniversary. The parish’s tagline is “The Beacon on the Boulevard.”
Festivities began with Mass at 10 a.m. on July 21, with Bishop Nelson Perez as the celebrant. Concelebrants were Father William Jerse, St. Jerome’s pastor since 2015, and previous pastors Father Thomas Haren, who served 1992-2005 and is the current pastor of St. Monica Parish in Garfield Heights, and Father Francis Walsh, retired, who was St. Jerome’s pastor 1976-1992.
Assisting were Deacon Peter Travalik, who has been assigned to St. Jerome’s since 1993; Deacon Robert Kovach and Deacon David Kushner. Deacon Bruce Battista was master of ceremonies.
It was standing-room-only in the church as the Knights of St. John provided an honor guard for the clergy. Representatives of parish organizations, including parish council, Altar and Rosary Society, Holy Name Society, Respect for Life, finance council, the choir and the longest-tenured parishioner, as well as school representatives, participated in the liturgy. Some did readings, some recited the Universal Prayer and others brought forth the offertory gifts.
Bishop Perez said he learned that the parish originally had Mass in a large tent before the first church building was completed. One woman who has belonged to the parish for 91 years said she recalled the first church building, which was wood and was dedicated in 1920.
“How many of you were baptized here?” the bishop asked, as hands popped up throughout the church. “How about those who made their first Communion here and who were confirmed here?” Dozens more hands were raised.
“This is a place to encounter the living Christ. It’s not a club – it’s a place of encounter,” he told the congregation. Referring to the day’s Gospel, which was the story of Mary and Martha, the bishop said Jesus visited their house and Martha was upset with her sister for not helping to serve the guests. Instead, she sat and listened to Jesus speak. When Martha asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her, Jesus refused.
“I’m sure there are people here today who are upset about something -- like Martha was -- who have no peace. But as Jesus told Martha, ‘your sister has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her,’” the bishop said.
He reminded the congregation that things -- including people -- come and go. “But what really matters is our intimacy with Jesus Christ,” he said. “This parish community is a house of God is a place to recognize who I am and who God is in my life.”
One hundred years ago, Bishop Perez said a group of people gathered under a tent. A short time later, they moved to a wooden church and handed things to the next generation. “They knew they needed something more stable, and this happened,” the bishop said, gesturing around the church building. “And they handed it on to you to make sure you’d have a place to gather at the feet of Christ like Mary did.”
He also reminded the parishioners that pastors come and go. “I’ve been a priest for 30 years and I’m in my third diocese,” he said. “Father Jerse is with you now; Father Haren was here and left and Father Walsh was here, then he left and now he’s back living here. We all come and go,” he said, but God’s presence in the parish is a continuing thing – it’s the environment for hearing God’s word.
The bishop also shared some of Pope Francis’ thoughts on a parish, telling the congregation that “a parish is the most immediate expression of the Church in a given area.” He also said according to the Holy Father, the Church lives in the midst of the homes of its sons and daughters. “It’s where people are trained for evangelism and where the thirsty come to drink of their faith. That’s your parish. That’s St. Jerome,” he said.
About 450 people attended a sold-out centennial gala luncheon at the nearby Irish American Club East Side after Mass. Attendees perused memorabilia, including class photos, yearbooks and photo montages while others had impromptu reunions with former classmates.
“This is a wonderful parish,” said one St. Jerome alumna, as she scanned class photos. “It was a great neighborhood to grow up in, a wonderful school and parish. I couldn’t have asked for a better place.”
Brian Travalik, a 1988 St. Jerome School graduate, produced a short video sharing the story of the parish’s first 100 years, including reflections from parishioners, staff members, pastors and others. The Marianists were thanked for their contributions to the parish, as well as the Ursuline sisters, who ministered at the school for nearly 100 years.
Cleveland Ward 8 Councilman Mike Polensek, a member of nearby St. Mary Parish in Collinwood, presented a proclamation congratulating the parish on its centennial.
“We are blessed to have four great priests leading four parishes in Northeast Cleveland who work together as a team,” Polensek said. Holy Redeemer and St. Casimir parishes are the other two Collinwood-area parishes.
St. Jerome’s got its start when a few laymen requested that a new church be built for the 125 families in North Collinwood. After World War I ended, Cleveland Bishop John Farrelly appointed Father Leo Hammer to establish the new parish, which he placed under the patronage of St. Jerome, to whom the bishop had a special devotion. Father Hammer purchased and had a large tent installed on the parish’s newly purchased property. The first Mass was celebrated on Oct. 6, 1919 and construction began immediately on a wooden church building.
The tent was destroyed weeks later during a severe storm and parishioners were forced to celebrate Mass in portions of the church that was under construction. The building was completed and dedicated on Oct. 3, 1920. It was 120 feet long, 48 feet wide and seated 600. Total cost was $40,000.
The growing parish broke ground in spring 1922 for an 11-room, $100,000 school building to house 500 children. Fifteen years later, a four-room addition was built. School enrollment reached 650 in 1944. The school enrollment currently is about 230.
In 1949, a convent was built to house 18 Ursuline sisters and in May 1950, ground was broken for the current church, which was dedicated on May 11, 1952. The church was renovated in 1970.
The first child in the parish was baptized on Jan. 11, 1920. Parish statistics show that there were 8,842 baptisms, 7,384 first Communions, 7,133 confirmations and 3,287 weddings in the first century of St. Jerome Parish.
In addition to Father Hammer, who served as pastor 1919-70, other pastors were Father William Koehl, 1970-1976; Father Walsh, 1976-1992; Father Haren, 1992-2005; Father Anthony Cassese, 2005-2014, and Father Jerse.
Click HERE for more information on St. Jerome Parish.