Aug. 21 was a special day for St. Patrick Parish on Bridge Avenue in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood.
On that day in 1871, the cornerstone was laid for the church. Exactly 150 years later, Bishop Edward Malesic celebrated with parishioners at a livestreamed Mass and blessed the cornerstone once again.
The parish, founded by Irish immigrants on June 2, 1853, has been a presence in the neighborhood ever since. Two lots were purchased on Whitman Avenue and the first church – a brick building – was dedicated on Nov. 27, 1857.
Additional lots were purchased on Bridge for a new, larger church. Construction began in August 1871, but was delayed by a depression in 1873. In February 1881, the interior of the church was completed. The church was renovated and stained-glass windows were installed in 1896. On June 11, 1899, a pipe organ and 11 bell chimes were purchased. The bell tower was finished in 1902.
Work to enlarge the church was completed in 1913 and in 1931, the church was consecrated.
The church was declared a historic landmark in 1973. In recent years, the bell tower was shored up and the bells renovated. In 2020, time-consuming work to restore the stained-glass windows began.
Father Michael Gurnick, pastor since 2019, said parishioners did much of the work to build the current church. Beginning in 1871, after Mass each Sunday, a group of men would travel in horse-drawn wagons to Sandusky, spending the night in Lorain and arriving on Monday night. They spent Tuesday and Wednesday cutting blue limestone blocks at a quarry and sent them back by wagon. The stones arrived on Friday night and another group of men from the parish unloaded them and built the church. In total, it took 100 wagons full of stones for the church.
Father Gurnick thanked the bishop for helping the parish to observe the cornerstone anniversary, saying both he and the parishioners were giving witness by their presence as living stones. “In these difficult times, we find grace and blessings through technology or whatever it takes to stay united,” he added.
“Congratulations to St. Patrick Parish on the 150th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of this church building,” Bishop Malesic said, noting 150 years is a long time – perhaps two or three lifetimes. Many generations have come and gone in the parish since the cornerstone was laid, he said.
“What a blessing this sacred building has been. And, although you have maintained it and perhaps even been involved in expanding it and renovating it over the years, its basic foundation is a gift that was given to you by the sweat and sacrifices of others long ago – people long gone. Whether they knew it at the time or not, the parishioners of 1871 were not only building this church for themselves, but for us.”
The bishop called the building “a testimony to the faith of a long-gone generation. But I hope it is a witness to our faith, too, a living faith that needs to be equally as strong in the face of the contrary headwinds of our modern culture.””
He said as a witness to our faith, the church building is a symbol of the spiritual Church, the musical Body of Christ.
“Like the mortar that keeps each stone locked to the other, the Holy Spirit becomes the mortar that ties us to each other, too. Each block of this church building can be seen to represent a person of faith who has been wedded together with all people of faith over time, eventually forming a marvelous and mystical structure that points the way to salvation,” Bishop Malesic said. “The steeple on this building is like a finger that points upward to God, and our Church must always point to Jesus, too, the world’s only true and lasting hope.”
St. Peter reminds us that our Church is made of living stones, the bishop said. “Like living stones, let ourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
St. Peter also tells us that Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith, the bishop said. “Our lives are built on this foundation. Without Jesus as our cornerstone, everything lacks direction and purpose.”
In the day’s readings, the bishop said we are asked to make the most important decision of our lives: accepting or rejecting the God who revealed himself to us. “Should we make Christ our cornerstone or find another stone to build our lives upon?” he asked. “Should we trust Jesus, follow Jesus or look somewhere else for our salvation?”
He said in the Old Testament, Joshua brought Israel together to renew the covenant with God and they accepted him – for that moment – with one voice.
In the Gospel, the bishop said people who were disturbed by some of the things Jesus said, especially about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. “Whoever eats me will live because of me,” he said, which some people rejected. Even some of the disciples couldn’t accept this.
“If the world really believed that Jesus was present in the tabernacles of our churches, they would be full of people gathering around him,” the bishop said, noting that some don’t believe because they haven’t been told, while we may have pushed away others.
“May we not be a stumbling block in the way of the people who are looking for something better in their lives, looking for God,” he said. The “beating heart of this Church is the Eucharist. This is the home of the parish family. It is the parish dining room. It is the altar of sacrifice where Christ gives his life to us and where reciprocate and give our lives to him.”
The bishop said this sacred space also is where the faithful gather together around Jesus who asks us to decide if we will stay with him or go.
“That is the faith that allowed the original parishioners of St. Patrick to build this church. This is the faith that we embrace for ourselves. This is the faith that we hope to pass on.”
After Mass, the congregation and clergy processed outside where a wreath was placed under the cornerstone and the bishop conducted a brief reblessing ceremony. Father Mark Hollis, Father Dan Reim, SJ from nearby Saint Ignatius High School, and Father James Mayer, O de M, pastor of nearby St. Rocco Parish, concelebrated the Mass.
A group photo was taken in front of the church and everyone was invited to a reception on the church lawn.