The mood was celebratory on April 24 as St. Adalbert/Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Cleveland marked its 100th anniversary during a Mass celebrated by Bishop Edward Malesic. Concelebrants included Father Gary Chmura, pastor, and several Missionaries of the Precious Blood. The religious order ministered at the parish for many years. Deacon Hardin Martin assisted with the liturgy.
(See photo gallery above.)
The Evangelizing Sisters of Mary, who serve in the parish community and other ministries, led the music. Students from St. Adalbert School performed a dance before Mass
“Your parish holds a very special place in the history of the diocese and of Cleveland. And although there certainly were years with challenges and difficulties, we gather together today to commemorate – to remember – the African heritage and American history of this special family of faith,” the bishop said.
“And that is at the core of what it means to be a parish – to be a family of believers in Jesus, risen from the dead and never to go back to that tomb again. He lives – and this parish proclaims his life in word, sacrament and deed. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit – and you are a spirited community – and the efforts and dedication of so many persons over the years, you’ve rolled up your sleeves and gotten to the work of God’s kingdom. This parish remains today as a beacon of holiness and hope here in this neighborhood and beyond,” Bishop Malesic said. “Thank you for your fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus Christ – a Gospel that asks us to be light in the darkness and salt to flavor the earth.”
OLBS is the first parish in Ohio founded by and for African American Catholics. After feeling unwelcome as they worshiped with white Catholics in the 1920s, they petitioned Bishop Joseph Schrembs for permission to establish their own parish. He agreed, and on April 11, 1922, OLBS Parish was created, with Father Thomas McKenney as the first pastor.
The bishop donated $1,000 toward construction of a church and parishioners worked to raise the remaining funds, hosting card parties and other events. Until the church was built, OLBS parishioners worshiped in the lower-level chapel of St. Joseph Franciscan Church at East 22nd Street and Woodland Avenue in Cleveland.
Ground was broken for the first church on Nov. 2, 1922 and the cornerstone was laid on Dec. 3, 1922 at 2354 E. 79th St., Cleveland. On June 24, 1923, the first Mass and dedication of the new church, which seated 280, took place. About 100 students in grades 1-8 attended OLBS School in 1924.
Bishop Schrembs asked Mother Katharine Drexel (who was canonized on Oct. 1, 2000), founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, for assistance with the parish and for teachers for the parish. Father McKenney even traveled to Pennsylvania to meet with Mother Drexel. The first sisters arrived on Aug. 24, 1922. The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament ministered at the parish until 1985.
By 1930, the parish had grown to 1,000 members.
Bishop Schrembs secured the assistance of the Society of the Precious Blood in Cincinnati to serve the parish and on June 22, 1937, Father Melchior Lochtefeld, C.PP.S became the parish’s third pastor. He served until 1943, when he was named the first pastor of nearby St. Edward Parish, the second parish established for Black Catholics.
In 1958, a suggestion was made that OLBS merge with nearby St. Adalbert Parish, which had been primarily a Bohemian parish. The suggestion was shelved. Meanwhile, as the Fairfax neighborhood continued to change and become predominantly African American, OLBS outgrew its facilities and membership at St. Adalbert declined. Finally, in 1961, Bishop Edward Hoban decided to move OLBS to St. Adalbert, but the parishioners would have to build a school.
On Feb. 1, 1961, OLBS and the Society of the Precious Blood moved into the St. Adalbert facilities. They raised funds for a school, which opened in 1962. Sister Mary Norbert Moline was the first African American principal.
Father Gene Wilson, C.PP.S, became the first Black pastor in Cleveland and the eighth pastor at OLBS, 1969-1977.
The Missionaries of the Precious Blood served the parish until 2010, when it was among 52 parishes affected by the diocesan reconfiguration. Thirteen parishes appealed to the Vatican and 12 reopened, including St. Adalbert/OLBS. Father Chmura was named pastor in July 2012, when the parish reopened.
In 2014, the rectory was converted to a convent for the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary who serve the parish and work in other ministries. St. Adalbert/OLBS School continues to serve the parish community, offering a Catholic education for pre-K to grade 8. In 2018, a donor helped make construction of a 13,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility for early learners a reality. The new Early Childhood Learning Center has nine classrooms, a cafeteria for younger students and an outdoor play area with green space for pre-K to grade 2.
The parish celebrated its history and future with the liturgy and a reception afterward.
Bishop Malesic told those gathered for the Mass, “Parishes don’t run themselves, nor do they thrive when only one person does all the work. It takes many talented people – clergy, religious and lay people – working together to make a parish a vibrant place with a sharp focus on bringing people closer to Christ.” Reflecting on the words of Pope Francis, he said it’s best “if we all row in the same direction. Also, keep Jesus as your captain. To a different metaphor: If Jesus is your co-pilot, change seats. Always keep Jesus as your pilot – or for a boat – keep Jesus as your captain.”
The bishop reminded the congregation that it’s good to remember that Jesus oversees the parish and he is the reason it exists. “Ultimately, a parish exists to save souls for Christ, to give everyone the opportunity to praise God, to serve those most in need and to proclaim the Gospel of life, justice, peace, hope, faith and love for others to come and see who we have come to know and love – Jesus.”
Noting that it was Divine Mercy Sunday, Bishop Malesic told the faithful that as a Church, we must rise up and go out to share the life, the gift Jesus gave us. He breathed life into Adam and Eve and gave his followers a new life by breathing the Holy Spirit – God’s life – into them.
“In a great act of generosity, share the breath of God with those who need God’s life,” the bishop said. “Let it flow out from you to those in your family, those in your church, those in your neighborhoods. Breathe the life of Jesus into this world. Bring his peace, his love, his forgiveness with you wherever you go. Resuscitate this world with the refreshing breath of life that God has given to you.” He encouraged them to be “set on fire by the words of Jesus found in today’s Gospel. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
The bishop also reminded the congregation that Jesus sends us into the world with a peace that is needed from the cities of Ukraine to the streets of our neighborhoods and to the families that make up the parish.
“Congratulations once again to all of you. You are a gift to me, to our diocese, to our Church and to our community.”