CALLAHAN, REV NELSON J. (1927-January 15, 2013) was a priest for 60 years; a pastor, archivist, historian who wrote about ethnicity and the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, and author of Irish Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland (1978), the first book-length study of the Irish in Cleveland. He was one of three children born to Nelson J. and Mary (Mulholland) Callahan. Irish ancestors who settled in Cleveland - some as early as the 1830s - included his maternal grandfather James Mulholland, who co-owned the Eastland, a ship that provided pleasure outings to the Lake Erie islands. 

Callahan was raised and schooled in St. Ann’s parish in CLEVELAND HEIGHTS. He attended SAINT IGNATIUS HIGH SCHOOL where he participated avidly in several sports. He attended Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit before graduating from ST. MARY SEMINARY in Cleveland in 1953.  As a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, Callahan was assigned to several Cleveland parishes, including ST. PATRICK in WEST PARK, ST. AGATHA PARISH  in GLENVILLE, Conversion of St. Paul on EUCLID AVENUE and ST. PETER CHURCH on Superior Avenue. From 1974 to 2002, he served as pastor of St Raphael Church in BAY VILLAGE.

Callahan’s life as a priest was marked by his commitment to education and the pursuit of intellectual rigor. He taught at ST. JOHN COLLEGE from 1959 to 1974 and was director for two years of St. Peter High School. As archivist of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, between 1966 and 1978, he had the opportunity to research the impact of ethnicity on the growth of the diocese. In 1978, he became the moderator of the First Friday Club of Cleveland, a forum for Catholic thought in Cleveland. In his will, he donated an 18 linear foot collection of his personal and research papers to the University of Notre Dame in honor of his father, Nelson James Callahan, who graduated from Notre Dame in 1923. 

In 1971, Callahan published his first book: A Case for Due Process in the Church: Father Eugene O'Callaghan, American Pioneer of Dissent. He would go on to author and edit four more works which focused on the history of Catholicism and ethnicity: The Diary of Richard L. Burtsell, Priest of New York: the Early Years, 1865-1868 (1976), Irish Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland (1978), Years in Passing: St. Ignatius High School, an Anecdotal History (1986), and History of St. Malachi Parish: Story of a People (1990). For his contributions to the understanding of the Irish experience in Cleveland, he received the WALKS OF LIFE AWARD from the Irish American Archives Society in 1997 (the inaugural year of the award).  Callahan passed away at the age of 85. He is buried in CALVARY CEMETERY on Cleveland’s east side.

Daniel Brennan and David Patrick Ryan


Article Categories