OUR LADY OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT PARISH, established on April 11, 1922, was the first AFRICAN-AMERICAN parish in the Diocese of Cleveland. Feeling unwelcome in the primarily white parishes to which they belonged, African-American Catholics petitioned Bishop JOSEPH SCHREMBS for a parish of their own in Cleveland with the encouragement of Father Joseph F. Smith, the pastor of St. Philomena Parish. Bishop Schrembs accepted their request and appointed Father Thomas E. McKenney, assistant pastor at St. Philomena, to lead the newly formed Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish. Father McKenney held the first Mass on April 11, 1922 at St. Bridget's Hall at East 22nd Street and Woodland Avenue. Lacking a permanent sanctuary, the congregation held services at ST. JOSEPH'S CHURCH at East 23rd Street and Woodland Avenue while parishioners raised the necessary funds to erect their own church. The cornerstone of the new church was laid on December 3, 1922, at East 79th Street between Central and Quincy Avenues. A brick Gothic-style church with a seating capacity of 250 was completed in early 1923 and Bishop Schrembs dedicated it on June 24, 1923. In September 1922, Father McKenney secured the services of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament from Cornwells Heights, Pennsylvania, to conduct social and educational work in the new parish. The parish school opened in 1924 in a frame, three-room building at the rear of the church. By 1925, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish served 220 families and 156 students. By 1930, it boasted more than 1,000 members. The parish activities and societies included a vested male choir, a young ladies sodality, the Knights of St. John, the League of the Sacred Heart, the Holy Name Society, and an annual Mardi Gras celebration. Father Michael Stevenson succeeded Father McKenney in 1934.
The Depression years of the 1930s took a heavy financial toll on the parish and it faced the threat of foreclosure in December 1936. Monsignor Joseph Smith rescued the parish in 1937 by taking over the church mortgage. In June 1937, the Diocese placed the parish in the care of the priests of the Society of the Precious Blood from Carthagena, Ohio, and Father Melchior Lochtefeld became pastor and Father Henry Langhals associate pastor of the parish. During the six year tenure of Father Lochtefeld at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, the parish welcomed 440 converts into the Roman Catholic Church and the parish population peaked at 1525 members in 1942, including 315 families. Father Lochtefeld established a vocational training program, a glee club for teenagers, a Boy Scout troop, a local chapter of the National Catholic Interracial Federation, and a parish credit union. He also made the varied social and spiritual activities and services of the parish available to the whole Central Avenue community, especially non-Catholics. In 1943, the Diocese assigned Father Lochtefeld to lead the second African-American parish in Cleveland, St. Edward.
By the 1950s, the physical plant of the parish showed signs of deterioration owing to its age, constant use of the church and school buildings, and rising costs of maintenance. The neighboring parish of ST. ADALBERT on East 83rd Street had a sound parish plant, including a rectory and convent, but its Bohemian congregation had dwindled to some sixty families, only eleven of which still resided in the area. The Diocese merged the two parishes on February 6, 1961. Bishop EDWARD F. HOBAN designated the name of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament as a secondary title of the parish in deference to the Bohemian heritage of the original parish of St. Adalbert. The historic St. Adalbert church served as the official seat of the restructured parish. As part of the restructuring of the Diocese of Cleveland, St. Adalbert was closed in June, 2010 but re-opened in August 2012, following a successful appeal to the Vatican.
Updated by Marian Morton
See also CATHOLICS, ROMAN.
Papers of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, Archives, Diocese of Cleveland.
Blatnica, Dorothy Ann. “At the Altar of Their God”: African American Roman Catholics in Cleveland, 1922-1961 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1995).
Kaczynski, Charles R., ed. People of Faith: Parishes and Religious Communities of the Diocese of Cleveland. (Cleveland: Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, 1998).