ST. ADALBERT PARISH was established by Bishop RICHARD GILMOUR in 1883 to serve the growing population of Bohemian (CZECH) Catholics living east of Wilson Avenue (East 55th Street). Rapid industrialization in the west Broadway neighborhood surrounding ST. WENCESLAS CHURCH during the late 1870s and early 1880s induced a large number of Bohemian parishioners to migrate eastward. A committee of local men organized the St. Adalbert Society and opened a school in Stehlik's Hall at Garden (Central Avenue) and Lincoln (East 83rd Street) Avenues in 1882 so their children would not have to trek some four miles to St. Wencelas School every day. With the support of Father Anthony Hynek, pastor of St. Wenceslas, the society then launched a fundraising campaign for a church and school in their neighborhood.
Taking note of these local efforts, Bishop Gilmour sanctioned the establishment of a church and school in the newly formed St. Adalbert Parish on January 1, 1883. Although a frame church and school, located at 307 Lincoln Avenue, was completed in late 1883, the parish went without a pastor until 1888 when Father John W. Malecha was appointed to lead St. Adalbert. In 1890, the SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME replaced lay teachers at the parish school. Following the death of Father Malecha on July 25, 1904, the parish community welcomed Father Ladislas Kloucek as its new pastor. Father Kloucek served until 1907 when Father John W. Becka was appointed to lead St. Adalbert.
The influx of Bohemian immigrants to the parish in the early years of the twentieth century strained the physical plant of the small frame church and the parish community invested in the construction of a larger sanctuary. On October 8, 1911, Bishop JOHN P. FARRELLY laid the cornerstone of the new Romanesque-style church at 2347 East 83rd Street. The twin-towered, brick-and-stone church, with a statue of St. Adalbert placed above the main entrance, was completed in early 1912 at the cost of $50,000.
Following WORLD WAR I, a small number of parishioners left the neighborhood. The outmigration of Bohemian Catholics out of the parish grew in strength and intensity over the next four decades and non-Catholic AFRICAN AMERICANS were the majority population in St. Adalbert by the 1960s. Father Becka left the parish in 1943 and Father Joseph M. Andel, assistant pastor of St. Procop Parish, became the pastor. After years of declining enrollment and rising costs, the Diocese of Cleveland closed the parish school in 1946. Father Francis M. Maruna, assistant pastor of St. John Nepomucene Parish, succeeded Father Andel in 1953 and Father Clarence A. Liederbach, assistant pastor of Holy Family Parish, succeeded Father Maruna in 1955. On April 20, 1958, Bishop EDWARD F. HOBAN celebrated Mass at St. Adalbert Church to mark the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the parish. The Diocese assigned Father Liederbach to the Holy Family Parish in June 1960 and appointed Father Paul J. Hritz, professor at ST. JOHN COLLEGE, as an administrator of St. Adalbert Parish.
Since the Bohemian congregation of St. Adalbert dwindled to some sixty families by 1960 and the church of the neighboring African-American parish, OUR LADY OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT, was in need of major and costly repairs, the Diocese merged the two parishes on February 5, 1961. Once the Diocese closed their church, the large congregation of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament filled the pews at St. Adalbert Church on East 83rd Street. Bishop 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 Diocese placed the restructured St. Adalbert Parish in the able hands of the priests of the Precious Blood Order of Carthagena, Ohio, who had managed Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament parish since 1937, and appointed Father Leonard Sudhoff as pastor. The parish school of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament remained open until the construction of a new St. Adalbert school at 2345 East 83rd Street on September 4, 1962. The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who had directed Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament school since 1924, relocated to St. Adalbert and took over the administration of the parish school.
Father Frederick O'Brien succeeded Father Sudhoff in 1965 and served at St. Adalbert until January 1970. From June 1969 until his departure, Father O'Brien shared in pastoral duties with Father Gene (Eugene) R. Wilson, the first Cleveland African American ordained as Catholic priest. Father Wilson took over the pastorate at St. Adalbert in 1970, becoming the first black pastor in the Diocese of Cleveland. During his tenure, Father Wilson worked on developing an effective lay leadership and welcoming African Americans into the Catholic fold. After Father Wilson left the parish in 1978, Father Jerome Steinbrunner served as pastor at St. Adalbert until 1999. Although the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament left the parish in 1985, the parish school successfully maintained its strong academic tradition with an all-lay teaching staff. On July 1, 1999, Father Kenneth Pleiman was assigned to lead St. Adalbert.
Citing declining membership and rising maintenance costs, the Diocese of Cleveland closed the historic St. Adalbert Church on June 6, 2010. More than 200 parishioners were forced to look for a new spiritual home. St. Adalbert School, however, remained open. In August 2012, following a successful appeal to the Vatican by parishioners to reverse the diocesan decision, St. Adalbert Church re-opened.
See CATHOLICS, ROMAN.
Kaczynski, Charles R., ed., People of Faith: Parishes and Religious Communities of the Diocese of Cleveland (Cleveland, OH: Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, 1998).