ST. AGATHA PARISH was established by Bishop EDWARD F. HOBAN in the GLENVILLE neighborhood of Cleveland in 1945. In anticipation of the post-WORLD WAR II migration to the suburbs, Bishop Hoban sought to downsize some of Cleveland's large parishes by establishing a new parish in the middle of an area served by several parishes. Bishop Hoban appointed Father Stephen Towell, an assistant pastor at ST. THOMAS AQUINAS PARISH, to lead the newly formed St. Agatha parish on January 21, 1945. Lacking a permanent sanctuary, Father Towell celebrated mass in the auditorium of Rosedale School, located at East 115th Street and Moulton Avenue, from July until September of 1945. On August 20, the Diocese purchased a four-story brick building at the corner of Lakeview Road and East 123rd Street, built as an Odd Fellows Lodge and Hall in 1925, at the recommendation of Father Towell. While the congregation met in the basement, the upper floors of the building were converted into a church, seating 450 people, and an eight classroom school on the top floor. A renovated four-suite apartment on Lakeview Road served as the parish rectory, accommodating Father Towell and his assistant, Father Edward Dickard. The parish school officially opened in September 1946, staffed by the Dominican Sisters from Our Lady of the Elms Motherhouse in Akron. The parish convent, consisting of a refurbished four-suite apartment and double house, housed the Sisters and the student sisters of the Dominican order attending ST. JOHN COLLEGE.
Glenville experienced a rapid demographic transition in the first postwar decade, becoming majority AFRICAN AMERICAN. Although the congregation had initially consisted of 1,000 families, by 1958 the departure of white parishioners had diminished its population by approximately three-quarters. As Father Towell readily recognized, the future of St. Agatha depended largely on the work of evangelization among the large population of non-Catholic African-American residents. Since many parents wanted their children to attend the parish school, which had developed a reputation for educational excellence, it became a focal point of the evangelization campaign in Glenville. Father Towell and the Sisters encouraged the parents of children in the parish school to attend convert classes and, even though no pressure was applied to become Catholic in these classes, a remarkable number of neighborhood families joined the Catholic Church. Father Nelson Callahan, an assistant pastor at the parish, inaugurated highly successful parish teams in Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) football, basketball, and track.
Following the departure of Father Towell in 1961, Father Joseph Scharnitzky assumed the pastorate at St. Agatha and served the parish until 1968. He was first assisted by Father Charles Woll in 1961 and then by Father Bernard Meyer in 1968. A destructive riot (see GLENVILLE SHOOTOUT), which raged through the Glenville neighborhood in the summer of 1968, began just two blocks south of St. Agatha and radically transformed the community and the parish. Father Edward Bedell succeeded Father Scharnitzky and served the parish until 1971.
On August 17, 1971, Bishop CLARENCE G. ISSENMANN appointed Father Thomas Gallagher as administrator of the parish. Following the consolidation of St. Aloysius and St. Agatha schools in 1973, the two parishes officially merged one year later and St. Aloysius became the site of the new St. Aloyius-St. Agatha parish.The former St. Agatha church has since housed the Martin De Porres Center, a major community outreach project of the Diocese of Cleveland, since the 1970s. The facility was refurbished in the mid-1980s and dedicated by Bishop Anthony Pilla. Despite its relatively short lifetime, the fundamental value of St. Agatha to the Glenville community should not be underestimated since it provided a warm and nurturing environment for African Americans, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. In 2018, St. Aloysius-St. Agatha parish described itself: “We are a welcoming Catholic Parish, embracing its African American culture, empowering its members and sharing its love of Christ through service to the community.”
Updated by Marian Morton
See also 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).