ST. CECILIA PARISH traces its origins to a public meeting, held in November 1913, at which the Catholic residents of Cleveland's MOUNT PLEASANT neighborhood resolved to petition Bishop JOHN P. FARRELLY for the creation of a new parish to serve their spiritual and social needs. After meeting with a committee of neighborhood residents, Bishop Farrelly granted the request for the formation of a new parish in early 1915 and appointed Father John T. Farrell to lead the St. Cecilia community. The parish community celebrated its first Mass on June 27, 1915 in the living room of the Daniel O'Reilly family home.
In early 1916, Bishop Farrelly dedicated the St. Cecilia Church, a white-frame structure constructed at East 152nd Street and Kinsman Road. At this time, the parish boasted a diverse Catholic community that included parishioners of CZECH, GERMAN, HUNGARIAN, IRISH, ITALIAN, and POLISH extraction. Following the completion of a red brick school building in 1924, the parish secured the services of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary to direct its educational program. Monsignor Edward Kirby succeeded Father Farrell in August 1927 and served as pastor until February 1941.
As Catholic families continued to settle in the Cleveland-SHAKER HEIGHTS area during the 1930s, the modest white frame church proved too small to accommodate the growing congregation of St. Cecilia. Father John T. Ruffing, who had succeeded Monsignor Kirby, oversaw the renovation and expansion of the church building in late 1941. Auxiliary Bishop JAMES A. MCFADDEN rededicated the revamped St. Cecilia Church on June 17, 1942. The parish also added four classrooms to its school building and erected a second sisters' residence to better serve the growing community. However, the parish population fell in the mid-1940s since the Diocese of Cleveland established a number of new parishes in the vicinity of St. Cecilia. In 1947, Pope Pius XII elevated Father Ruffing to the rank of domestic prelate in recognition of his faithful and honorable service. The parish welcomed Father John Tivenan as pastor following the death of Monsignor Ruffing in 1955.
The demographic makeup of St. Cecilia Parish changed dramatically from the late 1950s onward as larger numbers of AFRICAN AMERICANS began settling in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Father Tivenan initiated variety of community outreach programs to cultivate a constructive relationship between the church and its non-Catholic neighbors. The Catholic Interracial Council of Greater Cleveland awarded Father Tivenan its Justice Award in 1965 in recognition of his social and religious work. Economic difficulties compelled the parish to merge its school into the Mount Pleasant Catholic Elementary School in 1970. By the early 1970s, St. Cecilia Parish had evolved into an African-American Catholic community.
Faced with the threat of closure in the early 1980s, the parish weathered the storm through the collective efforts of its devoted parishioners and experienced a religious renaissance in the late 1980s. Bishop Anthony M. Pilla appointed Father Daniel L. Begin pastor of both St. Cecilia and Epiphany parishes on June 16, 1988, fostering a cooperative association between the communities. From 1998 until 2000, St. Cecilia Church hosted "Conversations in Technicolor: An Honest Dialogue on Racism" in collaboration with Epiphany and St. Dominic churches in Cleveland and Church of the Resurrection in SOLON to promote understanding and communication among urban and suburban parishioners, and make the Roman Catholic Church more inclusive for all. The parish also hosted an annual "Faith of Africa" celebration that brought together Catholic African immigrants residing in the greater Cleveland area for religious and communal worship.
After nearly a century of spiritual and social service in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, St. Cecilia Parish closed its doors on April 25, 2010, as part of a general downsizing decreed by the Diocese of Cleveland. Some 700 parishioners, most of them African Americans, were compelled to find a new religious home.
Updated by Marian Morton and Todd Michney
View image at Cleveland Public Library.
See also CATHOLICS, ROMAN.
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, OH: Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, 1998).