Cleveland Irish: Day of Kings
by Francis McGarry
My eye is not on the Holidays this year. We will not be getting together this year as the world would have. After a number of funerals this year without a proper wake, the McGarry Clan is going to play it safe.
The real question for us is Mass. Although properly dispensated, my Ma is ready for Mass. She grew up a block from Margaret-Mary’s and now lives a half a block from St. Jude’s. My McGarry’s have always lived within walking distance of the rectory.
Notre Dame has a Mass online that passes the test, but it is not Mass. Those who know her know she dresses for Mass to watch it on the computer.
The first documented Catholics in Cleveland arrived in 1826, shortly after ground was broken for the Ohio Canal, which began in our city. It was later in 1826 that the first priest visited, Father Thomas Martin, he was a Dominican living in Perry county.
Father Stephen Badin also made a few stops. There is no historical record of another priest in the city until 1835, when Father John Dillon was sent to Cleveland by Bishop Purcell. Father Dillon said Mass at people’s homes.
My brother and I were both baptized at home. Me in the dining room and Sean in the living room, I don’t think that happens much these days. In 1835, that was the only option and needless to say, no online Mass by Father Dillon either.
Cleveland Catholics rented a room at Shakespeare Hall in the upper story of the Merwin building on Superior Street. Father Dillon’s Mass even attracted a few Protestant fellows. He was described as a cultivated and scholarly priest with a good Homily.
There were not many Catholics at the time. As Father Dillon grew his flock, they moved to a cottage at Erie and Prospect, until they relocated to Farmer’s Hall in Mechanics’ Block at Prospect and Ontario. Dillon died in 1836 of a fever at 29 years old. He was buried in Erie Street Cemetery.
Catholics in Cleveland did not have a permanent priest for almost a year after his death.
Father Patrick O’Dwyer was sent from Quebec in 1837. A land contract was donated to the Roman Catholic Society of Our Lady of the Lake for lots 218 and 219 in Cleveland. The land was a gift from some Protestant fellows.
The Deal was that a Church had to be built within four months of the land grant, and maintained. O’Dwyer hired a Catholic contractor named Golden, a member of the congregation.
The Church was built, at least the outside, in a few months. Lack of funds prevented the completion of the Church and dissention in the congregation led to the removal of Father O’Dwyer, some blamed Irish nationalism for his demise.
A Church with No Priest
Cleveland now had a Church but no priest. Member of the parish still assembled on Sundays and recited the Rosary and read the Gospel. Priest or not, the Church was completed and a proper Mass was performed on June 7th, 1840. The Church was dedicated to Our Lady of the Lake but in response to popular usage the name was changed to St. Mary’s on the Flats.
It was the only Catholic Church until 1852. Members of the congregation include the names Golden, Wigmann, Feeley, Lawler, Toole, Duffy, Byrne, Fitzpatrick, Runcle, Alliwell, Detmer and McCaffrey.
Father Peter McLaughlin arrived in October of 1840, his first appointment. He spoke some German, which a fair number of the congregation also spoke. Father McLaughlin purchased four lots on the northeast corner of Superior and Erie from Thomas May for $2,000 on January 22nd, 1845. The Cathedral lots were criticized as being out in the country.
At the time, Cleveland listed fourteen other places of worship. These included 1st Presbyterian (1820) on Prospect; 2ndPresbyterian (1844) on St. Clair; Methodist Episcopal Church (1827) on Wood; Episcopalian on Clinton; Baptist Church (1844) on Ontario; Bethel Church (1833) on Superior; German Evangelical Lutheran (1843) on Erie; German Evangelical Protestant (1835) on Erie; the Anshe Chest Society (1842) in the Farmer’s Block; and the Israelitish Society (1839) on Seneca. Cleveland had one umbrella manufacturer, Peter McCann, on Seneca; three breweries, which produced 177,000 gallons of beer and ale; four soap and candle factories, which produced 450,000 pounds of soap and 300,000 pounds of candles; and 9 liquor stores at the time, for those keeping score at home.
Father McLaughlin’s vision was not realized by many Catholics, now numbering about 6,000 in the area, and the rift led to his request to be relieved of his position. He left in 1846. Father Maurice Howard was his replacement, and the Reverend Michael A. Byrne was his assistant, know to some as Padre.
In 1848, an additional five lots were purchased from Thomas May, adjacent to the previous lots, for $1,250. The temporary structure built there was known as the Church of the Nativity. On Christmas 1848 the first Mass was celebrated at the site.
The End of St. Mary’s on the Flats
The Cathedral was completed in 1852, and it became the first Catholic school in Cleveland, and the diocese. As more parishes were formed in the city for the Irish, Germans and French, St. Mary’s of the Flats did not have enough members in the congregation to maintain the parish. In the years 1879 to 1886 St. Mary’s was abandoned.
On the Feast of the Epiphany, Bishop Gilmour had High Mass celebrated at St. Mary’s. An opportunity was offered to all those in attendance to contribute to raising $2,000. Cleveland Catholics raised less than $100.
The heirs of the original Protestant fellows who granted the land filed suit to reverse the title to the lots for failure to maintain the Church. The Court of Common Pleas heard the suit in 1888 and the judge ordered the sale of the lots with proceeds split equally with the Diocese of Cleveland and the heirs. Bishop Gilmour ordered the destruction of St. Mary’s in September of 1888.
My plan is for The Feast of the Epiphany. It has always been one of my favorite holiday Masses. Regardless of the quality of the Homily, I am reminded to never leave a meeting early.
*Francis McGarry holds undergraduate degrees from Indiana University in Anthropology, Education and History and a Masters in Social Science from the University of Chicago. He is an assistant principal and history teacher. Francis is a past president of the Irish American Club East Side. He is the founder and past president of the Bluestone Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.