A Parish History
In 1893, St. Agnes Parish was established at the corner of E. 79th Street and Euclid Avenue to meet the pastoral needs of the many German and Irish immigrants of the Centrals, Hough, and Fairfax neighborhoods. The Rev. Gilbert Jennings was the first pastor, and the school was staffed by the Congregation of Saint Joseph on Rocky River Drive. A large impressive church was built and dedicated in 1917, serving the community until costly repairs required its demolition in 1975.
Due to the language and cultural needs of a growing Hispanic community, Our Lady of Fatima was created in 1949 on Lexington Avenue out of part of the territory of St. Agnes. The church was located in the former League Park Movie Theater, located across from the historic League Park, home of the Cleveland Indians from 1898 until 1932, and also home of the Negro Baseball League until 1949. The first pastor was the Rev. Raymond Smith. Both parishes came under the pastoral care of the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity; Our Lady of Fatima in 1958 and St. Agnes in 1962. Based out of Silver Spring, Maryland, this community of priests and brothers founded by Father Thomas Judge brought extensive pastoral experience with the Hispanic and African American community. It was at Our Lady of Fatima that the famed Sr. Henrietta Gorris, CSA, worked tirelessly to assist the community to heal after the racially charged Hough Riot in 1966.
The social and demographic changes in Hough during the 1960’s and 1970’s resulted in the merging of both parishes at the Lexington Avenue location in 1980. It Was decided to keep both names for the new parish, and plans were set in motion for a new church building. Under the leadership of the new pastor, the Rev. Randall Woods, ST, support was given by the Diocese of Cleveland and Catholic Charities to build the second church in the diocese to serve African American Catholics (the first, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament on E. 79th St. at Central Ave. served the community from 1922 until the community moved to St. Adalbert Church on E. 83rd St. in 1961). The new parish complex was built next to the old church (which has become Schubert Hall) and was dedicated by the Most Rev. Anthony Pilla, then Bishop of Cleveland, and the Most Rev. James P. Lyke, OFM, then Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland and Vicar for the Urban Region, on April 16, 1983. The church and entire building reflect an environment that is authentically Black and truly Catholic.
The 1990’s saw a period of great growth for St. Agnes+Our Lady of Fatima under the leadership of the Rev. Michael Barth, ST. Increased membership and activities, the liaison between the parish and St. Thomas School with a commitment to education and to youth allowed the parish to become free of subsidy and financially sound in 2000. The formation of the Wisdom Council gave recognition to the long time and respected members of the community, and integral part of African culture and heritage. In June of that same year, in partnership with Catholic Charities, the new 26,000 square feet Fatima Family Center opened and ushered in a new era of opportunities and services for the parish and larger community.
Due to it many commitments and a diminished number of priests and brothers to serve them well, the Missionary Servants requested that the pastoral care of the parish be returned to the Diocese. After consultation with the parish and religious communities involved, and recognizing the long time commitment of a religious community’s service, Bishop Pilla invited the Capuchin Franciscan Friars of the Province of St. Augustine (Pittsburgh, PA) to assume the care of the parish. In August 2004, the Rev. Robert Marva, OFM Cap., was appointed the new and current pastor.
The Vibrant Parish Life Initiative culminated in 2008 with the clustering of St. Agnes + Our Lady of Fatima, St. Aloysius-St. Agatha, and St. Adalbert Parishes. After a process of consultation, the new Ordinary, the Most Rev. Richard Lennon, determined that St. Adalbert Parish would close in 2010 and ongoing collaboration between St. Agnes+Our Lady of Fatima and St. Aloysius-St. Agatha would be sustained. As part of ongoing reconfiguration of the Diocese, St. Adalbert, St. Thomas, and St. Francis schools became Diocesan Elementary Schools without any limiting ties to one parish. At the same time, the parish community welcomed its first deacon, the Rev. Mr. Hardin Martin and his wife Rosary in May, 2010 to assist in meeting the still growing pastoral needs of the community.
The parish looks forward to celebrating the 125th year of the founding of St. Agnes Church in 2018. For that time frame, a pastoral process of visioning for the future is underway to ensure the presence and growth of the parish for years to come.
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