Irish Americans of Cleveland

Cleveland Press Articles About the Old Neighborhood

West Siders Built First Irish Catholic Church

100 Years of Nationalities in Cleveland, 34th of a Series
by Theodore Andrica
Cleveland Press, January 1, 1951

The first Catholic church in Cleveland was "old" St. Patrick's, erected in 1854 and now located at 3602 Bridge Ave. "Old" St. Patrick's Catholic Church was built in 1870, at 3602 Bridge Ave. The original, smaller brick structure was on Whitman Ave., behind the present building.

Prior to the erection of St. Patrick's, the only Catholic churches I Cleveland were St. Mary's on the Flats and St. John's Cathedral, both with mixed Irish and German congregations.

When St. John's was built in 1848, the Irish living west of the Cuyahoga River found the distance to church too great and school accommodations for their children insufficient. St. Mary's on the Flats was given to the Germans.

On July 2, 1853, the Rev. Fr. James Conlan was given permission by Bishop Amedeus Rappe to establish a parish west of the river, to be known as St. Patrick's, in honor of the patron saint of Ireland, the homeland of the parishioners.

Father Conlan was born in 1801 in Mohill, County Leitrim, Ireland. He was ordained by Bishop John Purcell in Cincinnati on Sept. 20, 1834, the same day Rev. Fr. John Dillon, who was to be the first resident pastor of Cleveland, was made a priest.

Came Here in 1849

After pastorates in Brown County, Steubenville and Dungannon, O., Bishop Rappe called Father Conlan to Cleveland in October, 1849, two years after the erection of the Cleveland diocese. For four years he lived with the bishop and ministered St. John's Cathedral.

When Bishop Rappe appointed him pastor of St. Patrick's, Father Conlan was instrumental in buying two lots on Whitman St. beyond the present church for $650, and a brick chutch and school building was erected there in a short time. The church was opened for service in the spring of 1854.

During the temporary absence of Father Conlan, the Rev. Fr. Michael Kennedy, another native of Ireland, had charge of the congregation from November, 1854 to September 1855. He finished the church and school. When completed the edifice cost $10,000.

When Father Conlan returned to St; Patrick's in 1855, he took as an assistant the Rev. Fr. James Vincent Conlan, also a native of Mohill, County Leitrim, who was ordained by Bishop Purcell of Cincinnati in 1847. The two Conlans worked together until Mar. 5, 1875 when Father James, now monsignor, died. Father Vincent succeeded as pastor of St. Patrick's and held the pastorate until 1877.

The original St. Patrick's Church soon became too small for the rapidly increasing Irish population on the West Side. Father James Conlan, who built the first church, bought in July, 1870, several lots on which the present church was built.

The foundation was begun in 1870 and in August, 1871, Archbishop John Purcell of Cincinnati laid the cornerstone. Father James Conlan, however, did not live to see the edifice completed.

To accommodate the rapidly increasing Irish population, St. Patrick's Parish was divided from time to time and new congregations were organized. The first offshoot of St. Patrick's was St. Malachi's, established for and by the Irish who settled near the mouth of the Cuyahoga River and who worked on the Lakes and the docks.

With the holocaust of the Civil War over, in the fall of 1865 these early settlers of "Irishtown" received permission from Bishop Rappe to organize a parish and the Rev. Fr. James P. Molony was named first pastor.

New Parish

The new congregation assembled for the first time on Sunday, Nov. 13, 1865 in the abandoned St. Mary's-on-the-Flats Church. Later a house was rented for a rectory.

In 1866 land was purchased on Washington Ave., the present location of the church. The cornerstone of the new church was laid June 9, 1867 and the first mass was sung in it Christmas, 1868. St. Malachi's ws a landmark of the West Side.

A striking feature of the original St. Malachi's Church as a huge spire rising about 200 feet from the ground, topped with a gas-illuminated cross which served as a lighthouse for the sailors on the lake. In 1876 a violent storm blew the whole steeple off.

Father Molony died June 13, 1901. The era of transition that set in shortly after the turn of the century was the start of a trend away from the "angle," and many Irish families moved away from St. Malachi's neighborhood, especially when the High Level Bridge was erected in 1917.

Old St. Malachi's Church was destroyed by fire Dec. 22, 1943. The present edifice was dedicated June 29, 1947.