Magazine: Independent But Not Alone
In July 1893, a young priest from Slovenia named Vitus Hribar had just been ordained in the Roman Catholic Church by Bishop Ignatz Hortsmann. His first major task was to establish an American Slovenian Church in present-day St. Clair-Superior, a neighborhood located in the northeastern outskirts of Cleveland, one so dense with Slovenian immigrants it would eventually become home to one of the largest populations of Slovenians in the world.
Twelve years before he arrived in Cleveland, a Slovenian immigrant named Jozef Turk and 50 other immigrant men from Eastern Europe established the neighborhood. “Three waves of immigrants came here,” said Stane Kuhar, Parish Finance Director of St. Vitus Church and member of Baraga 1317 in Cleveland, Ohio. As the town’s population grew, so did the need for a parish church. “We are the gateway to downtown Cleveland,” said Stane.
On June 29, 1894, precisely 322 days after Hribar was commissioned to establish the first American Slovenian Roman Catholic parish in Ohio, a $6,000 plot of land was purchased to build a small, wooden building named St. Vitus Church. In 1902, the church expanded, and an elementary school was built. The Sisters of Notre Dame, a congregation of German nuns with a mission focus on teaching Ohio immigrant children, established the school, becoming teachers of essential academic areas of study, including the Slovenian language.
After years of planning a new expansion, the St. Vitus Church building that stands today was completed in 1932. Designed in Byzantine-Lombard style, the yellow brick church stands with twin bell towers, a honeycomb-shaped ceiling, three choir lofts, and an organ with 1,500 wooden and metal pipes built in Cleveland by Holtkamp Organ Company. “We have a lot of color in here,” said Stane.
During the 90s, the parish decided to build an independent living facility called St. Vitus Village. According to the parish, the purpose of the village was to provide affordable housing options to parishioners and seniors near St. Vitus Church. They approached Catholic Order of Foresters (COF) in the mid-90s for a loan.
“Catholic Order of Foresters said if the bishop signs it, we’ll do it,” said Stane. “If COF had not stepped in, it would have been a tough go.”
St. Vitus Village is now a three-story, European Renaissance style facility home to 33 rooms and located across the street from St. Vitus Church, the structure it was designed to blend in with. The village also provides housing for patients from a nearby hospital. “We have been able to have some suites set aside for transplant patients who need somewhere to stay for a few months,” said Stane.
Greg Temple, President and CEO of Catholic Order of Foresters, remembers negotiating with St. Vitus Parish years ago. “It was a bold initiative and a neat story to see play out,” said Greg. “It worked out well for them and us.”
The village, one of many building projects completed over the years by St. Vitus Parish, features a washer and dryer in each unit, individual parking spaces, and a chapel for its residents. According to Stane, St. Vitus Village “has worked out much better” than the parish anticipated.
“We are the gateway to downtown Cleveland,” said Stane, reflecting on the location of parish. “A lot of work is very silent.”
When Vitus Hribar arrived in Cleveland in 1893, COF was only ten years old. Over a century later, both COF and St. Vitus Parish enjoy storied histories, shared longevities, and bright futures.
Article by Connor McEleney