ST. HEDWIG PARISH, LAKEWOOD, 1905
The first Polish-Catholic residents of Lakewood, Ohio began arriving in the early 1890s, settling around Madison Avenue and West 117th Street. Coming from similar societal backgrounds and interacting daily at the National Carbon Company, the Poles joined the Slovak-CD Catholics in celebrating the Eucharist at SS. Cyril & Methodius Parish. Over the next three years, the city's Polish population grew. In December 1909, Bishop John R Farrelly responded to the requests of the Polish-Catholic community for their own nationality parish and established the St. Hedwig Parish, appointing Father Thomas Czarkowski its first pastor.
During the next nine years, the fledgling community welcomed a number of priests, who celebrated Mass in a variety of locations, including a Protestant church, a former motion picture house, and a private home on Halsted Avenue. The community soon purchased property on Madison Avenue between Halsted and Dowd Avenues and began construction of a wood-frame church. Completed that summer, the first St. Hedwig Church was dedicated by Father Charles Ruszkowski on August 6, 1914. Father Czarkowski's pastorate was a short one, lasting only until August 1915. During the next nine years, the parish welcomed three other pastors, Father J. T. Kasinski (1915-1918), Father Joseph Zielinski (1918-1919), and Father Francis Kozlowski (1919-1924). On July 4, 1924, the parish welcomed its fifth pastor, Father Michael Konwinski.
During Father Konwinski's pastorate, St. Hedwig Parish, like many other Polish parishes in the Cleveland Diocese, experienced a degree of internal conflict. In February 1925, the community split over the election of the parish council. Two years later, the tensions rose again, when four councilmen resigned over a dispute regarding control of daily parish affairs. While it teemed with internal dissent, the parish continued to grow, building a new combination church/school (1927) and welcoming teachers from the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis (1927).
On April 18, 1929, Father Stanley Sobienowski replaced Father Konwinski. Dissent continued in the parish, leading Father Sobienowski to write to Bishop Schrembs in May 1932, suggesting that he might be more useful to the Diocese at another parish. Father Sobienowski left St. Hedwig Parish on July 26, 1933, leaving the parish to the temporary care of the Franciscan Fathers. On March 3, 1934, the parish welcomed its next pastor, Father Joseph C. Rutkowski. During Father Rutkowski's pastorate, the parish purchased a four-suite apartment building, which it used as rental property. After seeing the community through the difficult years of the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the advent of the Cold War, Father Rutkowski left St. Hedwig Parish on September 4, 1957.
Under the direction of its next pastor, Father Bruno Ejchost, St. Hedwig Parish continued to develop, purchasing a two-family home on an adjacent piece of property which was converted into a convent for the sisters. Father Ejchost's tenure as pastor came to an untimely end with his death on May 26 1963. The community's new pastor, Father Edmund Kuczmarski administered to a community in the midst of change. With costs constantly rising, Father Kuczmarski was forced to close the parish school in 1968. Father Kuczmarsk died on February 5, 1973, and was succeeded by the parish's current pastor, Father John J. Bryk. One of the first issues addressed by Father Bryk was the conversion of the community's upper hall into a church. After the construction of a new facade, and the installation of chandeliers from the old church, new mosaic Stations of the Cross, and stained-glass windows, Bishor James A. Hickey rededicated the building on June 1, 1975. In the last two decades, the St. Hedwig Parish has continued in the spiritual and communal tradition of its founding families, while becoming an increasingly diverse faith community.