SACRED HEART OF JESUS
For many late-nineteenth century Catholic immigrant groups, the erection of a church gave witness to their faith and desire to establish a new life in the United States. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, growing numbers of Polish immigrants migrated from the area of St. Stanislaus Church down Marcelline Avenue (now East 71st Street) to the Brecksville Road / Harvard Avenue area.
Recognizing the difficulties of traversing the area's numerous gullies, the community purchased land on Marcelline Avenue between Krakow and Kazimier Avenues in the hopes of erecting a new church. In the spring of 1889, Bishop Richard Gilmour appointed Father Anton F. Kolaszewski pastor of St. Stanislaus Parish, to supervise the construction of the first Sacred Heart of Jesus Church.
Father Kolaszewski and the Polish-Catholics of "the Orchard" celebrated their first Mass in the building's second-floor church on Christmas Day 1889. The following spring, the community welcomed two Felician sisters and one lay teacher, who began instructing its 150 students. Monsignor Felix Boff dedicated the combination church / school on June 22, 1890.
The community remained a mission of St. Stanislaus Parish until August 6, 1891, when it welcomed its first pastor, Father Felix Orzechowski. During his two years as pastor, Father Orzechowski erected a rectory and struggled to keep the parish financially solvent. After maintaining the parish in the face of worsening economic conditions for two years, Father Orzechowski left Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in July 1893. Following the short tenure of an administrator, Father Wenceslas Horak, the parish welcomed its second pastor, Father James Kula on December 22, 1893. New to the Cleveland Diocese, Father Kula arrived at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish at a time when it was severely divided over future construction plans. Unwilling to incur any additional debt for such projects, Father Kula left the parish on July 10, 1895, turning the difficult tasks of paying off the existing debt and forging parish unity to Father Paul Cwiakala. After wrestling with these burdens for four years, Father Cwiakala left the parish in July 1899.
In 1900, the parish welcomed its fourth pastor, Father Victor Szyrocki. Recognizing the need for a larger church, the parish broke ground for a modified Baroque-style church with twin bell towers and an ornate facade in 1908. Construction expenses soon surpassed the parish's available funds, and the project was halted with the completion of only a basement church. With the opening of the new facility, Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish converted its original church into a social hall. Along with productions by the Fredro Dramatic Society, the hall served as the site for parish dances, and athletic and gymnastic competitions. Continued growth led the parish to contemplate erecting a new school, a project which vied with the unfinished church for the community's limited financial resources. As debate over the two competing projects continued, Father Szyrocki left the parish in July 1916 to become pastor of Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish.
Under his successor, Father John Czyzak, the parish went ahead with construction of a new school. The pressures of a rapidly increasing school enrollment and mounting parish debt were exacerbated in 1919, when Father Czyzak replaced the Felician Sisters with the Franciscan Sisters of the Blessed Kunegunda. Two years later, Father Czyzak left the parish, turning over its administration to Father John Mlotkowski. During his pastorate, Father Mlotkowski faced the problem of plummeting school enrollment. In 1928, Father Mlotkowski replaced the Franciscan Sisters with the Felician Sisters from McKees Rock, Pennsylvania. After serving for 11 years, Father Mlotkowski left Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish. In May 1932, Father Joseph P. Kocinski began his stormy pastorate. The dissent which characterized Father Kocinski's pastorate continued during that of his successor, Father Stanislaus Rybacki—a condition aggravated by the parish's deteriorating financial condition. In 1938, the situation reached a crisis point with threats of foreclosure. As the community made preparations for a novena to Our Sorrowful Mother, Father Rybacki was instructed to visit Mr. H. R. Templeton of the Cleveland Trust Company, who soon arranged a loan for Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish.
The postwar period brought dramatic changes to the parish. After four decades of celebrating Mass in its lower church, the community opened its upper church, which Bishop Edward F. Hoban dedicated on May 6, 1951. Three years after the dedication, the parish welcomed its new pastor, Father Francis J. Szczepanski. Under his direction, the members of the congregation grew closer to each other. With his birthday in 1975, Father Szczepanski reached the Diocese's mandatory age of retirement. Hoping to retain their pastor's services, Richard Kaliszewski and a committee of parishioners petitioned Bishop James A. Hickey to allow Father Szczepanski to remain with them. Despite their best efforts, however, the parishioners bade farewell to Father Szczepanski on August 19, 1975.
New challenges emerged during the pastorate of Father Raymond B. Bartnikowski. Facing falling enrollment, Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary Parishes decided to merge their two schools, creating the Jesus and Mary School. After serving the parish for over 13 years, Father Bartnikowski left the parish, turning over administrative and spiritual duties to his successor and the community's current pastor, Father Francis Bednar. While its history may have been tumultuous, Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish remains a living reminder of the dedication and faith of its Polish-Catholic founders.