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Even with help, Jesus stumbles and falls to the ground. In deep exhaustion, he stares at the earth beneath him. “Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return.” He has seen death before. Now he can feel the profound weakness of disability, disease, and aging itself, thereon his knees, under the weight of his cross.


The catalyst for the establishment of St. Joseph Parish was the 1876 decision by the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway to purchase property in Collinwood for a roundhouse and repair shop. Many of the Irish and German-Catholic families who moved to the area to work for the railroad had to travel to St. Paul Parish in Euclid, Ohio to celebrate Mass. After receiving numerous petitions to establish an area Catholic parish Bishop Richard Gilmour commissioned Father Anthony Martin, pastor of St. Paul Parish, to purchase property on the corner of what is now Aspinwall Avenue and Saranac Road and prepare the site for a wood-frame church. Work on the building proceeded quickly, allowing the mission to celebrate its first Mass in the new church on Christmas Day, 1877. Under the guidance of the priests from St Paul Parish, membership in the mission grew, leading it to enlarge the church and open a school for its 40 students.



Painted with oil paint on copper plates in the late 1800s.
Artist unknown.

Continued growth led the mission to break ground for a larger church in 1891. Two years later, it welcomed teachers from the Ursuline Sisters, who commuted by carriage from Villa Angela Academy. Due to difficult economic conditions, however, the building, with its towering steeple, was not completed until 1895. With its larger church, the community converted the original building into additional classrooms. On November 24, 1899, Father Martin died. His successor, Father John W. Bell, soon petitioned the Diocese to move his residence to St. Joseph Church, thereby elevating the community to parochial status. After receiving Bishop Ignatius F. Horstmann’s approval, Father Bell purchased property on the corner of East 146th Street and Aspinwall Avenue, on which St. Joseph Parish erected its first rectory in 1901.

After Italian and Slovenian Catholics had begun settling in the area, Father Bell petitioned the Chancery for an assistant who could speak Italian or Slovenian. Instead of granting Father Bell’s request, the Diocese established two nationality parishes, St. Mary Parish for the Slovenian Catholics (1905) and Holy Redeemer Parish for the Italian Catholics (1924). The parish received its first assistant pastor, Father Leo O. Hammer in January 1913. Further population growth led Bishop John P. Farrelly to establish a new community, St. Jerome Parish, in 1919, in the Lake Shore neighborhood north of the railroad tracks, appointing Father Hammer its first pastor. With the creation of St Jerome Parish and the redrawing of St. Joseph Parish’s territorial boundaries, the community purchased property on St. Clair Avenue and East 144th Street. On September 5, 1922, the new brick and stone St. Joseph Church and school was completed. With the church in the basement, the first floor consisted of six classrooms and two offices, while the second housed four classrooms and a gymnasium with a stage. With the 1908 Collinwood School Fire fresh in the memory of the city, the parish located its boilers, the source of the public school fire, in a separate building. Anticipating erecting an upper church, Father Bell converted the lower church into a gymnasium; however, the project for the upper church never materialized.

Hoping to defray the cost of constructing the new church, Father Bell explored the possibility of selling the parish’s original property. With money scarce in 1929, the parish opted to raze the parish building and construct rental property. That year Father John Fleming joined Father Bell as assistant pastor of St. Joseph Parish. Father Fleming along with two other assistant pastors, Father Martin Cummings and Father Patrick Patton, affectionately became known to the community as “Bells Boys.” With four priests administering to its spiritual and communal needs, the parish thrived, establishing myriad organizations and clubs. While his failing health slowed down Father Bell, Pope Pius XII recognized his pastoral efforts, raising him to domestic prelate on February 17, 1940.  As Father Bell’s health deteriorated further, Father Fleming shouldered many of the day-to-day duties of the parish.

With Father Bell’s death on February 24, 1941, the parish welcomed its new pastor, Father Thomas O’Reilly, the former chaplain of Villa Angela Academy. Hoping to eliminate the parish debt and raise sufficient funds to erect an upper church, Father O’Reilly launched a fund-raising campaign. While the parish succeeded in retiring its debt, Father Bell’s dream of a new church never reached fruition. With the United States’ entry into the Second World War and the postwar out-migration to the suburbs, no new construction took place at the parish until the 1958 erection of a new convent. Four years later, the parish celebrated the opening of its new rectory on East 146th Street. On August 18, 1962, soon after moving into the new facility, Father O’Reilly died. The community’s next pastor, Father John K. McNally, struggled to hold the parish together. Three years after his arrival, Father McNally opened a new parish hall. Father Raymond Smith succeeded Father McNally in 1975, and was succeeded in turn by Father John J. Juhas in 1981.

In June 1991, the parish welcomed Father Paul Marshall, SM, who came to serve both St. Aloysius and St. Joseph Parishes. During the early 1990’s, St. Joseph Parish closed its convent and its rectory. With parish membership below a level allowing for the maintenance of the building, Bishop Anthony M. Pilla announced that on December 31, 1994, St. Joseph Parish would close. With the Parish closed, teachers from the Ursuline Sisters continued to instruct area students until the spring of 1995, completing 102 years of service to the Catholic community of Collinwood.

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