St. Joseph Byzantine Catholic Church, formerly located on Orleans Avenue in the Union-Miles Park neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, was constructed in 1913 and rebuilt in 1933. Featuring Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival architectural styles and intricate interior frescoes, the church featured one of the most elaborate interiors of any in the neighborhood. It’s congregation numbers declined in the 1970’s as the surrounding neighborhood declined before the church closed altogether in 1980. The building was repurposed for another church before becoming abandoned in 2002 and demolished in 2016.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Roman Catholic Church attempted to convert Eastern Orthodox Christians in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an area around today’s Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine and part of Poland. Resisting this, the Byzantine Rite Catholic Church, also called Greek Catholic, was founded that retained much of the Eastern Orthodox traditions while acknowledging the leadership of the Pope. Masses were held on Old Slavonic rather than traditional Catholic Latin and the Julian calendar was observed, rather than the Gregorian. A three-bar cross was also used in place of a Catholic cross and clergymen were permitted to get married.
By 1898, a significant Carpatho-Russian Orthodox population migrated to Cleveland, concentrating on the eastern fringes of the city.1 But the allowance of marriage by the clergy caused a stir with Roman Catholics and a decree in 1907 permitted only celebrate priests to be admitted into the United States. Thousands of Byzantine Rite Catholics defected to the Russian Orthodox church and as a result, the majority of Cleveland’s Russian Orthodox churches were constructed by former Byzantine Rite Catholics.
Musings for a church specific to the Rusyn population began in 1909,5 but it was not until June 9, 1912 that the first general meeting was held in Jelinka Hall on Aetna Road to organize a parish.1 A decision was made to buy several lots on Orleans Avenue in the Union-Miles Park neighborhood for a church and school on June 16. Within two months, the first church was erected for $3,000. The first Divine Liturgy was offered on January 7, 1913.
In 1924, married priests were once again allowed to enter the United States, but married men could not be ordained as Byzantine Rite clergy. It was also the year that the nation enacted a national quota system for immigrants that affected those from eastern and southern Europe.3 Between 1920 and 1938, only 7,500 Carpatho-Rusyns left for the United States,. By the 1930’s, more than 30,000 Carpatho-Rusyns had settled in Cleveland.
Due to an increasing Rusyn population, a larger church was necessary. After saving funds for a larger facility, a motion was passed on September 17, 1928 that a new church be built on the site. A Byzantine Revival architectural styled building was designed by Polish-American architect Joseph E. Fronczak.11 Marked with semi-circular fenestrations, a low-pitched clay tile roof, and two cooper domes atop towers, the design also hinted of Mission Revival or Spanish Colonial Revival. A general contract for construction was let for $60,000 in 1933.13 After the new church was completed, the old facility was renovated into a recreational hall.11
Ground was broken on October 23, 1955 for a $400,000 eight-room school and parish rectory, with Reverend Vladimir Firzcak turning the first spade of dirt during the ceremonies.4 The project also included remodeling the convent 4 and the razing of the original 1913 church.5 The old parish rectory, a wood framed building, was moved to an adjoining lot and enlarged to serve as a convent for the Sisters of St. Basil the Great. A cornerstone was installed on June 10, 1956 and the school – the third for Byzantine Catholics, was completed that fall.7
Bishop Nicholas T. Elko of the Pittsburgh Apostolic Exarchate spoke on August 25, 1957 of the new high school for St. Joseph.6 12 The high school consisted of four temporary classrooms in the 1955 school building. A formal high school wing was constructed in 1958.
In the fall of 1961, the new St. John Byzantine Central Catholic High School opened in suburban Parma, which featured 16 classrooms, laboratories and shops.8 Originally planned as an elementary school, the facility was built at the Byzantine Catholic Center which broke ground on May 3, 1959 and opened in 1960 at a cost of $500,000. As a result of the school’s opening, St. Joseph’s high school, with 124 students, was closed and the rooms reused for elementary students.
In the 1970’s, the Union-Miles Park began to decline both in population and in demographics, leading the congregation to also shrink in size. With the Easter service in 1980, St. Joseph, which had dwindled to 100 active members, closed its doors.10 The building had been sold to the Greater Zion Hill Baptist Church for $65,000. Members of both churches joined for a service at 4 p.m. on April 13, which marked the time when the building was officially turned over to the Baptist congregation.
The parish ultimately constructed a new 35-acre suburban facility in Brecksville. Until the new church opened on June 30, 1985,9 services were held at the Brecksville Junior High School.1
After Zion Baptist struggled with the maintenance of the church building, it was sold to the House of Glory on November 1, 2002 where it was transferred in a quit claim deed to the Tiger Financial Corporation and sold to the Greater Tabernacle Church for $50,000 on July 14, 2010.2 In February 2016, the long abandoned St. Joseph Byzantine Catholic Church was demolished.