A Short History of St. Emeric Parish
St. Emeric Parish was founded in 1904 to minister to the many Hungarian immigrants living on the west side of Cleveland. Today the church continues its mission of serving the spiritual needs of Hungarian speaking Catholics in greater Cleveland and its many surrounding suburbs with the Eucharist as the essence of its mission. Today it also reaches out to the youth of Hungarian descent by allowing the school facilities and a remodeled building on the parish grounds to be used by the Cleveland Hungarian School once a week and by the Hungarian American Scouts several times a week. The church hall is used as a gathering place for parishioners to socialize and to organize fundraising activities for the parish such as traditional Hungarian style dinners and bake sales, as well as hosting programs which reflect the rich cultural Hungarian Christian heritage. The Parish celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2004 and is looking forward to its 115th anniversary to be celebrated in 2019.
Overlooking Cleveland’s industrial Flats on the edge of the revitalized Ohio City part of Cleveland, St. Emeric Parish is one of the Cleveland Diocese’s small gems. The church houses the impressive Millennial Mural, which captures the character of its community—a Hungarian-American Catholic people of the United States of America.
In November 1904, Father Joseph Hirling and members of the near-West Side Hungarian immigrant community celebrated their first Mass as a parish. Less than one year later, on January 22, 1905, Bishop Ignatius F. Horstmann dedicated the parish’s first church.
During the ensuing decade, St. Emeric Parish grew and prospered. Tragedy struck, however, on February 13, 1916, when the church was gutted by fire. Bishop Farrelly immediately offered the community the use of the soon-to-be-suppressed St. Mary of the Annunciation Church, which the Hungarian community soon purchased.
In 1920, during the pastorate of Father Joseph Hartel, the community welcomed teachers from the Ursuline Sisters. Five years later, the Daughters of the Divine Redeemer replaced the Ursuline Sisters.
Oris and Mantis Van Sweringen, the builders of the Terminal Tower, purchased the parish site in 1925. The parish community then moved to its current location, erecting a church which incorporated the altars from the original St. Emeric Church and the bell from St. Mary of the Annunciation Church.
With the completion of the new campus, St. Emeric Parish enjoyed the stability of a parish “home” once again, becoming a center of worship and social activities for the Hungarian Catholic immigrants and their descendants living on the west side of Cleveland.
During the difficult years of the Second World War, 180 parishioners served in the armed services.
St. Emeric Parish underwent a renaissance in the early and mid-1950s, as thousands of Hungarians refugees fled Communist oppression in their homeland and settled in Cleveland.
In 1965, the parish welcomed a new pastor, Father Francis Kárpi. He served the St. Emeric Parish until 1983, when he was succeeded by Father Richard Orley. Rev. Mr. Geza Balassy served the parish as deacon from 1977 to 1995. In 1988 Father Sándor Siklodi became administrator and then was installed as pastor in January, 2013 by Bishop Richard G. Lennon—a position he held until his unexpected death in July of that year. Fr. Gary Yanus, in addition to his other Diocesan assignments, then became administrator of the parish until February 1, 2015, and was succeeded by Fr. Andras Antal of St. Elizabeth Parish until June 30, 2015.
As of July 1, 2015, the priest administrator was Fr. András Mezei from Hungary who considered himself a missionary to St. Emeric church. Being also fluent in the Hungarian language he was able to minister to the spiritual needs of the Hungarian speaking community until he was recalled to service in Hungary in June of 2020. Fr. Richard Bona was assigned by the Cleveland Catholic Diocese as administrator in July, 2020. Originally from a Hungarian minority area of Slovakia he came to Cleveland at age 23 and has been a priest in the Diocese since he was ordained here in 2003.
The following priests served at St. Emeric’s during the past 117 years:
Rev. John Hierling – organizer, 1904; Rev. Stephen Soltesz, pastor Nov.1904 – Sept. 1911; Rev. Joseph N. Szabo, pastor Oct. 1911- Oct. 1912; Rev. Joseph Peter, pastor Nov. 1912-March 1915; Rev. John M. Ratz, pastor April 1915- May 1920; Rev. Joseph Toth O.F.M., administrator June 1920-September 1920; Rev. Joseph Hartel, pastor October 1920-Oct. 1942; Rev.George Ferenc, assistant June 1936-May 1938; Rev. Aloysius Bartko, assistant May 1938-March 1943; (also administrator Oct. 1942-Jan. 1943); Rev. John B. Mundweil, pastor Jan. 1943-1965; Rev. Francis A. Karpi, pastor Jan. 1965-July1983; Rev. Janos Nyeste, administrator 1975-1976 (during Fr. Karpi’s illness); Rev. Richard Orley, assistantJune 1977-July 1983 and pastor July 1983-July 1988; Rev. Sandor Siklodi, assistant October 1985-July 1988 and administrator 1988-June 2010; Rev. Sandor Siklodi, pastor Jan. 2013-July 2013; Rev. Gary Yanus, administrator Aug. 2013-Feb. 2015; Rev. Andras Antal, administrator Feb. 2015-June 2015; Rev. Andras Mezei, administrator July 2015-June 2020; Rev. Richard Bona, administrator July 2020 to the present.
Deacon: Rev. Mr. Geza Balassy, deacon July 1977-1995.
The church building
The history of the church structure itself is somewhat complicated because the present building is actually the third church building for the parish, hence the cornerstone date of 1924. The first structure was a wooden structure completed in 1905 and used until 1915 when fire ruined the building beyond repair. At the same time, a few blocks away, St. Mary of the Annunciation Church lost its predominantly French congregation. The St. Emeric parish purchased the building and named it St. Emeric. In 1921, however, fire struck again and destroyed the school and damaged the church building. The school was rebuilt and the church repaired. In 1924 again another challenge emerged. The Terminal Tower was being built and required defined areas of land for railway tracks to lead into its depot so the Van Sweringens (Union Terminal Co.) purchased the newly named St. Emeric church. Now the parish had to build a new church again. It is the one we see here today. The interior of the new church was furnished with altars, communion rail, pieta, pulpit, confessionals, stained glass windows, bell and many other artifacts brought over from the old French church. “Although the architect of the new church building is not known, the design of the building reflects the Gothic style in both the exterior and the interior.”1
After World War II a new wave of Hungarian immigrants arrived from the Refugee Camps of Europe and found spiritual comfort in the churches of Cleveland bringing with them a fresh spirit of the Hungarian language and culture. The defeat of the 1956 Freedom Revolution in Hungary brought another wave of immigrants who enrolled in the parish to satisfy their spiritual needs in their native language. And together with the immigrants of the early 50’s this brought new language needs as well as new cultural contributions to the life of the parish. The bilingual character of the parish became more pronounced in 1965 with the advent of the liturgy in the vernacular languages. In 1974, Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty paid a pastoral visit to Cleveland and to St. Emeric church. As the residential neighborhoods around the church were torn down in the name of progress and urban renewal, they were replaced by businesses, commercial institutions, and parking lots, not residential homes anymore, causing the number of parishioners from the territory to decrease rapidly, but at the same time the number of parishioners by affinity with the nationality of the parish increased considerably. Hence, many parishioners now did not live close to the church, but traveled by bus and car to participate in the services.
Although the first murals in the sanctuary were the work of W.A. Krusoe, a Hungarian artist, the murals that we see today were painted by Romeo Celleghin, an Italian immigrant, in 1973 when an extensive remodeling was done under the leadership of then pastor, Father Francis Karpi. One of the beautiful murals by Krusoe, having been moved, is now on the wall in the “Sunday Office,” depicting St. Stephen, first king of Hungary offering the Holy Crown of Hungary to the Blessed Mother. Romeo Celleghin’s “frescoes and church paintings became nationally known through the years, and his work appears in many American churches.”2 The murals in the sanctuary depict a part of Hungarian Christian history. On the right side we see a portrait of St. Stephen or in Hungarian, Szent István, first king of Hungary ( 1001-1038) and also father of St. Emeric and then we find a portrait of St. Gerard, or Szent Gellért, the spiritual advisor of St. Emeric. On the other side is a portrait of St. Ladislaus or Szent Laszlo , also king of Hungary ( 1077-1095). Below this is a portrait of Blessed Gizella, wife of St. Stephen and mother of St. Emeric.
The altar itself is a white ornate carved wood of delicate spires rising to meet and blend with the arched ceiling above … “with spires of the type found in many Gothic churches. The side altars are scaled-down versions of the main altar.”3 There are two statues on the high altar, one on each side of the tabernacle. The statue on the right is that of St. Emeric or Szent Imre in Hungarian, (life 1007-1031), the namesake of our church. Although he was the crown prince of Hungary, he never ascended to the throne because it is believed that he was killed in a hunting accident. There were many reports of healings and conversions at his gravesite. He is also looked upon as the patron saint of young people because of his exemplary and prayerful life. To the left is a statue of Our lady of Fatima. The statues above the side altars are beautiful renditions of St. Joseph holding the child Jesus and the other a very dynamic artistic presentation of the Blessed Mother.
There are 6 pairs of stained glass windows along the walls of the nave and 2 in the sanctuary. Their color and design create an airy mood and the light filtered in is a pastel hue. The last three pairs are geometrical design and came from the old French church. The first three pairs, although similar to the last 3 in shape are more colorful and show some biblical scene from the life of Jesus and Mary, and one with the figure of St. Emeric and convey a more vibrant design. The Stations of the Cross along the walls of the church are beautifully carved and bear Hungarian inscriptions.
Along the southern wall is a mural called the Millennial Mural in honor of Hungary’s millennium of Christianity designed by then pastor, Father Francis Karpi, and painted by James W. Hanzel with the Latin inscription “Sacrum Hungariae Millenium 1970-1975” , a quotation from the commemorative stamp issued by the Vatican in 1971. Father Karpi had explained that it shows the historical presence of salvation in time and the religion brought to planet earth by our Savior, Jesus Christ. On the Apollo 8 U.S. postage stamp earth is viewed from the surface of the moon rousing our curiosity about the mystery of creation and time is suggested by the words from Genesis read by the three astronauts Anders, Lovell, and Borman in 1968 — “In the beginning God….” Christ is shown presenting from an open book truth for our minds and guidance for our lives. Hungary and our heritage is represented by the historic emblem with the Holy Crown of St. Stephen who brought Christianity to the nation one thousand years ago. The emblem of the United States of America represents our citizenship, our new home, and where we observe the millennium.
The other two interesting and valuable components of the church is its beautiful sounding Holtkamp organ and the bell cast by the Meneely Bell Foundry in 1871. The inscription on the bell translated from the French — “The bell is dedicated to the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Holy Mary, pray for us!” followed by the names of the benefactors.
Today, the parishioners pray that they may continue to live the gospel of Jesus Christ in the community and give glory to God in their native Hungarian language in St. Emeric Church.
“I love the house where you live and the place where your glory makes its home.” Psalms 26:8
1. Images of America, Cleveland’s Vanishing Architecture, by Barry K. Herman and Walter Grossman, Introduction by Dennis Kucinich, Arcadia Publishing, 2010. ISBN 978 0 7385 8442 3
2. The Story of St. Emeric Church, 1975, Editor Rev. Francis Karpi, ISBN 0-87450 913.
3. Saint Emeric Parish on the 100th Anniversary of Its Founding, 2004, Editor Ildiko Peller.
This post is also available in: Hungarian