History weaves tale of growing faith community
For more than 160 years, the Catholic faith has flourished in Medina under the blessing of St. Francis Xavier, our patron saint.
Humble beginnings (1860-1907)
In 1860, Father John Van den Broek, one of seven Sanguinist Fathers assigned to tend the Germans living in and near Cleveland, Lorain, Medina and Wayne counties, began visiting Catholic families living in and around Medina village. He celebrated Mass in their homes before the small group was recognized in 1864 by the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland – itself newly established in 1847 – and organized as a mission station.
The new pastor, Father Thomas Halley, bought a house in Medina to serve as a worship center (the location of this house is today unknown). By 1876, the small community had grown enough to become established as a parish. That year, Father F.X. Nunan, the mission priest in charge of the Medina group, led the drive for the city’s first Catholic church. Under this young priest’s guidance, parishioners raised funds and constructed a small frame church with a steeple. It was completed in 1878 and dedicated by Cleveland Bishop Richard Gilmour.
By 1903, the fledgling parish had expanded and launched several mission churches in surrounding areas. However, the original church was in bad repair and the parish was in debt when Father John R. Kenny was appointed pastor in 1905. He immediately began plans to build a new, larger, stone church, designed to be the finest in the city. Financial support reportedly came from all Medina citizens, including non-Catholics.
The West Liberty Street church (1907-1960)
The cornerstone for the new church, at 412 W. Liberty St., was laid Sept. 22, 1907, in what was described in 1962 as “one of the largest crowds ever to gather in Medina, either before or since.” Trains brought 2,000 visitors from Cleveland, and another 1,800 from Akron. “Hundreds more came by carriage and trolley from Wooster, Berea, Elyria and elsewhere,” according to parish records. The event was celebrated by a grand parade, including members of the Knights of Columbus, military bands and bugle corps, around the Public Square. The celebration included a speech by Father T.F. Mahon of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Cleveland.
The $10,000 church, which held 165 people, was completed in 1908, and it served the growing parish until 1961.
A succession of pastors led the parish as it grew. Families came from as far as Brunswick, Litchfield, Lodi and Seville to join St. Francis Xavier Parish. In 1948, the diocese appointed a young pastor named Father William H. Randel, who envisioned a new parish school, a new church and “parsonage” to be built “in the city’s finest section,” the parish history recounts. He negotiated the purchase of four acres at the southeast corner of Spring Grove and East Washington streets and immediately began work on designing a new church complex.
A growing community (1950-1960)
Father Randel commissioned two Cleveland architects to design a school building in keeping with the historic architecture of the Connecticut Western Reserve, of which Medina is a part. The 10-room brick school and auditorium (now the computer lab) – built at a cost of $255,608 – opened in 1951 and was staffed by four Dominican nuns and several lay teachers.
To accommodate the growing parish, by November 1953, three Masses each Sunday were celebrated in the school auditorium, and two in the old stone church. The overcrowding was alleviated in 1956 when St. Ambrose Parish was founded in Brunswick as our parish continued to grow and thrive.
The same year, St. Francis Xavier Parish purchased a large house on seven acres at 600 E. Smith Road for $50,000. The house became the convent for as many as nine nuns who taught at the school, and the property was deemed “suitable for future use as a site for a Catholic high school,” the records state. (When the site was no longer needed for a convent, it was sold to a private owner, much to the chagrin of Catholic families who send their children 20 to 30 miles or longer to attend a Catholic high school.)
Soon after the school was finished, Father Randel began plans for a new parish church. “The accomplishment of these tasks will ensure the future of our parish and provide facilities necessary for this center of Catholicism in Medina to fulfill its function in God’s plan,” Father Randel told parishioners. More than $200,000 was raised or pledged following his announcement, and parishioners were eager to start work.
In 1959, those plans were halted when Father Randel entered the hospital for a minor operation, but he became critically ill and died eight days later. Father James R. Becherer, appointed our parish’s first associate pastor immediately after ordination in 1955, assumed leadership duties until Father Robert E. Murphy was appointed pastor.
Building the church (1960-2009)
Father Murphy soon discovered that the money raised was insufficient for building a half-million-dollar church building – unless the parishioners themselves would volunteer their labor.
Response to his proposal was “overwhelmingly favorable,” parish records state. Ground was broken May 1, 1960. Many men and women devoted hundreds and thousands of hours every day but Sunday to lay brick, install electricity and plumbing, even shingle the roof one day under the duress of a major snowstorm.
Just one year later, on May 1, 1961, with work still being completed, Father Murphy celebrated the first Mass in the church. Work continued, and on May 8, 1962, the church was formally dedicated and the altars consecrated by Auxiliary Bishop John F. Whealon.
Built to seat 1,046 people, the new church accommodated the parish’s 800 families. The school included “all modern facilities” with “highest scholastic standards and best Catholic education” for its 450 pupils.
Since then, the parish has more than tripled to more than 3,000 families, with 430 students enrolled at the day school and more than 800, in preschool through high school, in our parish school of religion.
In 1989, Father Mark Hollis was appointed pastor and remained 20 years as our longest-serving pastor before leaving in 2009 to become the spiritual director at St. Mary Seminary in Wickliffe. He envisioned the need to one day build a larger church and began acquiring adjacent properties, including a house (which was named the Randel House) to serve as a hub of activity for Operation HOMES, RCIA and countless group meetings. A large gymnasium was added to the school in 1993. Six years later, a major addition to the complex created the Xavier Room, school office, library and classrooms, improvements to the rectory and priests’ garage, with an underground tunnel connecting the school and church.
Continuing the legacy (2009-present)
Today, we are ably served by our pastor, Father Anthony (Tony) Sejba, and one parochial vicar, Father Curtis Kondik, who also is assigned to serve neighboring parish Our Lady Help of Christians.
Our parish also is served by Deacons Paul Kipfstuhl and Bob Cavanaugh.
Like their brother priests of years past, our three priests often are called to “ride the circuit,” reaching out to celebrate Mass with Catholics in outlying areas of our diocese. Through their work, and that of parishioners in more than 60 active ministries, we attempt to mirror Christ’s example of service to all.
We continue the missionary zeal of St. Francis Xavier, bringing the sacraments and God’s presence to those who persevere in faith, hope and love. May our patron saint inspire our efforts and pray for us, that we may continue to honor God until Christ returns in glory.