HOLY FAMILY – The chosen name of the parish does more than give honor to Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the simple, joyful life they shared in Nazareth. It speaks of the early parishioners themselves- toiling farm people with generous hearts and willing hands. It hints at their struggle to earn a livelihood, to raise their children… to build a church.
The story begins back in 1872- just 25 years after the creation of the Diocese of Cleveland- here in the rolling hills and green forests of Parma Township, where less than 250 families lived within its 36 square miles.
Eleven farm families, most of them of German background, yearned for something important in their lives. They wanted a parish of their own. They wanted a church and a school and a pastor.
They knew it would not be easy. For one thing, the country was still recovering from the Civil War, just seven years prior. Money was scarce- so were priests of the Diocese- who had to cover 36 counties of Ohio, the entire upper half of the State from border to border- much of the time under missionary-type conditions.
Nevertheless, the determined eleven accomplished their wish, or at least part of it, under the leadership of Conrad Rohrbach, in whose home the first Mass of the parish was said by Rev. Patrick Quigley, resident pastor of St. Mary of Rockport. They built a church- generously Mr. Rohrbach had donated the land adjoining his home as a site for the new frame church, as well as for a small cemetery. The tree-shaded cemetery, which is St. Joseph Cemetery, still exists on Pleasant Valley Road.
In 1878, the people of Holy Family went ahead to create another part of their dream. They erected a school, but after three years of operation, the financial burden proved too great on the little community, and the school was closed down.
Yet, the parish grew. In 1911, a larger church was constructed. Ground-breaking was held on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, and the church was dedicated on November 19th of the same year by the Most Reverend John P. Farrelly.
Still, there was no resident pastor. In fact, except for three years between 1894 and 1917, Holy Family Parish was served by a succession of priests of the Franciscan and Most Precious Blood orders.
It wasn’t until 43 years after the parish had been established- on July 13, 1929- that Holy Family got its first resident pastor, the Reverend Wenceslaus A. Uhlir. By now, there were 56 families, 288 individuals on the parish roster. Within a year, Fr. Uhlir had built the first rectory and established permanent residence on the parish grounds.
The end of World War II marked the beginning of fantastic growth for Parma, which boomed to 26,000 residents in 1946. Along with it, the parish registration spurted to 240 families. There was a pressing need for a new church and a school. Plans were begun for expansion on five acres with a 200-foot frontage on York Road which the parish had purchased for $ 3,200 in 1945.
The year 1949 was a memorable one for Holy Family. After 71 years without a school, ground was broken on May 2nd for the new building in which a Catholic education could be provided for the parish children. On August 11, announcement was made that Fr. Uhlir had been appointed pastor of St. Procop Church and would be succeeded by Rev. William Benisek, then rector of St. Paul’s Shrine. A week later, on August 18th, the second permanent pastor of Holy Family assumed his duties. He plunged ahead with building plans.
Fr. Benisek completed the school building consisting of six classrooms and an auditorium at a cost of $ 100,000. September 11, 1950, was opening day and 159 pupils were registered for the six grades. Four Vincentian Sisters had come from their mother-house in Bedford to teach the children. Within a month, two more sisters joined the faculty.
One year later, on September 15, 1951, ground was broken for the new church to be built at a cost of $ 145,000. On November 12th the school was dedicated to the Most Reverend Edward F. Hoban. Earlier in 1951 Holy Family was given its first assistant pastor Rev. Albert Myers.
Midnight Mass was said in the fully completed church on Christmas eve, 1952, although Mass had been said there on Thanksgiving Day. In the same year, an addition was made to the rectory and a parish convent consisting of nine cells, a chapel, and other rooms were constructed for the Sisters at a cost of $ 46,500. Eight Sisters moved into the new building, vacating a dormitory in the top floor of the school building, which was then converted into two additional classrooms. By 1952, the school enrollment was 385.
Less than a year later, on April 18, 1954, ground was broken for a new school building consisting of five classrooms and an auditorium at a cost of $ 110,000. Archbishop Hoban visited the parish in October to administer Confirmation and to bless the new school. Because of the burgeoning enrollment, six more classrooms were added in 1957 at a cost of $ 85,000. The Pastor was now assisted by three priests.
In September, 1962, seven additional classrooms and a library were opened in the new school building. The next year, the Sister’s convent was moved from its original location to a new foundation and additional rooms were added. On June 2nd ground-breaking for the new church took place after a Solemn Mass celebrating the 35th anniversary of Fr. Benisek’s ordination. By November 22nd, contracts for the new church totaling $ 573,000 were let with Martini Construction Company. On September 4, 1965, Bishop Clarence Issenmann officially blessed and dedicated the church.
On October 1, 1969, Fr. Benisek celebrated his 40th anniversary of ordination as a priest and then passed the reigns of authority to a new pastor, the Msgr. Stanislaus Podbielski. He had the privilege of presiding over the 100th anniversary of the parish in 1972. Just before retiring in 1981, Msgr. Podbielski oversaw the installation of a new pipe organ which cost the parish $ 123,000. The organ consists of 1,300 pipes, was first played on Christmas Day.
On January 13, 1981, Fr. John Fiala became Holy Family’s fourth resident pastor but he resigned on February 1, 1983 due to ill-health.
Fr. James P. Costello became Holy Family’s fifth resident pastor on February 1, 1983. Under his leadership, Holy Family became the most populated parish in the Diocese of Cleveland. He brought his gift of theater and enriched the parish by founding an Adult and Youth Theater Group. He also supported and expanded the Parish Festival and Casino events for fundraising efforts, as well as spiritual programs such as the Adult and Youth renewals. He saw a need for expansion and change for the growing parish. Therefore in 1995, he called parishioners together and made them aware of these problems and needs. A group of representatives helped him devise a plan which they called VISION 2000. In 1996, the convent was completely renovated to provide facilities for a Day Care, Preschool and Credit Union. The second part of the plan began on June 28, 1997 when ground was broken for the construction of the Community Center which will house a kitchen, social hall, stage, gymnasium, storage and school administrative offices. The third phase began a few years later with the construction of the Chapel. Despite fundraising efforts, the parish needed to borrow about $ 1,800,000 to cover the additional costs to complete the projects. Fr. Costello officially retired as Pastor in June, 2004 after faithfully serving Holy Family Parish for 21 years.
Fr. James Masek became Holy Family’s sixth Pastor in July, 2004 at a time when the Parish needed financial and managerial direction in light of changing times. He was instrumental in putting us back on course financially and becoming more fiscally responsible before his untimely passing on September 17, 2007.
Fr. Richard A. Evans immediately became Administrator of Holy Family and was officially named our seventh pastor on October 16, 2009.