A Rich Heritage
St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Berea, Ohio, has served its parishioners
through the leadership and dedication of its clergy and the generosity and
spirit of countless parishioners. The parish, the community of Berea, and the
Diocese of Cleveland have all benefited from its remarkable beginnings as a
mission in the 19th century.
The roots of St. Mary’s Parish run as deep as the quarries that gave
up their sandstone to the many settlers who came to Berea to carve out a living
and a future for their families in the early 19th century. Life was difficult
for these early settlers who lived in wooden huts and log cabins and worked
in dangerous quarries where the inhalation of the fine sandstone dust led to
grit consumption and an early death. An early city father, John Baldwin, solved
the problem, by patenting a blower that blew the fine grit away from the workmen.
In the early 1800’s, families flocked to the city of Berea in hopes
of obtaining work in the sandstone quarries. In 1852, a number of Catholic
families petitioned the Diocese of Cleveland for a priest to serve their area.
In its beginning as a mission, St. Mary’s was served by a succession
of priests, all of whom traced their roots back to Ireland. They included Rev.
James Conlan, Rev. William O’Connor, Rev. Thomas Walsh, Rev. Michael
Kennedy, Rev. Francis McGann, and Rev. Michael O’Neil. These men served
St. Mary’s as a mission church, as did their successor Rev. Louis J.
Filiere, who came in 1856 as a mission pastor serving from 1856 to 1876.
1856, Father Louis Filiere was named the first pastor of St. Mary’s
Church in Berea. In his 20 years of service to the parish, Father Filiere raised
the funds and supervised the construction of a magnificent church on Front
Street made from Berea sandstone. The church served the parish for nearly a
The first Mass in Berea was celebrated by Fr. James Conlan in May 1852 in
the home of his friend, Thomas Donovan, whose log cabin stood at what is now
believed to be the intersection of Grayton Road and North Rocky River Drive
In 1856, Fr. Louis J. Filiere of Olmsted Falls, and a native of France, galloped
on horseback to attend to the few scattered families of St. Mary’s where
he became the first resident pastor. Yes, Fillier Street, though misspelled,
was named after him. Fr. Filiere moved an old farmhouse to the site of the
yet-to-be built “old stone church” to serve as a temporary church.
In 1866, parishioners, among them Irish, German, and Polish families agreed
to raise $20,000 for the stone church. The cornerstone was laid on August 15,
1866, the Feast of the Assumption and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and the
edifice completed in 1870, complete with beautiful stained glass windows.
The design selected for the “old stone church” was the Romanesque
style, 105 by 68 feet, made from dressed Berea quarry stone. The stones were
taken from the quarries and taken down the railroad on Front Street. Ties were
used for this track on which timbers were laid, in place of iron rails. On
top of these timbers were fastened strap iron rails, which the wheels of the
stone cars traveled on.
According to the Berea Advertiser (January 20, 1863): “The new Catholic
Church is nearly ready for its slate roofing. When completed, this will be
a building of which Berea may be proud. Structures of this type add greatly
to our town.” The “old” St. Mary’s church would serve
St. Mary’s parishioners for almost 100 years—until being demolished
102 years later in 1968.
Then as now, fundraising was important to the survival and growth of the
fledgling parish. The occasion was the Fourth of July celebration in 1868.
The Fourth of July holiday was second only to Holy Days in importance in that
bygone time, or perhaps to St. Patrick’s Day as a social and cultural
event for the church and community.
Again, the Berea Advertiser commenting on the Fourth of July celebration,
the biggest holiday the town had: “Our Catholic friends are preparing
for a grand time at their Dinner and Festival, to be given at their church
on the Fourth. They commence at 9 o’clock a.m. and continue all day.”
The impact of a new church building on the small community was duly noted
by the local newspaper. On November 20, 1869, the Advertiser reported: “That
all improvements are matters of interest and should be regarded with a kindly
spirit by all was suggested by the sight of the beautiful, stain-glass windows
recently placed in the new Catholic Church. They add much to the appearance
of the edifice, and by their subdued, mellow light, seem fitted to subdue the
passions and promote devotion.”
St. Mary’s survived the difficult years following the financial panic
and crash of 1873 through the efforts of Fr. Filiere and the parishioners who
remained—in spite of losing 100 Polish families who left to join the
newly formed St. Adalbert’s Parish. St. Mary’s would lose parishioners
for a second time in 1968 when 400 families were required to transfer to the
new St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Brook Park.
In 1876, Rev. John Hannan succeeded Fr. Filiere. Fr. Hannan renovated the
interior of the church, appointed the Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary
in charge of the school, and founded the Altar and Rosary Society.
During the pastorate of Rev. John T. Carroll, who had become pastor in 1879,
a number of far-reaching steps were taken with the school. The school had its
first graduating class (the practice of graduation was not common in those
days) and a property was purchased and a frame school building erected on Front
Street. The Sisters of Holy Humility of Mary once again took over the school
from the lay teachers who had guided it from the early 1800’s.
Rev. Francis J. O’Neil took over the parish in 1886 and finished the
church tower by erecting the spire, which would be one of Berea’s most
recognizable landmarks for the next 82 years. The church bell that was donated
by Mrs. Seidel and blessed by Fr. O’Neil was later salvaged from the
old stone church when it was demolished and now stands in a place of prominence
outside of St. Mary’s church.
By the turn of the century the parish comprised about 60 families with 60
children attending the grade school. Fr. O’Neil, who had suffered from
ill-health for a number of years, served as pastor until his death in 1903.
Subsequently, a number of priests served St. Mary’s as pastor, many
of them Irish. Among them were Fr. Edward Kirby (1904-1909), Fr. Thomas E.
Walsh (1909-1910), Fr. John J. Lillis (1910-1920), Fr. James E. Heffernan (1920-1924),
Fr. William H. Moseley (1924-1936), Msgr. Clement Treiber (1936-1940), and
Fr. Carl J. Anthony (1940-1942).
None served longer than Father Raymond A. Kathe, who was named pastor in 1942
and remained at that post until 1969. During that time the parish grew from
350 families to 1400, too many for the sandstone church on Front Street to
accommodate. In the spring of 1962, land was purchased on Kraft Street and
Father Kathe oversaw the fundraising and construction of the new church. On
Christmas Eve, 1964, Midnight Mass, attended by 1300 people, was celebrated
in the new church. Father Butler succeeded Father Kathe in 1969 and retired
In 1978, Father John M. Garrity was installed as pastor of St. Mary’s.
Father Garrity guided St. Mary’s through tremendous change. Under his
administration, the old Lechner School was purchased, and the Kraftstone Community
Center was built. He was pastor of St. Mary’s from 1978 until his death
In October 2002, Father George A. Vrabel was appointed pastor. Fr. Vrabel
is continuing to nourish the spiritual life St. Mary’s.
The parish has a long-time commitment to helping the poor in our area and
serving the needs of the sick in the hospital and local nursing homes. Today,
St. Mary’s Parish serves 3000 households.