In the early twenties the migration from Cleveland to the rapidly developing Cleveland Heights was heavy. In 1926, there were only two Catholic churches in this area to care for the expanding Catholic population – St. Ann and St. Gregory. Although University Heights had been incorporated in 1908 as ldlewood Village, it received its present name in 1925. The new parish, Church of the Gesu, was founded by Archbishop Joseph Schrembs. He placed it in the charge of the Jesuits who, at the time, were relocating their College of St. Ignatius from Cleveland’s west side to the Heights and renaming it John Carroll University.
The founding pastor, Father Francis Rudden, S.J., celebrated the first parish Mass on Easter Sunday, April 4, 1926 in University Heights Town Hall with fourteen parishioners present. The newly organized parish numbered fifty-three families. Gesu School opened on September 7, 1926, in a rented duplex which was located on Silsby Rd. The first faculty of Gesu School consisted of four Sisters of Notre Dame. On May 29, 1927, fourteen children received their First Holy Communion in University Heights Town Hall. On June 19, 1927, three boys and four girls graduated from Gesu School as its first class.
Better housing for Gesu’s Church and school came in November, 1927 when the Cleveland Heights Board of Education donated three portable buildings which were placed on John Carroll University property facing Miramar Boulevard. Two of these were used as classrooms while a third was set aside for a chapel. A frame bungalow was built for the pastor’s residence. These facilities served the parish until 1940.
Building a Great Parish
The 1940’s were busy years for Gesu – the completion of the church-school building, erection of the Sister’s convent; addition of four classrooms to the new school in 1944 and four more in 1948. Father Seth Walker was named Pastor and completed the immense building program which was underway.
The 1950’s saw construction of Gesu Rectory in 1950, and the completion of the magnificent church in 1958. In 1957 Father Seth Walker’s health failed and Father Francis Dietz, S.J., was named to succeed him and complete the financing of this immense project with the help of a dedicated building committee laymen headed by Mr. Hugh O’Neill. The second chapter of Gesu’s history, Building a Great Parish closed on a note of triumph as Archbishop Edward Hoban dedicated the Church on April 27, 1958. Some mention of items of great interest regarding this church, which is one of the truly beautiful churches in The United States, is apropos. The church planned by Father Walker with his architect. John E Miller was begun in 1955. It incorporates the history and ideals of the Jesuit Order.
Meeting the Challenges of the Times
Increased enrollment peaked at 954 in 1966-67. The enrollment for 2004 is 780 children. In 1976, the parish numbered 1800 families. In 1990, there were 1985 households enrolled and in2007, it totals 2400. The parish draws membership from several eastern suburbs: University Heights, Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights, Pepper Pike, South Euclid and Beachwood. The pastors bore the brunt of the changing times brought about by Vatican II: Father Francis Dietz, S.J., Father Joseph Boggins, S.J. Father Joseph Muenzer, S.J., Father Robert Lab, S.J. , Father Robert McAuley, S.J. Fr. McAuley was succeeded by Fr. John V. White, S.J. as pastor.
Building the Future in Faith
Under Father White’s direction, a new course was charted in Gesu’s history. Fr. White would direct a major building program entitled ”Building the Future in Faith” which would expand the present parish facilities to serve the needs of parishioners into the next century. It had been the first major capital campaign in over thirty years and would include the relocation of the Sisters of Notre Dame into a new house purchased on the corner of Meadowbrook and Glendon, remodeling the convent to become a new Educational Center, a new Family Center with a new gym and classroom space, and a chapel adjacent to the church.
Once again, the families of Gesu rallied to support their faith commitment into the future by pledging their time, treasure and talents to leave a legacy of spiritual and educational excellence for the coming generations.
Fr. James Von Tobel, S.J. became pastor in January 2000 and completed the Building the Future in Faith campaign that Fr. Jack White began in 1994 with the dedication of the Marian Chapel on Palm Sunday 2000. This was the final phase of a three part program that created a multi-use building from the old convent and it now houses the school library, two computer rooms , the adult education center, the PSR libraries, a small school chapel, an art room and three meeting rooms that are handicapped accessible for general parish use. The second phase included the building of a family center housing an early childhood education center, a music/ youth room that serves PSR and parochial school students, a high school activity room, a new state of the art gymnasium, a room for student enrichment/ activities and a much needed faculty room. The addition also enabled the entire school facility to become handicapped accessible.
In August 2006, the parish bid a fond farewell to Fr. Von Tobel and welcomed Fr. Lorn Snow, S.J. Gesu’s youngest pastor. With a firm commitment to the Jesuit mission of service, Fr. Snow continued to bring the people of Honduras closer to the heart of the parish. Literally, hundreds of men and women have gone on mission to Honduras under his sponsorship to help build the various projects in that country. In addition, Fr. Snow initiated a Christmas “service day” with over 950 parishioners reaching out the city of Cleveland in a coordinated effort to be “men and women for others.” The parish of Gesu is a thriving, Gospel centered community of Catholics who are focused on Ignatian Spirituality with the Eucharist at its heart. We are grateful for the rich history of the past and hopeful of a grace-filled future. We will continue to serve “for the greater glory of God”.