Lloyd H. Ellis, Jr., M.D., Ph.D.
Sister Annette was on a tear. Leaning back in her chair beside her spacious desk in her spacious pastor's office in her spacious rectory, she let fly at the purpose of her greater community. Sister was a figure one could imagine as a princess of the church in any other denomination: articulate; vigorous; experienced; magnetic. Instead of a diocese, however, she had, in desperation, been thrown a crumb. St. Procop, once the largest Czech church in the United States, had been poorly designed. Well before Sister was given responsibility for this decidedly moldy crumb, the parish, financially unable to maintain its building, had been forced to take down its threateningly unstable dome and then, as a further humiliation, forced to take down both of its towers. In a cruelly impoverished and unsafe neighborhood, St. Procop school was a distant memory, its convent long abandoned, the parish unable to pay its yearly diocesan assessment. Sister had rallied her moribund responsibility: a state-supported program for troubled children took over and paid to clean up most of the school as well-meaning suburban Lutherans and Presbyterians took over the rest of the building for their inner-city missions; the convent became a decidedly low-rent but decent home for men struggling to maintain and improve themselves; the parish paid off its debt and embarked on an energetic feeding program for its neighbors.
But now the Bishop would decide in three days which fifty-two inner-city parishes he would have to close. For more than a year he had been assisted in this painful process by discussions within “clusters” of congregations. St. Procop was clustered with four other parishes and the Bishop asked the cluster to recommend closing two parishes. Two of the five parishes seemed untouchable: Sagrada Familia had been built by the Diocese as a new Hispanic parish; Our Lady of Mount Carmel had a vigorous school, the only Roman Catholic educational presence in its area. That left St. Colman, St. Stephen, and St. Procop. Irish St. Colman was a marble extravaganza. German St. Stephen, with its complete ensemble of Mayer Munich windows and acclaimed carved wood furniture and statuary, was generally acknowledged to be the most beautifully decorated church in Cleveland, the Roman Catholic equivalent, as a landmark, of Eric Mendelsohn’s Park Synagogue on the East side of town. From a fine arts and preservationist point of view, Sister Annette clearly held the short straw. In Sister’s favor, however, was her stewardship and her parish’s missions to the otherwise marginalized. Now, Sister’s wrath and frustration were directed at other members of her cluster committee. “They dismiss me,” she said, “when I talk about hunger and poverty and despair. All they want to talk about is stained glass.”
This is a book about stained glass and the buildings that hold it up. It is a paean of praise for those who imagined and worked and argued and schemed so that religious buildings went up over greater Cleveland. Here there is only fleeting notice of the mission of congregations for any purpose other than for the erection of buildings. But because I only want to talk about the stained glass does not mean that there is not another story.