Parish History

The History of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish


In the year 1905, Bishop Ignatius Horstmann, showing concern for some 100 souls in the farmlands southeast of Cleveland, told the Pastor of Holy Name Parish in Newburg, Father John T. Carroll, to consider this Bedford area to be a mission to Holy Name. The priests from Holy Name offered the first Masses at the old Shannon house on Willis Street. The Old Town Hall on Bedford Square was then used each Sunday for a $1.00 rental fee. The mission was named "Immaculate Conception."

Between 1909 and 1910, with modest donations and volunteer help, they began to erect a small building on Paul Street for the growing congregation. The wealthy Schneider family donated four lots from their farm plus $500.   A special collection netted $1,800 toward the $4,000 building. This small building was temporarily partitioned into a church, and on school days, a school for 45 students in grades one through eight.

One of the most noteworthy priests of Holy Name who assisted at this mission was Father William Galiena. Since this was a predominately Hungarian area, he learned the Hungarian language to help him know the people better.

On Sunday, July 10, 1921, Father John R. Hagan arrived in a one-seater Ford Roadster to greet his parishioners as the first resident pastor of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish. He brought a parting gift from the Mother Parish, Holy Name, to the new parish in Bedford, a check in the amount of $5,132.69. Fr. Hagan began building a wooden­ frame school near the 1910 building on Paul Street with the money and a $4,000 bank loan. The parishioners' own work, volunteer and salaried, contributed to the larger school to serve the increasing number of students. Ursuline Sisters staffed the school until June 1928.

Pr. Richard Brennan was appointed pastor on October 23, 1923. In September of 1924, he bought the whole block of land at Northfield and Union Streets for $2,500. Later, he bought the rectory from Mr. Frank Kral, $9,700 for the building and $500 for the land, with a loan.

In October 1925, the new Pastor, Fr. George Stuber came for six years. Using his great organizational skills, he began planning a new brick church. The cornerstone was laid on May 27, 1928. Upstairs had four classrooms and downstairs was the church with a capacity of '500 seats. The old church on Paul Street became the Parish Hall.  During this time, the Altar and Rosary Society, Holy Name and a Parent-Teacher Unit were established.

After the Schatzinger Estate on Schneider Hill had been given to the Cleveland diocese in the summer of 1927, Bishop Schrembs invited the Vincentian Sisters of Perryville, Pennsylvania, to establish their Motherhouse on this property. They became the teaching faculty of St. Mary. Parish activity was bountiful in those days, with parish dances and card parties. Irish parishioners put on annual St. Patrick's Day entertainment, along with other annual entertainment presented to upwards of 1,000 people at the Bedford High School Auditorium. "Stars" from our own congregation showed St. Mary to be quite a "melting pot" of nationalities. Volunteers landscaped the grounds in 1929.

Fr. Stuber left and the saintly Fr. John Price became Pastor in 1931. He was a good musician, played the trumpet and was a wonderful pianist. In 1932 he organized a 45-member parish band and guided it through the Depression. All of Father's years were dedicated to the growth of holiness in his people. His award-winning chickens were housed in the basement of the old wooden frame school that was used for storage. They were a source of entertainment for the school children. He lowered the parish debt to $38,000 despite the Depression. Fr. Price left in 1941 to be a U.S. Army Chaplain.

In October 1941, a new pastor, the warmhearted, colorful, lovable, and very German, Fr. Peter Schaefers came. He enriched the parish with his musical abilities and delighted the people with his unique expressions and dialect. He knew the English language well, but he did have some unique expressions. The "bottlenecks" at Union and Northfield were called "bottletops," he talked about "paralyzed" streets instead of "parallel" streets and, on his first Christmas Eve here, he asked Mary (Drabik) Riley to play "Gingerbells."

Father Schaefers loved to entertain. He had a great appreciation for anyone in the Armed Forces. Anybody in uniform at Mass was invited to breakfast at the rectory. In 1943, there were 230 parishioners in the service. We usually had three Masses on Sunday- 7:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.  In 1941, two Masses (6:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.) were added for those working in defense plants. Msgr. Basil Haren, Chaplain for the Vincentians, had the 6:00 a.m. Mass and Msgr. John Gallagher from St. Mary Seminary had the 12:00 p.m. Mass.

In October 1944 St. Mary received its first assistant priest, Fr. John Clark. Through the combined efforts of Pr. Schaefers and Pr. Clark, ecumenism started early in Bedford. Every week or two, one of the ministers in the area was invited to lunch. One of Father's good friends was the Methodist minister, Reverend Scott. Father even moved his organ to the Masonic Hall in downtown Bedford to play a recital there. He showed that good food and good music, as well as the other good things of God's creation, are not just Catholic, they are truly "catholic" (universal).

Together, the two priests experienced the greatest growth period in St. Mary's history. The church was again bulging at the seams and 500 children sought a Catholic education. The whole parish started working together on "fund raisers" to help increase the resources needed to pay for a new addition at a cost of $180,000. On Easter Sunday in 1951 this new church was used for the first time. The old church became three classrooms.

From 1956 to 1957, a new wing was added to the brick building facing Paul Street and the old frame building of Fr. Hagan's time was dismantled; the ravages of time had swallowed up another landmark. Fr. Schaefers retired in June 1957, returning to his hometown in Germany. As Mary would have it, Father died on her Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception in 1962.  A final tribute to him by one of his parishioners was, "Father knew everyone and helped everyone."

Father Albert Karper began his pastorate at St. Mary in June of 1957, with his major task being to eliminate the parish debt of $270,000. He was a deeply spiritual man who worked diligently in every facet of parish life. He personally wrote a parish bulletin to keep his people informed on Catholic teaching and to encourage them to grow in their spiritual lives. He added on to the rectory in hopes of obtaining a second assistant. He reorganized several parish organizations like the PTU and St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Fr. Francis Paik came to St. Mary in June of 1958. He immediately turned his attention to the needs of high school students. He saw to the purchase of a school bus for $8,000 to transport students to Catholic High Schools, even driving the bus. In April 1961 he began a Nocturnal Adoration and was active in the Social & Recreation Council.  To help the Sisters become actively involved in the parish, Father undertook the building of the convent on Paul Street. Much praise was given to the priest, man or woman who generously gave of their time, skills and labor toward this project.  The convent was finished at a cost of $60,000, but was estimated at $127,000.   It opened in April 1963.

Father Danko had fulfilled Fr. Karper's hope for another assistant in 1961. He gave of himself completely to the people of God of St. Mary. If someone was sick at home - he was there; if someone needed food - he was there; if someone was lonely and needed a visitor - he was there. He truly fulfilled the role of the Good Shepherd, "I know mine and mine know me." He died an untimely death of a heart attack on May 15, 1965.

Father Drops began his work in June of 1963. In his quiet way he could be found everywhere – leading singing at Mass, playing with children on the playground, later continuing Fr. Danko's work among the Cursillistas of the parish, directing the CCD program, and teaching at Lumen Cordium.

Father Michael O'Boyle came to the parish in June of 1965. He was very ecumenically minded, working in the SE Clergy Conference. Together, Frs. O'Boyle and Drops worked on a parish census. Fr. O'Boyle also sang and played the guitar, gave lessons at the YMCA and to school children. Father Karper was transferred in 1966.

On April 28, 1966, Father Joseph Buescher moved into the rectory from Loudonville, Ohio.  He enjoyed getting to know his new parish, whom he called the people of God.  A Parish Council was formed, an outgrowth of the past Vatican II spirit. It included an Education Commission that helped the cooperative of the school, CCD and the parish. Parishioners proclaimed the Scriptures at Mass, as a more active part in all phases of Liturgical Worship. Father  gave  himself  completely  to  his  flock  by foresight,  patience,  perseverance  and  prudence  in this true house of worship.  After four years in his pastorship, the parish was convinced of the possibility of planning the construction of a new church.  Two years were spent in discussion, one in the planning, and another in the actual construction.

In the fall of 1969, construction of the new church became close to reality. By the Parish Feast Day, December 8, 1969, it was far enough along for use.  Parishioners assembled for the first Mass in the new church on that day. It was four years in the making and rested on a low hill on the east end of the parish grounds, costing over $500,000 to build. On December 12th the student body participated in a solemn procession of the Blessed Sacrament from the old church to its new home, showing a formal move into the new modern church. This most beautiful edifice was formally dedicated by Bishop Issenmann on June 21, 1970. The new church had been built due to needed expansion and modern-day changes in liturgy with a more intimate concept of offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The successes in building and construction were because of a mild winter and minimum difficulties in obtaining necessary building materials, bringing about the swift completion much earlier than expected.

Just prior to the move, the old church rapidly began the transfer into a Social Center.  Under the guidance of Fr. Gonser, the associate pastor, who had come in March of 1968, 40 parishioners worked more than three months in clearing and remodeling. The new Social Hall could serve as a meeting room, reception hall, party room, gymnasium or cafeteria. The old 1910 building became a very efficient and well-equipped library in the summer of 1970.

Father John Storey came to be the pastor on August 17, 1971. The first of many successful nationality Dinner Dances took place.  Sr. Regina Kusnir, V.S.C. became the first Parish Religion Coordinator.  Fr. Robert Marrone came to help as an assistant on July 5, 1973.  Fr. Marrone was a very creative and artistic priest with numerous new ideas.  He remodeled a special room in the school for prayer and related services, stations and faculty prayer, which we now call the Chapel.  As the years passed, new assistants included Fr. Barr in June 1974 and Fr. Robert Reidy in October 1975.   Fr. Reidy worked mainly with the youth of the parish and took charge of a very successful Seder supper during Lent.  On Easter Sunday he said a moving and meaningful Sunrise Mass in the Metroparks. The Senior Citizens Group was very active on many occasions during these years.

In August of 1979, Msgr. Francis Gasbarre became the new pastor. His simple goodness and friendliness were evident to all. He was known for his love of trains and riding his bike. Thus, his outings could be in congested areas, as well as very scenic ones. He also loved home-grown hot peppers.

That year, Sr. lrene Mraz, V.S.C. became the Religious Coordinator of the school. The next year, Ms. Marcia Samp was the first lay person in this position.  Sr. Regina Kusnir, V.S.C. was appointed to the new position of Pastoral Minister for the entire parish from 1981 to 1983.

Father John Hengle was received, as the new Associate Pastor, in July 1981. Father Hengle became pastor in 1985 due to Msgr. Gasbarre's retirement. During his tenure he introduced girl servers, new computers in the rectory, new windows and a new boiler in the school, had the rectory and garage painted, new roofs on the convent and rectory, and held youth renewals. In June of 1985 Fr. Mark Hollis joined the team. He helped a great deal with the operations of the Social Center and other parish tasks. Fr. George Wallace also stayed here a while, helping in classroom visitations and many other ways.

Mr. Art Kane was appointed as the Parish Music Director in April of 1987.  At times he instructed the students in liturgical music and always enriched the parish liturgies - Mr. Kane and the St. Mary Choir at one Mass, with a smaller Contemporary Choir at another led by Mr. Bill Lavezzi.  Mr. Kane still provides the music for liturgies and services.

Father John King became the new assistant in June of 1989.  He was a fine young man who taught the children many things through his school involvement and parish liturgies.  From him we learned about baptisms by immersion, even for adults.  Unfortunately for the parish, but fortunately for the missions, he left to join the Diocesan Mission Team in El Salvador in June of 1994.  He was replaced by Fr. Edward Burba who loved getting acquainted with the school children by dispensing food at lunch as well as spiritual advice.

In August 1993, a new pastor, Father Thomas Winkel, came to our parish.  He was a "west-sider" moving east, with the task of getting to know an entirely new area and its people. He was formally installed as pastor on October 24, 1993. The next year, the position of Director of Religious Education (DRE) became open at St. Mary. He thought a friend, from a previous assignment, would be perfect. His friend, Sister Frances Drops, C.S.J., just happened to be open for a new ministry. Father invited her to become the DRE at St. Mary. She accepted, starting her service in the summer of 1994. She worked tirelessly with PSR, day school and parish, as a whole.

In July of 1995, Bishop Pevec celebrated an opening Mass for the beginning of the 75th year for St. Mary Parish. During the entire school year many activities were planned and celebrated by the students to commemorate the extra-special year ahead. During this time Father Winkel was faced with making his first major decision as pastor. The government deemed it necessary to remove any and all asbestos in any building, meaning to us, the school library housed in the original church building on Paul Street. His decision, with help from the Parish Finance Council, was to borrow $158,000 from the government to begin the removal. Finally, after a long and arduous job, the newly remodeled and renovated building was restored for parish use. It was blessed by Bishop Pevec on October 16, 1994. The 75th year of St. Mary Parish was closed on July 14, 1996, with a solemn liturgy celebrated by Bishop Anthony Pilla, preceded by a special procession, in honor of our year-long celebration.

St. Mary Parish had been blessed throughout its history with many good and capable pastors and priests, as well as the sisters at the school, along with fine hard-working parishioners who had contributed to the growth of St. Mary. As a result of this growth, St. Mary became the mother parish of eight new parishes: St. Jude (1945), St. Monica (1952), St. Pius X (1952), St. Barnabas (1956), St. Martin of Tours (1960), SS. Cosmos and Damian (1963), Holy Trinity (1965), and Our Lady of Guadalupe (1967).

As the 90s came to a close, noticeable changes were apparent in Mass attendance, offertory collections, virtually no sisters to teach at the school, low school enrollment, and increasing expenditures for the parish.  In February of 1999 Fr. Burba left to be pastor at St. Mary in Akron.  St. Mary Parish became a one-priest parish due to a decrease in vocations. There were many problems to be examined and studied. Nonetheless, the parish kept up all needed repairs under the tutelage and loving care of Father Winkel.

We had a reunion at the school in April 1998 for all past students, which was quite interesting and enjoyable for all who attended. School spirit was apparent in everyone's conversations. As years passed, keeping the school going was a tremendous challenge.  By the school year 2003-2004, enrollment had reached a new low of 169 students. During this time, numerous discussions were held that resulted in a final decision to merge schools with St. Pius X and St. Wenceslas (whose numbers were similar to ours) and create a new school. This assured the availability of Catholic Education in the Southeast area, the most important thing to consider. On June 6, 2004, all three of the former parish schools closed and the new Holy Spirit Academy opened. The Diocese chose the St. Pius X property for the site of the new Academy.  Our parish could no longer sustain a school by ourselves; nor could the other two parishes. By collaboration the three parishes were able to meet the many challenges to keep education alive and well in our area. As he did when we had St. Mary School, Fr. Winkel continued to teach religion at Holy Spirit Academy.

In June 2004, an Open House was held to reminisce about St. Mary School. This history of our school will never be forgotten... there's too much to remember. However, we must move on, realize change is inevitable, and pray for the success of this new endeavor that allows us to maintain Catholic education in our area.

In the summer of 2004, Sr. Frances Drops, C.S.J. celebrated her 50th anniversary as a religious in the Congregation of St. Joseph. She was still serving our parish faithfully as the DRE. But in her 71st year of life, 51st year as a religious, and the 11th year serving the people of St. Mary, the Lord called her home to Heaven on March 28, 2005. Our parish lost a wise and gentle woman who had worked diligently and tirelessly in her ministry, but still leaving some unfinished business. Fortunately for us, Father found a new DRE, who came to guide us in the completion of these things, Miss Jules Principe. She had come hoping to work with Sister for a time, but God had other plans.

Jules came a few weeks before both Confirmation and First Holy Communion. Her prayers to Sister Frances for guidance were always answered. It was as if Sister was helping her in this journey to the completion of both rituals. Her faith in Sister and Sister's previous work helped her to bring things to fruition and then start to delve into some of Sister's new ideas. We were so blessed to have Jules on our St. Mary team. She led The Journey of Faith programs, a new activity in the parish. A shared program with Holy Trinity, it proved to be very successful and well received. She also started two new groups, a Junior Youth Group and also a group for older youth called, Immaculata. She was an enthusiastic, eager, hopeful, knowledgeable and dedicated asset to St. Mary Parish.

Father Winkel took special time to visit the sick (especially those hospitalized), counsel the troubled, and teach about our faith to the students at Holy Spirit Academy. He gave Communion to the elderly, homebound and in nursing homes. In his spare time, his camera and his walking shoes were his best friends. The camera captures special God-given moments and his shoes keep him physically fit as he enjoys God's marvelous creations. In him there's a special love, trust and respect for St. Mary's congregation and his immediate helpers.

He had a deep, close and loving relationship with his mother. Some of his favorites are the Cleveland Indians, TV shows like Lost and Star Trek movies. He has a great sense of humor and a humorous dislike for the "lousy New York Yankees." His oft­ repeated line is: "In a perfect world it would go like that... but this isn't a perfect world."

The celebration of our 85th anniversary year included a July 16, 2006, Sunday morning Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Roger Gries as we also celebrated the return to us of a special "Mary statue."  The statue had been in our previous church structures and then "disappeared."  After decades the statue was coincidentally returned, and Bishop Gries blessed it in the new shrine designed by the Liturgy Commission in honor of our parish patron, Mary of the Immaculate Conception.  Our 85th anniversary year came to a conclusion with a visit of the Diocese of Cleveland's new chief shepherd, Bishop Richard Lennon. On our parish's patronal feast day of The Immaculate Conception of Mary, December 8, 2006, Bishop Lennon celebrated our evening holy day Mass and congratulated us on our 85th anniversary. The people of St. Mary Parish enthusiastically welcomed him on his first visit to St. Mary Church.

In March 2009, Bishop Richard Lennon announced his intention to close St. Mary Church as part of a downsizing of the Diocese of Cleveland.  The parish appealed to the Bishop and later to the Vatican to keep our church open.  Despite the pending appeal with the Vatican, Bishop Lennon continued with his plan to close the church.  On November 1, 2009, St. Mary parish celebrated its history with a commemorative mass then celebration at Birchwood Party Center.  On November 15, 2009, Bishop Lennon celebrated the closing mass for St. Mary Church. 

In an unprecedented move in March of 2012, the Vatican reversed the closing of St. Mary Church by Bishop Richard Lennon citing that he failed to follow canon law.  In April of 2012, the parish met informally to start planning the reopening of St. Mary Church.  In the following months the church was prepared to resume services.  On July 22, 2012, St. Mary Church reopened to its parish under the new leadership of Father Daniel Begin. 

All of what we have here today at St. Mary is the result of the energy, ambition, faith and dedication of its forbearers. Our thanks to all who have lived, loved and worked within our parish.  St. Mary is what it is today because of the priests and people of St. Mary - past and present.  Our hopes and prayers are that we continue together to be one in Christ, worshipping the Father with the Love of the Holy Spirit.  May God continue to shower His blessings on St. Mary Parish and our loyal pastor, Father Daniel Begin, as well as its people through the powerful intercession of its Patron, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.
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