Enduring faith built a strong church.
By Roger J. DiPaolo
Mr. DiPaolo is a 1969 graduate of St. Patrick School. The article, originally published in The Record Courier, is used with permission.
St. Patrick School wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for St. Patrick Church, – and the church wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for a tiny group of Catholic families who gathered in a house on Water Street in 1850.
The John Fiedler home, located on South Water Street, was the site of the first Roman Catholic service in what then was known as the village of Franklin Mills.
It isn’t known how many Catholics turned out for the service at the Fiedler residence, but the number probably wasn’t very large, given the size and nature of the community, which had about 1,750 residents.
From those humble beginnings, however, grew a full-fledged Catholic parish whose members have played an important role in the growth and development of the community for more than a century.
Today, 1,400 households look to St. Patrick Church as their religious home and take pride in the elementary school whose centennial is being celebrated this year .
The roots of the Catholic Church in Ohio date to the 1700s, when the Northwest Territory was being settled. The first recorded Mass was celebrated in 1793 by two missionaries on their way to Kentucky, and the first Catholic community in Northeastern Ohio was established in Dungannon in Columbiana County in 1812.
In Portage County, St. Joseph Church in Randolph was organized as the first Catholic mission in 1831, with missionaries from Cleveland and other areas serving the religious needs of the community.
Traveling priests such as these served Catholics in outlying areas, such as Franklin Mills and Ravenna, where the first church services were held in private homes.
As the number of Catholics increased, so did the need for a larger, more permanent meeting place, and arrangements were made in 1862 to move the services to the Town Hall building located on what is now Gougler Avenue.
The advent of the Atlantic & Great Western Railroad in 1863 helped to transform Franklin Mills from a struggling manufacturing community to an important rail center. The size of the Catholic population was boosted in the process as a large number of German and Irish immigrants migrated to the area to work on the railroad.
The growing number of Catholics prompted the creation of separate parishes in Ravenna and in Kent – the community was renamed in 1863 – under the direction of Father Patrick Brown.
Plans for construction of a permanent place of worship were initiated by Father Brown in 1864, and a site on Portage Street was donated to the Catholic Congregation by railroad president Marvin Kent.
Construction of the church began in 1867, and a handsome brick and stone edifice was completed a year later. The church, which seated 350, was named St. Patrick-possibly in honor of the founding pastor, but more likely because of the large number of Irish immigrants among the ranks of the parish.
As Kent grew, so did St. Patrick Church. Father Brown served as pastor until 1872, when he was succeeded by Father W.J. Gibbons, the first of a series of short-term administrators who guided the fledgling parish during its infancy.
All lived in Ravenna while ministering to both the Kent and Ravenna congregations. As the membership became strong enough to support itself, Father Francis J. O’Neill became the first resident pastor in 1878.
At about this same time, members of the church raised the possibility of forming a parish school – a new dream which became a reality when construction of a four-room wooden school house was begun next door to the church in 1881. The project took five years to complete.
Kent’s growth as a “railroad town,” fueled largely by the establishment of the Erie car shops and related industries, made the community a popular place of employment for immigrants.
As the German and Irish continued their migration to the community, they were joined by newcomers from Italy, Poland and Eastern Europe – including many Catholics who helped swell the ranks of St. Patrick Church and the parish school.
Both institutions helped serve as a powerful “Americanizing” influence on these new residents. A night school for “working boys,” organized by Father George Branigan in 1906, was only one example of the manner in which the church ministered to this special constituency.
Father Brannigan’s pastorate, which lasted from 1904 to 1909, saw the completion of a remodeling project at the Portage Street church. A gala dedication program was held on Labor Day 1904 to mark the inauguration of the new facilities, which the Kent Courier hailed as “one of the most beautiful church edifices in this section.”
The Gothic-style church included a 100-foot tall bell tower which made it one of the more prominent landmarks in the downtown area. Seating capacity was 400, which was thought sufficient to accommodate the 175 families served by church. The project cost $25,000.
The coming of the 1920s saw continued expansion under the pastorates of Father James Nolan, who came to Kent in 1921, and Father Patrick A. Logan, who succeeded him in 1928.
Under Father Nolan’s leadership, an eight-classroom school building was constructed next to the church at a cost of $90,000. The brick facility replaced the frame structure which had fallen into disrepair and was overcrowded.
The church also was extensively repaired in 1928, and a $50,000 pledge drive was initiated during Father Logan’s pastorate to retire the debt on the church and the school.
The postwar era brought phenomenal growth to the Portage area, and Kent — and its Catholic population — proved to be no exception.
As the parish increased to 1,300 families, it became evident that the charming little church on Portage Street could no longer hold its flock. Crowding became such a problem that some parishioners were forced to stand outside the church to listen to services.
Under the leadership of Father George P. Mulroy, who became pastor in 1950, the parish mounted a subscription effort to raise $300,000 to build the new facility. Robert Bissler and Dr. Victor Yahner served as co-chairmen of the drive, which surpassed its goal by $57,000.
On August 15, 1952 — the Feast of the Assumption — ground was broken for the new church, which was to be located on a hilltop site on North DePeyster Street overlooking the old parish complex. Plans were made for construction of a parish rectory and fellowship center as part of the new church.
The facility was dedicated by Bishop Walsh on Nov. 1, 1953 during a three-hour ceremony attended by 1,000, including 45 priests and 50 nuns.
Following its completion, plans where announced for a $255,000 addition to the parish school which more than doubled that facility. The first stage of the project was completed in 1959, and four more classrooms were added two years later. A convent for the Sisters of the Humility of Mary also was built near the church.
When Monsignor Joseph Koch was named pastor of the parish in 1964, a major effort was mounted to reduce the debt from the capital improvement projects. Efforts to upgrade the school were undertaken as enrollment there peaked at 800 students.
The advent of the Second Vatican Council, coupled with the nation’s civil rights struggles and growing involvement in the Vietnam War, led to an often turbulent period of change which made itself felt in parish life. Activities at the church generated controversy throughout this period.
Father Robert Brengartner was named pastor in 1971, a position he held until 1982, when he was succeeded by Father John Cassidy. The present Pastor is Father Timothy Kenny, who was named to his position in 1985.
An update since this article was written: Father Kenny remained at St. Patrick until 2003, when Robert Hannon became Pastor. Richard Pentello came to us in 2006.