Our Parish History
1840 Bishop John Purcell and Fr. O’Dwyer (from then-the Diocese of Cincinnati), while returning from the dedication of St. Mary-on-the-Flats (Cleveland) visited the two Catholic families in Strongsville Township. After the visit, they were met here and escorted by German farmers to Liverpool (now Valley City).
1916 There were now three Catholic families reported to be living in Strongsville Township.
1946 Fr. Joseph J. McGraw was appointed as the first and founding pastor of St. Joseph Parish by Bishop Edward F. Hoban of Cleveland. Fr. McGraw had recently returned from three and half years of service as a Chaplain in the U. S. Army. The site for the new church was formerly the Maruna homestead and was purchased from Mrs. Anna Maruna and her daughter, Lillian Maruna. At the time of the organization there were about 170 families that belonged to the parish. The first Mass of the newly organized parish was held in the Town Hall on Sunday, June 30, 1946. (All church services were held there until the new church was ready for its first service, the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1946. At this Mass, one of the servers was a young man named Dennis O’Grady, who would later be the first priest ordained from the parish in 1961.) On July 17, 1946, the men of St. Joseph Parish held a meeting at the Town Hall. Plans were discussed in regard to the beginning of a new Chapel on the Maruna property and of converting the barn into a recreation hall. Fr. McGraw also inquired as to how many men would be willing to give some of their spare time towards molding the church property and the response was almost unanimous.
The first work in the construction of the new building was begun on Labor Day in 1946. Practically all of the construction work was done gratis by family and friends of the parish. Building materials were extremely hard to get and the need for the church was great, therefore the Quonset type of building was chosen as the most practical and earliest available. As a result of generous members and faithful workers, the building was completely paid for as it was being built and furnished, in addition to the payment of all of the running expenses of the parish. A generous gift of $2,500 was received from St. Mary Parish (Berea), which had been the parish that our founding members had most likely attended prior to St. Joseph.
Being appointed pastor of the newly established parish, Fr. McGraw wrestled with the problems of rising building costs, priorities and a shortage of materials. The cost of erecting a brick and stone structure was quite high. Because Fr. McGraw had been an Army Chaplain, he was very familiar with the Quonset Hut. He felt that it would be much more cost-effective to build a Quonset Hut as our first building.
The Quonset Hut was a type of building that became familiar during WWII. They could be utilized as permanent structures for many purposes, one of which was a church. Our original church was the very first Quonset Hut church in the Cleveland Diocese. With a desire to make the structure appear less like a Quonset Hut and more like a church, Fr. Peter Chemiss, from St. Luke Church (Lakewood), was engaged to assist with the design. Having been an architect prior to becoming a priest, Fr. Chemiss was able to add brick to the entrance of the building and construct a glass-block cross behind the altar. He also designed a unique altar. Because of Fr. Chemiss’ contributions, the interior of the Quonset Hut was transformed into a church, with the added bonus of excellent acoustics. The Quonset Hut served the parish well until 1964, when ground was broken to begin building the brick and mortar structure that stands today.
On April 11, 1965, a tornado missed the new church building but destroyed the original church, parish hall and eight classrooms, as well as killing two people and injuring many more throughout Strongsville. For the remainder of the school year classes were held in the Strongsville public schools, the town hall and the educational center of the Strongsville United Methodist Church. The parish hall and the six classrooms were demolished after it was determined that those sections were beyond repair. In the fall, St. Joseph School was reduced to nine rooms accommodating grades 1-5. All other grades transferred to the public school but a limited number were able to attend St. Adalbert.
1972 Following the sudden death of our second pastor, Fr. James McDonough, Fr. Robert Donohoe, who previously worked to institute Pre-Cana marriage preparation classes throughout the United States, became the third pastor of St. Joseph Parish.
1978 With the forming of a new parish in Strongsville, St. John Neumann, Cardinal Hickey and the Diocesan Catholic School Building Committee made the decision to create an interparochial school to accept and serve students from both parishes. Sts. Joseph and John Interparochial School was formed.
1981 Fr. Anthony Dodd, who had an aptitude for carpentry and "fixing things", became the fourth pastor of St. Joseph Parish.
1991 Fr. Robert Sanson, who had been a professor at The Catholic University of America, became the fifth pastor of St. Joseph Parish.
1996 An expansion of the church campus including the addition of meeting rooms, new offices, and a gathering space named the Holy Family Center (HFC) was completed.
2006 A renovation to update the altar and move the baptismal font from the back of church up to its current location in the sanctuary was completed.
2007 A renovation of Mary House was completed by a team of parishioner volunteers who donated all the materials and labor.
2011 Fr. Joseph Mamich, a native of Strongsville, became the sixth pastor of St. Joseph Parish. At the time of his appointment, he was the youngest pastor in the Diocese of Cleveland, a distinction that he held for almost three years.
2012 St. Joseph Day saw the completion of a restoration project on the electronic controls of our bells, thus restoring the sounds of our bells to our neighborhood. Painting of many interior spaces of the parish was completed, particularly the Holy Family Center and Vestibules. August, 2012 brought the beginning of a new Senior Adult Group - the Carpenters. Our parish, as did the entire Diocese, completed the Rooted in Faith Campaign, raising over $1.3 million in pledges from our parish.
2013 Following two extensive floods, it was decided that Mary House was to be abandoned and torn down. It served the parish well - as our first Rectory, convent, and then most recently, a place for meetings and storage. Unfortunately, the water damage took its toll. While creating a visible absence on our property, it opened a better view of the church and school buildings from Pearl Road and helped to create a more welcoming entrance and wider driveway.
2015 Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the dedication of our current church, we had a special Mass and reception in May. Beyond our current parishioners, it was a privilege to welcome back Fr. Dennis O'Grady, whose mother originally wrote Archbishop Hoban about forming a new parish in Strongsville. We also had nearly three dozen parishioners present who were there for the dedication in 1965!
2016 With praise and thanksgiving to God, we celebrated the ordination of Father James Kulway, who was baptized and grew up in the parish, to the Priesthood in service to the Diocese of Cleveland.
2021 While emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, we celebrated the ordination of Deacon Matthew Lawler, a long-time parishioner, to the Diaconate in service to the Diocese of Cleveland. Over our seventy-five years, St. Joseph Parish, including its own school and now, Sts. Joseph and John Interparochial School, has been served by six pastors, 31 parochial vicars (or associate pastors), five deacons, and 46 religious sisters. Deacon Lawler’s ordination is the most recent of several of our parish’s daughters and sons committing their lives to service of our Church. As far as we are aware, three priests and two deacons of the Diocese of Cleveland, four Sisters of the Congregation of St. Joseph, and one Sister of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, have called St. Joseph their home parish.
Fr. Dennis O’Grady, 1961
Fr. Russell Lowe, 1992
Fr. James Kulway, 2016
Deacon Robert Lester, 2004
Deacon Matthew Lawler, 2021
Sr. Patricia McHale, CSJ, 1956
Sr. Priscilla Saxton, CSJ, 1956
Sr. June Hansen, CSJ, 1958
Sr. Mary Brinkman, CSJ ,1970
Sr. Kathy Grosh, IHM, 1970
Saint Joseph – Our Patron
All we know about Joseph is in the Bible, which is very little. We know that he was the Foster-Father of Jesus, the Messiah. An old joke goes: “Did you know that insanity is inherited? Yes, it’s true—you get it from your children!” There is much truth in the opposite of this joke. Parents can be inspired and learn much from their children, as well as being mentor and example to them. Jesus had much to learn, in his humanity, as he grew up in Nazareth under the tutelage of Joseph. As Jesus grew in “wisdom, age and grace,” so did Joseph.
Joseph was the true husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in one of our “Joseph windows” in the church, we see their betrothal and rings. Yet according to Catholic theology, Mary was always a Virgin, before and after the birth of Jesus, who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit—so Jesus had no siblings (cousins were often called “brothers and sisters”). As an only (foster) Son, Jesus would have been very close to Joseph. From the little we know, Joseph was a carpenter, and taught the trade to Jesus (see the window of Joseph with an axe). Joseph expressed all the human emotions such as anger when Mary was pregnant, not by him. But he directed his life by God’s will, through prayer and “dream-visions.” Without knowing exactly how to interpret these “dreams,” we know that when Joseph discerned God’s direction, he followed it without reservation, whatever the consequences to his safety or honor.
One incident in his life was the finding of Jesus in the Temple, after Jesus had disappeared three days earlier without telling his “dad.” We can only imagine his worry, and then his relief when he learned Jesus was safe. However, there was justifiable anger for Jesus’ thoughtlessness in not letting his parents know He “had” to stay in the Temple to do His heavenly Father’s will. We can believe that the conversation was quite a lesson for Jesus in His human sensitivities.
For a number of years, St. Joseph Church was known as “St. Joseph the Worker,” especially in the 1980’s, when Fr. Tony Dodd was Pastor (who was himself an amateur carpenter, and loved the association with Joseph and Jesus). However, when the parish was founded (1946), the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker (May 1) did not even exist until 1950. That date was partly to counteract the Communist worker day celebration. Our name was never changed to St. Joseph “the Worker,” so our patronal day is March 19, Feast of St. Joseph. St. Joseph, protector and challenger of Jesus, protect us—and challenge us.
— INSIGHTS BY: FR. BOB SANSON
Our Sister Parish in El Salvador
In 2004, our parish entered into a partnership with San José Villanueva located near La Libertad, El Salvador.. This partnership is primarily a spiritual joining of two equal parishes praying for each other and learning from each other.
The idea of a creating a relationship between a parish in El Salvador and St. Joseph began in 2003. Fr. Bob Sanson, our Pastor at the time, was involved with an orphanage in Zaragoza called The Community of Oscar A. Romero (COAR). In 2004, Father Bob suggested some of the parishioners accompany him on a mission trip to El Salvador.
At the time, a local priest from the nearby village of San José Villanueva, Fr. Mario Adin Cruz Zaldivar, celebrated Mass beneath a strip of corrugated metal, propped up by sticks. Touched by their devotion and obvious needs, a partnership was created between our parish and the Catholic community of San José Villanueva. As a result, the parishioners of St. Joseph have provided that community with several concrete chapels and gifts to furnish them.
Today, a committee of 26 members, led by coordinator Norbert Hobrath, supports the sister parish partnership, which is both spiritual and financial. From 2009-2014, the parish provided 100 students in El Salvador with one-year scholarships. For one year of school, it costs approximately $125 for an elementary school student, $175 for a high school student, and $2,000 for a college student.
Our parish has served the people of this large parish in El Salvador in a host of ways. We’ve offered them our prayers and our financial support. We’ve been able to raise money for school scholarships for the children. We’ve helped them improve their parish facilities, and some of our financial support has even enabled the building of a chapel out in the rural areas – where the people haven’t been able to celebrate Mass for months and even years at a time.
St. Joseph parishioners are invited to join in solidarity with the people of San José in any of the following ways:
- Become a Prayer partner with a San José family
- Become an Education partner by sponsoring a child in grade school, high school, or university
- Become part of the planning committee to assist with promotion and development of the partnership
- Visit San José as part of a parish group
Please contact our trip coordinator to learn more about San José Villanueva and what you can do to help.
Norbert Hobrath, 440.212.3520, firstname.lastname@example.org
Every year, our parish sends thousands of dollars to our sister parish in El Salvador. Imagine being able to see firsthand how that money is being used and the people it is going to help.
In addition to visiting the newly built chapels, parishioners will have the opportunity to meet many of the students we sponsor. The trip will cost around $1,000, which covers airfare, food, lodging, and transportation in El Salvador.
“I enjoyed it so much. The people were so poor, but were so warm and welcoming. They had a sense of prayer that was deep and touching.” — HELEN YUREK
“We have so much in this country. The El Salvadorian people don’t even eat meat for years at a time. In fact, their daily diet would be considered by many of us as torturous.” — DEE DOWNEY
Perspective & Insights
In 2013, the parish of San José Villanueva received a new priest, Father (Padre) Gonzalo Ortega, while Padre Mario relocated to a new parish in Honduras. Neither Padre Gonzalo, nor any of his parishioners, takes their freedoms or blessings for granted. They also take wonderful responsibility for taking care of the poorest among them. We visited people with only polluted river water to drink, little food for their family, a piece of corrugated tin for a roof, and if they have work, making perhaps $5 a day or less, laboring in the fields for a landowner from dawn to dusk. Many have no document of birth, so they cannot marry officially, cannot own land, cannot leave the country, etc.
As we celebrate our freedoms, we pray for our sisters and brothers in El Salvador who have so little, but are so grateful and joyful.
Here at St. Joseph Church, we are very blessed to have our own library with hundred of books freely available for your enjoyment. Our library with its comfortable quiet atmosphere, and good natural light, is a simple pleasure may quite possibly become for you, a priceless treasure. Our library contains books spanning a wide range of topics that may help you find answers to specific questions or just gain knowledge of a broader topic.
The library is open anytime during office hours, and is located across from the main parish office. If the door is locked or you need assistance, the office staff would be glad to help. Once inside, you will find instructions on how to find and borrow books. Please be respectful of others and our librarians, Geri and Karen, by leaving the library in the same state as when you entered.
We are constantly getting donations of new books, which are showcased in special section, so visit often to make use of these valuable resources. If you have books that you would like to donate, contact the parish office.
- Religion, God, The Bible, Christianity
- Christian Life, Comparative Religion
- Christology, Mariology
- Social Sciences, Philosophy, Psychology
- Fiction, Poetry
- Children's Books
- Human Suffering
- Women in the Bible
- Commentaries & Reflections
- Charismatic Renewal
- Marriage & Family