Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Holy Name Church and School

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Photo courtesy of Tom Balog

I learned recently through a post on a Youngstown Facebook group by Tom Balog that the Holy Name of Jesus Church is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. This brought back many memories because Holy Name served as the parish for many of the families in my neighborhood and many of the kids I grew up with.

The Holy Name of Jesus Church is located at 613 N. Lakeview Ave., at the corner of Midland. During most of my growing up years, Interstate 680 separated our neighborhood and the portion of N. Lakeview one block east of us from the church. But many of my Catholic friends talked about going to Mass, taking CCD classes, confirmations and more at Holy Name. My earliest exposure to Holy Name was going to the church festivals held there every summer, enjoying the good food, rides, and games of “skill”, all of which made money for the parish. Even though I was not a member, I made my contribution!

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Photo from 50th Jubilee Yearbook, 1966 (courtesy of Tom Balog)

In junior high and high school, I met a number of students who came from Holy Name School, across the street from the church. It seemed that a number of those in my classes were among the best students in the class. We always heard that the threat was that if you didn’t behave, you could always be sent to public schools!

The Holy Name of Jesus Church was established in 1916 to serve the Slovak Catholic families who moved into the Steelton area of the lower West Side. From a history published for the 75th anniversary celebration, I learned that the parish’s first priest was Father J.A. Stipanovic, a Croat who came from Chicago and quickly learned Slovak to serve the parish! The cornerstone of the church was laid November 5, 1916, and while the building was under construction, the parish met in a former barroom owned by a Jewish landlord. Father Stipanovic was succeeded by Fathers Dubosh and Kocis. Father, later Monsignor Kocis, oversaw the construction of Holy Name School, beginning in 1926 and completed in 1927, and also expansion of the church rectory. Monsignor Kocis died in January 1952.

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Holy Name School, from 50th Jubilee Yearbook, 1966 (photo courtesy of Tom Balog)

He undertook a remodeling of the church during his last years that included a mosaic of Christ the Teacher, stained glass windows telling the story of Christ, a Carrara marble main altar, and Stations of the Cross ceramic statuary of which the molds were broken after their completion so they could not be duplicated. When Bishop Emmet Walsh dedicated the renovation in 1953 he called Holy Name “the gem of the Youngstown diocese” and his “little cathedral.” Though I was not a Catholic, in high school I would sometimes slip into the church when it was open but no mass was occurring, just to sit in the quiet, to take in the magnificence of the building, and the sense of wonder and mystery I rarely had seen elsewhere. I can understand Bishop Walsh’s comments.

Monsignor Stephen Begalla served the parish during the time I and my contemporaries were growing up, until Father Franko took over in 1968 upon Monsignor Begalla’s retirement. He served until 1989. In more recent years as parish numbers declined, the school was closed and sold, and the church became part of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, consisting of three churches: Holy Name of Jesus, St. Matthias, and Sts. Cyril and Methodius, all of which serve the Slovak Catholic community in Youngstown. Currently, Mass is held at Holy Name at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday.

Holy Name, and the other churches of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish grew up with the working class neighborhoods near the mills and other related industries, serving those of Slovak heritage who moved into these neighborhoods. With the changing demographics of the neighborhoods and the consolidation of the parish one wonders about the future of the churches which served the families of so many people we grew up with. Perhaps they will re-conceive their mission in light of the needs of the current residents in what were formerly their parish boundaries. Whatever may be, I want to extend my own congratulations to Holy Name of Jesus Church on its 100th anniversary for serving the spiritual, social, and educational needs of generations in the area in which I grew up.

Boh ti žehnaj (God bless you)!