ST. PAUL PARISH MISSION STATEMENT
“We the people of St. Paul Parish, responding to our Baptismal call, dedicate ourselves to proclaim and live the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Being open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we endeavor to create an environment in which we reach out in service to one another and to the larger community.”
Saint Paul’s history is tied closely with the history of Firestone Park in the city of Akron. Harvey S. Firestone, the founder of the tire company, purchased a large tract of land south of the city and founded the Firestone Park Land Company to provide housing for his employees around 1915. Many who purchased lots in the development were Catholic families and they collectively petitioned their Diocesan Bishop, John P. Farrelly, to establish a new parish. Though of the Methodist faith, Mr.Firestone donated fourteen lots along Brown Street for this purpose.
Bishop Farrelly appointed a recently discharged and decorated United States Army Chaplin, The Reverend James Hanley, the task of establishing the new parish, named St. Paul’s, after the Apostle of the Gentiles. Celebration of the first mass was conducted on Columbus Day, October 12, 1919, in the new Firestone Park school.
Father Hanley wasted no time on the building of a new church for the parish. A huge bazaar was held in the Akron Armory to raise funds to finance the project and by April 4, 1920 work was far enough along to permit celebration of the first Mass in the new church.
Pneumonia took the life of the new pastor on May 21, 1920. His death was attributed to a weakened physical condition brought about through injuries suffered in the World War. In eight months Father Hanley had not only established the new parish and begun the new church but had endeared himself to his parishioners and the community. Another former Chaplin, Father Edward Gracey, became administrator of the parish for six months prior to the naming of a permanent pastor.
In December of 1920, Father Thomas A. Kirby D.D. was appointed the second pastor of St. Paul’s. He was faced with the monumental task of completing the church and paying off the enormous debt of $65,000.00 incurred in its construction. The times did not lend themselves to the task. Depression in the tire industry brought the city to a standstill. Akron, which had been the fastest growing city in The United States between 1910 and 1920, ground to a halt. The passenger depot, which had seen upwards of 55 passenger trains a day arrive during the period, now saw numerous departures.
The church community came together and unemployed parishioners finished work on the church. Harvey S. Firestone showed his compassion by securing the church loan through the Firestone Bank.
The erection of a parish school had always been the dream of Father Kirby but it was not to be. He was replaced as pastor in 1924 by Father Clement H. Boeke. To him fell the task of constructing a school to fill the spiritual and moral needs of a growing population. This he accomplished and so much more. St. Paul’s school is a testimonial to the life work of Father Boeke. It began with a single building in 1926 and grew to a complex under his leadership. A small number of students grew to more than 1500 before his work was completed. Father Boeke employed a no nonsense approach in his dealing with parishioners as well members of the community. Civic leaders applauded him for his honesty and sincerity in their dealings. He maintained fiscal discipline during the period of The Great Depression aiding many parishioners in need.
Following the death of Monsignor Boeke, Monsignor John Gallagher became pastor of St. Paul’s. His short tenure, 1961 – 1965, was marked with the unenviable task of maintaining and improving the large infrastructures left to him. This he did admirably including the rebuilding of the original church. His desire had been to build a new church but finances did not justify it.
Father John Clark became pastor in 1965 and faced the daunting task of continuing the school’s operation after Vatican II. The renewal took a heavy toll on the Dominican staff at the school. The teaching staff of twenty six in the summer of 1968 was reduced to nine by the start of the school term in 1970. A financial crisis was imminent not only at St. Paul’s but at all the area parochial schools. The school was in danger of being closed. It survived however with the help of the Catholic Regional Board of Education and tuition charges to the parents. The tremendous burdens imposed on him during his tenure culminated in failing health for Father Clark. He died in 1973. Father Clark’s love and devotion was exemplified by the care of his mother at the parsonage until her death.
Father Thomas Koegle became pastor in July of 1973. He was a man with an agenda. Involvement of more parishioners in the operation of the parish was a hallmark of the new pastor.
He set to work establishing a vibrant music program and a contemporary choir. A music director was hired and music played a larger role in the church liturgy. Father Koegle also utilized volunteers to do many of the projects required to operate the church and school. Volunteers were also used to aid the sick and elderly of the parish. This gave parishioners a sense of belonging to the church community. It also allowed for a financially sound church operation. This was Father Koegle’s greatest accomplishment. He was transferred in 1982.
Father John Jenkins was appointed pastor in 1982 and faithfully continued the work of his predecessors. For many years there had been talk of a new church but it had never come to fruition. Under the direction of Father Jenkins and after many years of planning and fund raising the new church was completed in 2003.
The new church has brought about a revitalization of the parish community. Father Ralph Thomas, appointed after the retirement of Father Jenkins, has continued a forward looking program. The large number of church organizations have been reinvigorated after so many years of service. Today, St. Paul’s continues to be a guiding light for the community. The thousands of graduates of the school, former and present religious and parishioners offer testament to the moral and spiritual discipline embodied in its teachings.