Every parish is a microcosm of the Universal Church-the Body of Christ. The story of St. Vincent de Paul Church, Akron’s oldest Catholic parish, tells not only of our relationship to the life of the Church, but also of our ties to the local community. Water is the sign of the Holy Spirit’s life-giving presence through the Sacrament of Baptism. Water is also the cause for the founding of the city of Akron, due in no small part to the efforts of Irish immigrant laborers and their families who came to this region in the late 1820s to build the Ohio & Erie Canal: the region’s link with the rest of the world.
The earliest records show St. Vincent as a mission visited by Father Basil A. Shorb, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church, Chippewa/Doylestown, in 1837. St. Vincent Parish is ten years older than the Diocese of Cleveland. Prior to 1847, the parish was in the Diocese of Cincinnati.
Early parishioners celebrated Mass in their log homes when the priest came to town. The first permanent Church was a frame structure built in 1844 with timbers cut and hauled by members of the parish on land donated by the father of a judge, Edwin O. Green, from which Green Street takes its name. The original church building was opposite Wood Street, near to the present Green Street Stadium. Under the pastoral leadership of Father Matthew A. Scanlon, ground was broken for the present church structure on February 1864. On March 17, 1864, the cornerstone was laid-thus a connection with St. Patrick, as special patron, from the beginning.
Construction was suspended during 1865, possibly due to a shortage of materials and/or manpower that may have been a result of the Civil War. Construction resumed in 1866 and was completed in time for the first Mass to be celebrated October 20, 1867.
The architectural style of the church is Romanesque Revival, in contrast with Gothic Revival style which was dominant at that time. Reportedly, Father Scanlon chose this style to show that the Church is not limited to one style or culture. The interior view unobstructed by pillars is a noteworthy feature. The Berea sandstone for the exterior was quarried locally. Accounts vary as to the exact location of the quarry. The Story of the First One Hundred Years, compiled by Msgr. John J. Scullen in 1937, mentions octogenarian parishioner, Patsy Madden, who was a pupil in the school on Green Street, aided in carting the stones from Old Portage (near the North end of Portage Path) for use in the construction of the present Church. The keystone above the tower window represents the head of Christ, while the keystones of each of six windows on either side of the Church may represent the twelve apostles.
The bell in the tower was cast in Baltimore, purchased by the congregation and christened “Michael” in 1886. The original clockworks, which have since been replaced, were a gift of the non-Catholic citizens of Akron. For well over a century, the tower clock has sounded the hour for neighbors and for those passing by.
A bronze plaque in the front vestibule notes the donors of the original stained glass windows, which were replaced in 1946. One of the original windows was donated by the coal miners. Pastor Scanlon donated another window in memory of his brother, Thomas D.A. Scanlon, killed in the Battle of Williamsburg, Virginia, May 5, 1862. In a similar manner, one of the replacement windows is dedicated to the memory of Corporal Samuel Bisesi, killed in World War II - testimony to the persistence of war, as well as the generosity of parishioners.
Since its beginnings, St. Vincent parish has engaged in building or demolition projects of one sort or another. Notable examples include: Akron’s first Catholic school, informally known as the Green Street University (1853), a brick rectory to replace the old frame rectory (1884), a new red brick school on Maple Street (1892), a brick convent on Walnut Street (1917) and a high school building (1918) built with funds raised simultaneously with World War I bond campaigns. In 1927, the grade school was enlarged and modernized. A new gymnasium- the present Corrigan Hall-was also constructed at that time.
Each pastor has left his own unique mark on St. Vincent - the stations of the cross were a gift of the congregation in 1915 as a tribute to Father Thomas F. Mahar, D.D., who shepherded the parish from 1880 to 1914. Msgr. Scullen fulfilled the plans and dreams of his predecessor by building a high school. Msgr. Scullen’s vision of a new church building came to fruition in Msgr. Conry’s massive renovation of the church: the 1940s brought a new 20-gauge copper roof, new front steps, new stained-glass windows, new pews, and covered side doors, to name a few items. Statues of St. Patrick and St. Vincent, which grace the tower and look down in blessing on the city, may have been added at that time.
The year 1945 saw the formation of the St. Vincent Booster Club by associate pastor, Father William Cosgrove (who would later become Bishop of Belleville, Illinios) and the construction of Green Street Stadium. In 1956, the old grade school of 1892 was torn down to make way for the present grade school. In 1958, with contributions from the Booster Club and parish, a new “field house” was constructed on North Maple Street- this would become the nucleus around which the newly-formed St. Vincent-St.Mary High School would be built (1972-1973). All of these projects are testimony to the generosity and hard work of St. Vincent parishioners and benefactors. In 1984, an endowment from Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Purman made possible an interior renovation of the Church. Then pastor, Fr. Thomas Corrigan, redesigned a sanctuary in keeping with the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. Father Corrigan directed that the altar facing the people, the pulpit, and the baptismal font be constructed of marble from the communion railing of 1941.
Bishop Anthony Pilla presided over the official dedication Mass celebrating 150 years as a parish, October 18, 1987. To commemorate the occasion, Father Corrigan commissioned wrought iron candle sconces for the side and back walls of the Church interior. Father chose wrought iron to symbolize the generations of laborers and craftsmen, ordinary workers, whose sacrifices helped make the church what it is today.
In May 1996 a $1.2 million building campaign began to raise funds for a new Parish Family Center. Parishioners representing the past, present, and future of St. Vincent’s participated in groundbreaking ceremonies March 2, 1997. Built on the site of the old high school, the new center contains a gym, a stage, and additional classrooms and meeting rooms. Part of this project included renovation to the Social Center kitchen to serve a new cafeteria for the grade school.
“Here in this place, new light is streaming, now is the darkness vanished away…” These words from the hymn “Gather Us In” could be used as the theme song for St. Vincent’s Church with its exterior stone cleaned and restored in 1997.
No history of the parish would be complete without mentioning the dedicated lay teachers and members of the religious communities who have educated generations of grade school and high school students. Msgr. Scullen’s centennial history lists lay teachers from 1856 to 1880. The following communities of religious women have labored in our parish: Sisters of the Holy Cross of South Bend, Indiana (1881-1885); Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio (1885-1894); Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, Pennsylvania (1894-1906); Sisters-Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Michigan (1907-1939); Sisters of St. Dominic of Akron, Ohio (1939-1982).
Currently, the grade school is staffed entirely by lay teachers once again.
St. Vincent Cemetery is located about on half-mile west of the church at the intersection of West Market Street and Merriman Road. The cemetery is small, but culturally significant - commemorating the lives of the predominately Irish immigrants that comprised the parish at that time. Rev. Francis McGann purchased the old part of the cemetery between 1850 and 1855. Father McGann also purchased land where the present church is located. Bishop Rappe blessed the cemetery on January 28, 1858. In 1879, Rev. T.M. Mahoney bought an additional six acres to enlarge the cemetery. Former pastors Father Mahar, Msgr. Scullen, Msgr. Conry and Father Corrigan are among the faithful who have St. Vincent as their final earthly resting place. In addition, there are more than fifty Civil War soldiers buried there. St. Vincent is truly the Mother Church of the parishes in Akron: St. Bernard’s (1861), St. Mary’s (1887), Annunciation (1905), St. Martha’s (1919) and St. Sebastian’s (1928). In most instances, these fledgling parishes were given sizable start-up donations from St. Vincent’s. In the case of St. Mary’s, land was purchased and building started by St. Vincent’s congregation in order to serve those residing in what was then the southern part of the parish.
On July 1, 2013, Fr. Joseph Kraker retired as pastor of St. Vincent after 18 years of faithful service. Fr. Timothy O'Connor became the new pastor until his reassignment on July 1, 2015. Fr. Dennis McNeil was installed as pastor on August 16, 2015 by Bishop Richard Lennon. On June 11, 2016, Fr. Norman K. Douglas will be installed by Bishop Lennon as St. Vincent's new pastor.
The commitment of the present parishioners, and Pastor, Fr. Norm, to continue this long tradition of outreach is an example of what Bishop Pilla referred to when he spoke about the "Church of the City." "The Parish which does not in some way extend its work beyond its own parish boundaries fails to be Church in its most complete meaning. In our diocesan commitment to stewardship, we must seek to define stewardship in a way that encompasses the urban and suburban gifts and individual problems."