“We hereby decree the establishment of a new parish. This parish is erected under the patronage of, and shall be known as, the Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
With these words, the Most Reverend Archbishop Edward F. Hoban established Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish on August 22, 1952. Father Thomas D. McIntyre, assistant pastor of St. Joseph Parish was named pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary. The first Mass of the new parish was offered in the State Theater on September 7, 1952. Father McIntyre was the celebrant and Monsignor John F. Gallagher, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church, was the homilist. From September, 1952 until April, 1954, the State Theater was the “church” for the parishioners thanks to the kindness and generosity of its owner, Mr. Moses (Moe) B. Horwitz.
It was decided that two separate buildings for church and school would be constructed. One of the primary objectives of both the pastor and the parishioners of Immaculate Heart of Mary for more than 55 years has been the education of children. On July 19, 1953, Monsignor Edward Conry, pastor of St. Vincent Church, broke ground for the new church. The church slowly took shape and the enthusiasm of the parishioners grew. Groups began to organize and a parish family slowly came to life. The first Anniversary Dance and Social was held in September 1953 at St. Joseph’s Auditorium. In October, the St. Vincent de Paul Society was formed with Paul Hayden as President and Orville P. Hibinger as Vice President. Today this group is still flourishing under the title of Ministry for the Needy. The cornerstone of the church was laid on November 1, 1953. Parishioners gathered in the church where the walls barely reached window level and there was no roof. Contained within the cornerstone is a small copper box which holds a copy of the Universe Bulletin of Friday, Oct. 30, 1953, a copy of the Akron Beacon Journal of Sunday,
Nov. 1, 1953, a short history of the parish, a medal of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, circulars from the Founders Building Fund, coins bearing the date of 1953, a copy of the Nov. 1, 1953, St. Joseph Pulpit Echo, and a scroll containing the names of the Founders Building Fund Contributors.
The first Mass in the new church was celebrated on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1954. The same afternoon the first Baptisms took place. On May 2, 1954, ninety-two boys and girls made their First Communion and on May 29, 1954, the first wedding took place. Construction of the school continued and was ready for classes on September 9, 1954. On that opening day, 391 students were registered and eight classrooms were in use. The following June, sixteen boys and eight girls made up the first graduating class of Immaculate Heart of Mary Grade School.
The formal dedication of the church and school took place on May 22, 1955, two years and nine months after the founding of the parish.
Fr. Thomas D. McIntyre retired as Pastor in 1978 after 26 years of growth. Fr. John R. Rathfon, under whose pastorate IHM continued to grow in the most dynamic ways physically, spiritually, and demographically, replaced Fr. McIntyre. Fr. Rathfon’s most immediate efforts centered on continuing the building program begun by his predecessor, as well as his dedicated administration of the parish. In 1987, the convent building was leased to Elder Day Care and Respite Center as a hospice for elderly needing daytime care and/or assisted living. General renovations were made to accommodate the facility to the needs of the new tenants. In that same period, stained glass windows, Stations of the Cross, statues, ceiling lights, and pews were added to the church. The Tabernacle was moved to its current location. The sanctuary was lowered by one step to accommodate changes in the worship space.
In 1990 a sizable bequest of $587,668 was left to the parish by Julia Schmidt, which allowed Fr. Rathfon and the parishioners to redecorate the church from ceiling to floor and purchase a new Rodgers-Teller organ. Also, planning for a new Parish Community Center, a long-held dream of the parishioners was begun. The Parish Center was completed in January 1992.
Under the leadership of IHM’s third pastor, Fr. Thomas W. McCann, who succeeded Fr. Rathfon upon his retirement in 1994, the parish continued to grow and flourish. IHM School received a portion of the Julia Schmidt bequest in the form of an education trust fund. Additionally, much needed air conditioning, new classroom lights, suspended ceilings and new carpeting were added to the school in 2000-2001. The church, too, was fitted with a new HVAC system in 1996 and long-awaited improvements to the rectory were made. One of the more obvious and beautiful additions to the church in recent years was the installation of a statue of Our Lady of Providence on the front lawn. Through generous donations from the Gryvalsky, Nairne and Rasmussen families and the IHM Council of Catholic Women, the shrine was built in honor of Benjamin, Pauline, and Patrick Gryvalsky and the innocent victims of abortion and terrorism. This touching memorial has been a source of inspiration for all parishioners and visitors to our church, and is a salient reminder of the love and protection of our Holy Mother.
At present, well over fifty organizations tend to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the entire parish each and every day. The IHM Education Commission oversees the wealth of educational and formative provisions the parish makes available. The Parish Pastoral Council, through its several represented commissions and memberships, helps provide the coordinated leadership of every aspect of parish life and development. And, of course, our music ministry under the direction of Mr. Jeff Mills continues to enhance our worship, and bless our assembly with its constant grace and eloquence.
In 2002, A Semicentennial Committee was formed to plan the parish’s
year-long gala 50th Anniversary. The year began with Mass celebrated by Bishop Martin J. Amos on September 15, 2002. The year was filled with festivities such as dinner dances, processional flags and banners, a new parish census and a parish picnic. Bishop Anthony M. Pilla closed the year-long anniversary celebration with Mass on August 24, 2003.
The parish during this time began to reach beyond its own boundaries to become a vibrant faith community visible to many more people. We began sharing bonds of faith with Our Lady of the Pillar Parish in El Salvador. Closer to home, we developed programs sharing youth ministry and RCIA with Holy Family Parish in Stow. Today we still share youth ministry activities with Holy Family. St. Joseph Parish continues today to be our partner in many activities that build upon our foundations in faith and community. Prayerfully, academically, and socially we have matured into a lively life-giving community. On June 30, 2011, Fr. Thomas W. McCann retired as pastor.
A new era began July 1, 2011, with the arrival of Fr. James E. Singler as the fourth and current pastor. Under his direction we look to continue to be a vibrant, growing family. Since Fr. Jim’s arrival we have more closely joined faith and service bonds with our “cluster parish” of St. Joseph here in Cuyahoga Falls. The most noticeable link to date has been the combining of the Parish School of Religion classes from both parishes into one program that is now held here at Immaculate Heart of Mary. We also see more opportunities to join one another prayerfully and socially through announcements in both Sunday bulletins. We welcome these open invitations to gather as brothers and sisters in Christ.
There is always great pride taken in accomplishment and fulfillment of a dream’s potential. To the casual observer Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church may appear as just another big brick building at abusy intersection, hardly worth what little notice it might attract. For those who belong here and those of us who call this place our spiritual home, it is to realize the substance of our life, breath, and promise. We see the significance of hard work, dedication, abundant blessings, and profound love. The efforts of four pastors, fifteen associates, three deacons, dozens of women religious, eleven school principals, and rectory staff, have enabled our parish to grow from an Episcopal Decree. Uncounted numbers of parish organization heads and members, and thousands upon thousands of families, have enabled us to grow from a vacant lot to a bustling center of worship and social action; from a simple, idle dream, to a cascading and triumphant reality.
What was once a mere vision over a half a century ago is a grand actuality today, and far beyond the musings of the original idea. The walls of our church may contain our worship, but they cannot contain our spirit. As it has done so throughout the years, may our spirit continue to ever shine.