St. Michael the Archangel: A towering symbol of faith in Tremont

Since the mid-19th Century, Cleveland’s large Roman Catholic population has been served by hundreds of outstanding churches. Changing times and demographics have led to the destruction of at least a dozen of them. One of the most remarkable survivors from this era is St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church, 3314 Scranton Road in Tremont.

St. Michael's Catholic Church 1970s The congregation dates back to the early 1880s.

Parishioners occupied temporary quarters on the site while plans for a permanent church were made. The architect chosen was Adolphus Druiding, a native of Germany whose practice was based in Chicago. His formal training and early design experience took place in Europe.

After Druiding Immigrated to the United States he gained a reputation for design excellence that extended across the Midwest. He specialized in the design of Catholic Churches. He was very prolific and was said to be responsible for more German Catholic Church designs than practically anyone else in the United State between 1865 and 1900.

He designed a total of 15 church-related structures in Ohio. Druiding died in Chicago at the age of 60 in 1900.

Construction of St. Michael began with the placing of the cornerstone by Tom L. Johnson in 1889. Johnson was then a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, winning the seat in 1890.

In the 1900s Johnson went on to become a well-known three-term Cleveland mayor whose influence on the city was lasting.

Matowitz’ grandfather, George J. MatowitzNote: Johnson appointed Matowitz’ grandfather, George J. Matowitz, to the Cleveland Police Department as a 23-year-old patrolman in 1905, the same year then-president Theodore Roosevelt described Cleveland Police Chief Fred Kohler as the “finest police chief in the country.” Matowitz went on to become Chief in 1931 until his death in 1951).

The task of building the church was well organized. The building was completed and ready for occupancy years ahead of schedule at a cost of $148,000. The church held its first service on November 20, 1892, under the leadership of founding pastor Joseph Koudelka.

Built of Berea sandstone and featuring two large towers, a rose window, and a distinctive entrance with three matching doors, the Church is an excellent example of High Victorian Gothic Architecture.

It is interesting to note that the church’s towers support four tons of bells. The building’s color has changed drastically over the years with the buff color of sandstone turning black from 130 years of industrial pollution.

For 30 years after the church was completed it held the distinction of being Cleveland’s tallest building—the larger of its two towers reaching a height of 232 feet. In 1922 St. Michael was surpassed by the newly completed Keith Building on Euclid Avenue with a height of 272 feet.

The Keith Building is now the 25th tallest building in a city where high rise towers have become commonplace. St. Michael retains the title of Cleveland’s tallest church.

Like many other churches in Cleveland, the population St. Michael served changed drastically over time. Originally constructed to serve an enclave of German immigrants, the church for many years has served the Latino community.

This outcome was almost prefigured by a chance decision to place a group of Spanish coins among other artifacts in the church’s cornerstone when it was dedicated in 1889, long before a Latino population resided in the neighborhood.

The first Spanish language mass at St. Michael was said in 1971.

For many years St. Michael the Archangel was regarded as the most impressive structure in the Cleveland Diocese. It remains one of the city’s most distinctive churches 130 years after the first mass was celebrated there.

Read more articles by Tom Matowitz.

Recently retired after a 37-year career teaching public speaking, Tom Matowitz has had a lifelong interest in local and regional history. Working as a freelance author for the past 20 years he has written a number of books and articles about Cleveland’s past. He has a particular interest in the area’s rich architectural history.