St. Colman Parishioners: 'We Refuse to Close'

By Michael O'Mara
March 17, 2009

CLEVELAND — St. Patrick's Day Mass at St. Colman's has been a special, festive tradition for generations.

This Irish parish opened it's doors back in 1880 and has been a magnet for Catholic immigrants and hard working people on Cleveland's near west side ever since. Perhaps no other day of the year brings out the heritage of this great parish like March 17th, the feast day of St. Patrick. But many in this parish know this year's celebration could be one of the last there.

Cleveland's Catholic leader Bishop Richard Lennon ignored the recommendations of the "cluster team" for the diocese who suggested that St. Colman remain open. Lennon ordered that St. Colman be closed sometime next year.

However, many members of this parish vow they won't go away without a fight.

John Coughlin said, "My heart is broken but we will go on with the day. But we've got a good come back, you know the Irish — we come back."

"I am not leaving," said Shirley Panagopolos, "because the first service we miss I am going to get a canopy and a lawn chair and sit out on the side. They can't tell me I can't have a service here."

Jimmy Deane stood outside the church dressed in his green jacket and with a County Mayo accent said, "It's hard to believe the Bishop wants to close us down. I don't know where we're going to go when this one closes."

Before Mass began, Pastor Robert Begin looked out from the altar at the standing room only crowd in the church. Reverend Begin held up petitions and urged the congregation to send a clear message to the bishop. Seconds later the huge crowd gave their parish priest a standing ovation for his willingness to fight for them.

Father Begin told Channel 3's Mike O'Mara, "It is the responsibility of the pastor to guard and guide the mission of the people.

"That is my responsibility and I have to protect the mission from anyone and everyone, including the Bishop. This is my responsibility."

He added, "I hope that the Bishop is going to be reasonable and do what is right for the neighborhood and the people. If he doesn't, we have to say we can't cooperate with that kind of decision."

After the West Side Irish American Fife and Drums led the procession out of the church, many members of the parish wearing green sweaters and celtic crosses returned to watch quietly as 21-year-old altar boy Adam Sanders snuffed out the candle in the sanctuary. Many vowed that this would not be the end of the St. Patrick's Day Masses at this historic church.

Katey Karney wiped away a tear and said, "My family has worshipped here for generations. This church is part of us. It's worth fighting for."

The Irish poet Dylan Thomas once wrote, "Do not go gently into that good night." And from the parish priest to the members of the parish at St. Colman, it is very clear they do not intend to go gently into any good night. This fight is far from over.


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