“In those days”: African-American Catholics in Cleveland, 1922-1961 by Dorothy Ann Blatnica

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1992, Doctor of Philosophy, Case Western Reserve University, American Studies.

This historical survey of the African American Catholic community in Cleveland, Ohio, examines the cultural question of how African American Catholics understood and expressed their religious and cultural identity in the Church in the years prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The time frame of the study, 1922-1961, marks the beginning of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish, the first African American parish in the diocese of Cleveland, and its subsequent merger with the Bohemian national parish of St. Adalbert. A second African American parish, St. Edward, was established in 1943 and is also central to the research. In addition, fourteen other parishes serve as reference points for the expansion of African American Catholic communities in the city of Cleveland. The source material relies heavily on the oral histories of forty-five African American Catholics as well as previously unexamined archival and newspaper sources. Brief written interviews are used to supplement the oral accounts as are fifteen interviews with clergy and religious personnel who served in the above parishes. The impact of the parish schools, the number of African American conversions to Catholicism, and the lack of religious vocations constitute three significant dimensions through which the reality of the African American Catholic experience is interpreted. Although institutional considerations capture some aspects of African American Catholic life, the depth of that reality is best understood through the lived experiences of the people themselves as those experiences are interpreted in their own words. This study concludes that Cleveland African American Catholics created vibrant and lasting parish communities in the face of strong social forces and racial attitudes. They both claimed and shaped their own racial and religious identity in accord with their religious convictions, and negotiated the difficult task of being a double minority in their racial and religious spheres.


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