The Academy of St. Adalbert, founded in 1874 by Polish immigrants in Berea, has served families in the southwest suburbs of Cleveland for over 130 years. Opened by lay teachers and later staffed by the Felician Sisters, the Academy of St. Adalbert’s mission has been to teach the Catholic faith, to foster responsibility, discipline and cooperation and to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and skills as a basis for future learning. Its history is intertwined with that of St. Adalbert Parish, the first Polish Church in the State of Ohio.
IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD, 1865, a small group of Polish immigrants came to Berea, Ohio. Most of the men found jobs at the quarries run by the Cleveland Stone Co. Encouraged by good pay, they sent for their friends and relatives living in their partitioned country across the Atlantic.
By 1873, the Polish colony numbered around 100 families. They longed for their own Polish church, where they could pray and hear the gospel in their own language, and their own school to teach their children, including instruction in the Catholic Faith. The Diocese of Cleveland understood their feelings and appointed Father Victor Zareczny as Pastor and organizer.
Construction began in April, 1874. According to the account in the Catholic Universe Bulletin of July, 1874, all of Berea joined St. Adalbert parishoners in the laying of the cornerstone. The shops were closed for the day, and everyone gathered at the depot for the clergy who were arriving by train for the ceremony. The clergy were led by the children of the parish, now numbering 150 families, in a mile-long procession from the railroad station along Front Street to the site of the church.
The cornerstone was laid and the church was completed and in use in December, 1874. The Academy of St. Adalbert had its beginnings in the church, where classes were taught in the choir loft. Two years later, the first school building was built, and the first class of 60 pupils attended classes taught by lay teachers. In 1891, land was purchased for a new brick schoolhouse, and the Felician Sisters arrived to teach.
In 1894, Father Suplicki arrived. The youth and their problems were nearest his heart. He began organizations for them, and promoted athletics like football and baseball. He also increased faculty size, and by 1900 the academy had an enrollment of 200 children.
In 1911, Father Piotrowski became Pastor. He was a scholar and stressed higher education, increasing the number of grades until there was a full elementary school of eight grades. The first class to graduate from the eighth grade had nine members.
By 1924, the Golden Jubilee of St. Adalbert Parish, there were 300 pupils attending the Academy of St. Adalbert. After the Concelebrated Mass, Bishop Schrembs delivered a speech to those gathered. He spoke of one of his guiding principles:
“There were courageous men who laid the foundation under this parish more than 50 years ago, that left you wonderful heritage; the preservation of which for future generations is your great duty.”
In 1932, Father Duda was appointed. Under advice from the Building Commission of the State, the building of a new church was undertaken in 1937. Construction was completed and the church dedicated on September 11, 1938.
In 1939, Father Duda was transferred and Father Solinski, a former “boy of the parish” who had served mass, received his first communion and confirmation at St. Adalbert, was appointed Pastor. By this time, 400 families were parishoners of St. Adalbert.
In 1964, with 400 pupils now attending the Academy of St. Adalbert, Father Solinski undertook the building of a new school. The old brick schoolhouse was demolished, and the present school and gymnasium were built.
In 1966, St. Adalbert Parish joined in the worldwide celebration commemorating the millenium of Polish Christianity by breaking ground for the Our Lady of Czestochowa shrine, which stands to the west of the Rectory.
In 1967, the academy library was officially opened with books from St. Josaphat and grant money from the State of Ohio. A that time, books were only available for grades 4-8. Over the next five years the library was expanded to serve the entire school.
In 1974, Father Keller began his 35 year ministry as the St. Adalbert Parish Pastor.
In 1997, a Preschool program was added accommodating students three, four and five years of age including a Pre-Kindergarten class. The extended care program, providing before and after school day care for students, was started in 1998.
In 2003, the parish built the Father Keller Center with the generous support of the parishoners. The two-story interior serves as the cafeteria and auditorium for the school children, and includes a 7,000 square ft. multi-purpose room for use as a 400-seat dining area, 700-seat auditorium, or space for 400 dancers. There are three smaller areas that can be sectioned off for classrooms, a kitchen/pantry, and stage. A 1,000 square foot mezzanine above the first-floor kitchen overlooks the large room and provides extra seating for auditorium events.
In 2004, after the completion of Father Keller Center, the old academy cafeteria was reconstructed into a state-of-the-art Computer Lab, music and band center, Algebra classroom, art room, and Library. Today, the library has over 10,000 holdings for the students to use, and the library card catalog has been made available on the Internet.
In September of 2008, St. Adalbert Parish welcomed Father Barry Gearing as its new Administrator. Father Barry became the pastor of St. Adlabert Parish in October 2010.
St. Adalbert Parish and the Academy of St. Adalbert have grown over their history to serve parishoners and students, but that growth has come directly from the efforts of the parish and academy community working together. What will the Academy of St. Adalbert become in the future? The efforts of people like you will write that history in the times to come. Thank you for being a part of it.