Romanians from Transylvania, Banat and Bucovina, then provinces of the Hapsburg Empire, as well as some f'rom Macedonia, arrived in America in the late 1800s. Like other nationalities, Romanians also had their own pioneers in the New World. By 1748, when the first Greeks were settling in Florida, "a priest from Transylvania, belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church", Fr. Samuil Damian, is mentioned by Benjamin Franklin. Whether he was a missionary or rather interested more in science, we do not know.

After the 1848 revolution, sporadically there arrived "sea men" and volunteers in the Civil War, among whom were Eugen Alcaz and Captain Nicolae Dunca, Emanuil Boteanu and Eugen Ghica, and the well-known George Pomutz (+1882). Some of' them added bright pages of history to the birth certificate of modern America. Among all of them, General Pomutz certainly became the most famous. After the War, he became America’s ambassador to St. Petersburgh.

When the great wave of Romanian immigration started, some settled in the industrial city established Moses Cleveland (1776), on the shores of Lake Erie. If the first pioneers may have come in a spirit of adventure, the massive wave of' Romanian immigration to Cleveland and other large industrial cities, started by 1890, when Hungarian persecution back home became unbearable. The Austro-Hungarian policy was then aiming to the abolition of nationality, faith and language of all other nationalities.

The First Easter

On 1900, according to the oral history left by pioneer immigrant, Nicolae Marginean (+1942) and published for the first time by the Romanian journalist Theodore Andrica, 12 men observed the first Romanian Easter in Cleveland, early at sunrise, on the shores of Lake Erie. They shared crude vine buds, sang the tropar of Resurrection and greeted each other with the traditional "Hristos a Inviat" and "Adevarat a Inviat". This is the first sign of an organized religious manifestation of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the U.S.A. Since they had no priest, any sacramental needs of the emerging Romanian group were fulfilled either by the traveling Orthodox clergy, or the only existing area parish of St. Theodosius, where the Baptism of the first known Romanian child born in the USA, Aurelia Zeicu, has been recorded.

Settled mostly in the West Side of' Cleveland, those first, simple, but faithful Romanian peasants, arriving from the Austro-Hungarian empire, pretty soon discovered the need to organize themselves. Striving to preserve their identity, they assembled themselves in fraternal ethnic societies, such as "Carpatina" (1902) and "Clubul Roman". Such organizations were intended to provide brotherly assistance to each other in case of illness and death. Many similar sister groups organized in like fashion almost in all centers settled by Romanians in this region: Lorain (Patria Romana), Youngstown (Unirea Romanilor), Sharon, Erie, Canton, Warren, Salem, Alliance, Akron, etc.

The need for a church was on the mind of these settlers from the first day they set foot on this land. However, the first Orthodox parish in the United States came into being at the constitutional meeting which took place on the Feast of the Falling Asleep of the Most Pure Virgin Mary, August 15/28,1904, in the house of Mihail Borza, on Herman Street. At that meeting, 101 faithful assembled with the desire to establish one "Romanian" church. Since not all were of the same faith, within the first year, the confessional differences actually led to the birth of two Romanian parishes in Cleveland, one Orthodox and the other, Greek - Catholic (St. Helena, Nov. 1, 1905).

On 1906, Fr. Moise Balea, "the first Romanian Orthodox priest who came for the purpose of mission" arrived from Romania (Valerian Trifa: "Album Aniversar", 1954). A "Mo]", from Western Transylvanian mountains, Fr. Balea was not only a great organizer and tireless missionary, leaving at the end of his life 16 parishes behind him, but he was also quite a controversial figure. His plans for a $25,000 cathedral were downgraded to a $7,500 church, which became reality under his pastorate, in 1907. Here, in Cleveland, he brought to life his "America" newspaper, "an organ of Romanians in the United States and especially of the Greek-Orthodox Churches". This was aimed to defending the Orthodox Faith from the attacks of "Romanul", printed in the neighborhood by Fr. E. Lucaciu, and to address the great Romanian national issues of his time. The paper was published "when he pleased, had time and money" ("Apare cand am voie, timp si bani"), as the heading of the first page announced in honesty. Fr. Balea also bought his own printing shop, which he later sold to the Society along with his newspaper. "America" news has been published without interruptions to our times, becoming the second oldest Romanian newspaper published without interruption, after "Telegraful Roman".

While the movement of founding new parishes ( in Youngstown, Alliance, Sharon Pa., Erie, Pa., Niles, Canton, Weirton, W. Va., Gary, Ind., Detroit, Chicago, St. Paul, and other industrial cities) continued through the missionary priests sent by the Metropolia of Sibiu for the U.S. parishes, and by Metropolia Moldovei for Canada (1902), the Romanian life in North America was also strengthened with many fraternal societies. By 1906, there were 14 such organizations in place. Their history has been preserved by the means of the America newspaper, the Union and League and - through the efforts of our late Archbishop Valerian - by the Romanian-American Heritage Center. Among the first missionary priests sent from the Old Country, at the same time with Fr. Balea, were: Fr. Evghenie Ungureanu (1902), Fr. Trandafir Scorobet (1907), Fr. Tatu, Fr. Simion Mihaltan (1908) and many others.

In Cleveland, due to some early "tensions" and rivalries between the two churches and "societies", the Baptists started to make some inroads among the existing communities, at that time. That situation had been quickly resolved through the arrival, on March 1st, 1909, of Fr. Ioan Podea, a much debated personality in the history of Romanian Orthodox immigration in America. The impulsive missionary priest reorganized St. Mary's, and divided his time between Cleveland and Youngstown, until May 15, 1911, when he supposedly left for Romania to come back less than one year later. As a "Protopop" (dean), he was challenged by the Sibiu Metropolia to bring together all the parishes and set a sense of ecclesiastical order to the life of the Romanian Orthodox parishes in America.

This process was hardened not only by the historical rivalries between "churches" and "societies", but also by the spreading of the socialist utopia among some of the Romanians. In 1917, Fr. Podea was in the forefront of the formation of' the Battalion of Romanian American Volunteers in Youngstown, Ohio which was sent to France to fight for the freedom of their home land. He was also was a fervent and articulate writer. Later on, his socialist ideas lead him to be defrocked by Metropolitan Nicolae Balan.

The life of St. Mary's parish, in the early 1910's was marked by financial distress, but also by great spiritual joys. Under the pastorate of Fr. Ilarie Serb {911-1914), a parish school was established, and the parish gained a wonderful cantor, Andrei Ghetia, who for the next 50 years served under all priests of St. Mary’s, until 1969.

On July 23, 1914, Fr. Octavian Muresan (1914-1915), an accomplished musician, founded "Doina" Choral Society, the first such Romanian group in the US. On the same date, the Ladies Auxiliary of the parish was also founded. Between 1917- 1918, 40 parishioners served in the US Armed Forces in WW 1. The parish thrived under Fr. Teofil Rosca (1915-1920), purchased new bells (March 1918) and after a fire, was refurbished and blessed again. By this time, Cleveland became a large Romanian colony. On August 15, 1920, Fr. Ilie Popp was elected parish priest, for $175.00 a month. Prince Carol visited the parish, on Aug.20, 1920, and other many political and cultural personalities stopped by from time to time. Soon after the Paris Peace Treaty, signed at the Trianon Palace, many of the St. Mary's parishioners returned back to their native Transylvania, then freshly reunited to Romania. Life here continued with those who decided to stay.

In 1924, a school was started again and the "Caritatea" society was formed in the parish to render financial support for funerals. By 1924, a Romanian School was founded and the parish built a house for the priest in the churchyard. Princess Alexandrina Cantacuzino and Prince Nicholas visited the parish, in 1926 and 1927. In the spirit of "Romanian national cohesion" inspired in the American Romanian colonies by the realization of' Greater Romania, the Romanian Orthodox parishes of North America came together in 1929, under one Romanian Orthodox Episcopate. Much of the yeast that lead to ecclesiastical unity among them was fermented here, in Cleveland, but the final Congress took place at the St. George Cathedral, in Detroit. Father Ioan Trutza (1928-1954), had a great leadership role in the affairs of the newly formed Episcopate. In Cleveland, and in the history of Romanian Episcopate, he was "an era" by himself. Being among the clergy sent by Metropolitan Nicolae Balan in 19223, along with other well known spiritual leaders [Frs. I. Stanila, I. Radu, V. Muresan, and St. Oprean) he refueled with energy the Romanian Orthodox dignity, here in the States. He reactivated the former "Doina" choir, which later received the authorization of the great composer George Enescu to bear his name. Then, Fr. Trutza opened anew the Romanian School and encouraged the formation of Boyscouts and Girlscouts. Through articles such as "Reorganizarea Bisericii" (The Reorganization of the Church) and his dynamic leadership, he was instrumental in the formation of the Episcopate and then the bringing over of the first Romanian Orthodox Bishop, Policarp Morusca, who first settled in Cleveland (I935). For that purpose, he visited King Carol II and the Patriarch of Romania.

On July 14, 1935 the newly arrived Bishop consecrated the church, which by then was already having a Sunday School, under the direction of' Fr. Trutza, and a house for the Bishop. By the same time, a small group of parishioners split off and established the "Bunavestire" parish. On April 4, 1938, Fr. Trutza represented the Episcopate in the Constitutional meeting of World Council of Churches in Holland. Under his pastorate, "St. Mary's" accepted, in 1940, the offer made by the Romanian Government of the Romanian House from the Pavilion at the New York World's Fair. Active in many directions, the parish organized the "George Enescu" Romanian Orthodox Youth Club, on February 7, 1947. On 1951, Fr. John Surducan has been sponsored as the "assistant priest" of the parish.

Mr. Trutza was concerned with the needs of the young generation and the future of Orthodoxy in America. On March 12, 1954, the old church property was sold, and a new land was purchased for $100,000.00, at the present location, on Warren Road. Since war and adverse political conditions prevented Bishop Policarp to return back to his flock, Fr. Trutza shouldered for years many of the worries of the Episcopate. To prevent the communist government of Romania of taking control of our churches, he strongly supported the arrival and election to Episcopacy of Viorel (Valerian) Trifa, a great Hierarch of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America and worthy successor of Policarp, who died in Romania, away from his office. During all the struggles of the 1950s, the parishioners of St. Mary stood by, united in faith and action with all those who fought communism for a FREE Romania and a free Romanian Episcopate. Their triumph was ratified by the Supreme Court of the United States of America, which recognized "Vatra" to be headquarters of Policarp’s successor, elected by the Congress. The later development of American Orthodoxy and especially the 1989 revolution in Romania validated the truth of their cause and brought honor to their memory. Unfortunately, Fr. Trutza’s heart stopped beating prematurely, on December 11, 1954, after 27 years of service to St. Mary's. He left behind a strong young generation of faithful, ready to carry on his legacy and bring the parish life to new achievements. His parishioners honored his memory by affixing a memorial plaque in the church.

The V. Rev. Fr. Vasile Hategan (-1955 - 1982) who followed him, was a worthy successor. Young and filled with energy and love for his faith, for the Church in America and Romanian ancestry, Fr. Hategan has been solidly educated in Romania, England and the U.S.A. He proved to be able to identify himself with the aspirations of American born and at the same time to relate to those who came from Romania. He also brought a diversified experience, gained in New York. A Bulletin was started, then he - with the assistance of P-sa Cornelia – he reorganized the Church School. Assisted by many young educated people of the second generation, he began the planning and building of the unique church complex, as is known today.

Finally, on August 21, 1960, Bishop Valerian Trifa, assisted by a large assembly of clergy consecrated the new building. Fr. Vasile Hategan worked as a close associate of the Bishop, "Solia" editor for many years and a great promoter of Orthodox unity. He also propagated Romanian American culture through his writings and by the establishment of the Romanian Ethnic and Art Museum (1963) in the parish. Between the building projects, writing for "Solia" and "Amenca", teaching the Vatra Camps, speaking on Voice of America and Free Europe, assisting refugees, and keeping up with his pastoral duties, Fr. Vasile Hategan burned with a rarely encountered intensity for his Church and his people.

In her 90 years of existence, St. Mary's parish family hasn’t been spared of burdens and difficulties. For instance, the parish house and the social hall burned in 1971 and respectively in 1973. In spite of such trials, the faithful always kept up the faith and overcame. By this time the fame of St. Mary's, as the first Romanian Orthodoxy in America and a Cultural Center of the Romanian Americans has long since crossed the Ocean. In 1979, Fr. Hategan wrote an authoritative history of the parish, which served as a source of information for most of this overview. A prolific writer and editor of "Solia" for many years, Fr. Hategan also wrote "Romanian Culture in Cleveland" (1988) and hundreds of articles published in various publications.

On January 6, 1982, Fr. Vasile Hategan and D-na P-sa Cornelia, a dedicated teacher and Choir director for years, retired after over 27 years of service. He continued to serve the Church at large, by writing the Orthodox Unity newspaper and the book Romanian Culture in America. For this reason, His Grace Bishop Nathaniel elevated him to the rank of an Archpriest of the Vatra, in 1989. With equal love as to his predecessor, the parishioners also honored him by affixing a plaque in the church, in his honor.

Between 1982-89, the parish was shepherded by the Very Rev. Fr. Richard Grabowski. This was a time of changes and transition for the entire Episcopate. On May 20, 1984, a Retirement Dinner was held in Cleveland for Archbishop Valerian. As a final token of love to their former Archpastor, upon his death, on January 27, 1987, the remains of the great hierarcb were brought back for the last time to St. Mary's by those who loved and followed him and services were held for his soul.

Since the electoral Congress for the Auxiliary Bishop had taken place at St. Mary’s, on September 20, 1980, the election of His Grace, Bishop Nathaniel as the ruling bishop of the Episcopate also took place in Cleveland, on October 20, 1984. During Fr. Grabowski's tenure, the mortgage of the Social Hall was burnt (1984) and the Christmas Crafts Show was initiated (1984). With the help of a testimonial donation of $97,000, received from Antole Wendel (1985), the parish purchased the adjacent Garden Center, for the purpose of protecting and consolidating the property. In 1988, a wooden Troitza was erected through a generous donation from the Kleinpeter family and blessed on the parish grounds. On March 12, 1989, Fr. Richard and P-sa Hildegard retired and moved to Warren, Ohio. For his special merits with the Episcopate, he was also elevated as an "Archpriest". Fr. Grabowski was reactivated by Bishop Nathaniel as overseas coordinator of "Help for Romania" project. The overall value of the relief provided to Romania by the Episcopate totaled over $62 million.

On August 15, 1989, His Grace, Bishop Nathaniel, transferred Fr. Remus Grama from Youngstown, where he served and distinguished himself for over 7 and a half years. .Having worked for the Archdiocese of Sibiu until 1980 when he came to Chicago as a graduate student, he brought with him the traditional academic education provided by the "Andrei Saguna" Faculty of Theology, as well as by the two "Masters" Degrees in Church History and Counseling, earned at McCormick Theological Seminary and Y.S.U. Prior to coming to Cleveland Fr. Grama began his doctoral program in Church History at Kent State University. He also taught in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Youngstown State University. His warm personal pastoral style brought together Romanians and Americans and stimulated a new surge of accomplishments in the parish life. Under his guidance, during the fall of the "iron curtain" and the Romanian revolution, the faithful of St. Mary's were in the forefront of the relief actions for Romania. Over $14,000.00 was raised by our parish.

Like his predecessors, the author of this article activates in the Episcopate Council, Departments of External Affairs and Religious Education and contributing his writing to "Solia" and "America". Between 1990-93 he organized a Romanian School as well as English classes for the newcomers and tackled of areas of our parish life, from church school to working with the elderly. Managing a slowly aging church complex, Fr. Grama called the attention of his faithful to the capital repairs. A $20,000 project took care of the foundation of the parish house.

Then, prior to the 90th Anniversary, the $200,000 "Project ‘94" has been initiated and successfully completed with the generous help of members and local organizations. Among them, the Carpatina Society, offered $10,000 toward the change of the carpet in the church. During the same period, the museum and the church took part in two ample exhibitions of national dimensions: The outstanding Romanian Exhibit at Kent State University (1991-92) and "Orthodox Treasures" with the History Museum of Anchorage, Alaska (1994). The first has been realized through the spirited vision of Dr. Glee Wilson a friend of Romanian, and sponsored entirely by the late Dr. K. Rodgers, who was inspired by Fr. Grama to go to Romania and expand the original vision of the exhibit. At this time one of St. mary’s baners has been chosen by the UNESCO to be featured on an international post card to benefit the children of the world and the Ministry of Communications of Romania has issued the first stamp ever with this oldest Romanian church in the U.S.A.

Although The Romanian Ethnic Art Museum was formerly established in 1960, its roots go back to the 1920’s, when Anisoara Stan came from Romania determined to present her country’s ethnic art from shore to shore. A second stage in the birth of this museum was the 1938 Worlds Fair from New York. At the end of the Fair, Fr. John Trutza, mediated the transfer to Cleveland of most of the materials and art works of the Romanian Pavilion.

Fr. Vasile Hategan, during whose pastorate this dream came true - worked in harmony with many hearted parishioners, expanded and promoted it with much enthusiasm throughout his pastorate and retirement. Today’s visitors are impressed to find at St. Mary’s a true oasis of Romanian spirituality and culture. The church’s "Maramures style" architecture blends in harmoniously with the wooden Troitza which, the statues of Peace and democracy by Oscar Han and the column from the Acropolis who majestically holds the image of the Mother of God. The visitors are impressed with the inspiring services and traditional Transylvanian music presented by the "George Enescu" Choir. The cultural riches, the mosaic by Jean Steriade, the statue of the Romanian princes realized by Ioan Jalea as well as the copper frieze of the Romanian history adorning the Social Hall attracted for almost a half of century the admiration of the visitors. The museum’s unique holdings number famous Romanian painters such as I. Grigorescu, I. Luchian, Th. Pallade, J. Steriade, Lucian Grigorescu, Camil Resu, Tonitza and E. Stoenesco. Romanians who visit St. Mary’s church in Cleveland leave with a great sense of pride for their heritage. Fr. Remus Grama and the continued to develop the museum and especially to preserve the art works, added a new room dedicated to icons and religious materials until 1994, when the museum was incorporated. Having been coordinated for many years by Mrs. Virginia Martin, the museum is presently under the leadership of a board, presided by Mr. George Dobrea.

Sustained efforts to rejuvenate the parish led to substantial growth in membership. Also many projects have been accomplished. In 1993, the parish home interior has been renovated, and the front of the church and that of the parish house have been re-landscaped. Many personalities visited the church throughout her history, beginning with Queen Marie, Prince Nicholas, prim -minister Nicolae Iorga, composer George Enescu and many others. During the last decade, among them were also U.S. ambassadors to Romania, such as: John Davis, Jr. and Jim Rosapepe; Romanian ministers; writers and artists; hierarchs of the Church, such as: Metropolitan Seraphim of Western Europe, Bishop Casian of Galati; the Church historian, Prof. Dr. Mircea Pacurariu and many others. In 1995, Fr. Grama accompanied His Grace Bishop Nathaniel and the Episcopate’s delegation to the Anniversary the Autocephaly of the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate. This was the first official visit of a Romanian American hierarch to Romania, after relations were interrupted at the onset of communism in the old Country.

Meanwhile, St. Mary's remained an active parish of the Episcopate as well as in the Cleveland pan-Orthodox organizations. Fr. Remus Grama spearheaded especially two perennial actions: the ministry for the visitation of those who are ill afflicted by the "Workers of St. Basil the Great" and the annual joint "Orthodox Christmas Concert", bringing together the 28 Orthodox churches of diverse nationalities of this city. The parish has been honored when Fr. Grama gave the invocation for Cleveland By-Centennial celebrations in the presence of city and state leaders and attended the White House Reception, offered by Mrs. Hillary Clinton for Nationalities leaders. Prior to the visit of Pope John Paul II to Romania, Fr. Grama attended a reception in honor of Papal Nuncio to the U.S.A., offered by the Romanian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Spiritual growth is sustained through services and lectures and other diverse means. To fill in the need for a better communication with the members a monthly publication, "The Good Shepherd", is being published since 1996. Seeking new ways to homogenize a heterogeneous membership, this year, Fr. Grama has established a new parish program called "Spiritual Hubs", enabling dialogue and spiritual growth. In 1998, to relieve the priest from the increasingly work load and to increase the outreach the parish Assembly asked Bishop Nathaniel to assign an assistant priest.

To continue the work of their predecessors, the parishioners of St. Mary’s have approved in 1998 the embellishment of their church with traditional Orthodox mural icons. Mr. Nicolae Enachi, a Romanian iconographer of "ENB Studio", Toronto, Canada, is executing this liturgical artwork. The Holy Altar is being painted through a generous donation of $50,000 given by the Miclau - Schiau families, in memory of Ted Miclau Sr. This way, the oldest Romanian parish in the USA will become even a greater inspiration for generations to come. With the loving contributions of the parishioners, the painting of the church will continue for another $78,000 and it will be completed by the dawns of the new millenium.

This year’s celebration of the 95th anniversary brings St. Mary’s to a new stage of her existence: her elevation to the rank of a Cathedral. This comes as recognition of her historical role and bold presence and influence in the life of the Episcopate and grants her a new dignity. The word "Cathedral" signifies the fact that the church contains the Bishop’s throne and the bishop directly oversees it. In the Orthodox tradition, a bishop could have one or cathedrals, or representative churches. While the main cathedral of our Episcopate is the under the patronage of St. George in Southfiled, Michigan, our church is under the protection of the Mother of God and it is observed on the Feast of Dormition, August 15th. The significance of both these two churches has been earned historically, it derives directly from the long standing contribution in the establishment of a Romanian Orthodox Episcopate in America and Canada and it derives directly from the Bishop’s "Cathedra" or chair. The faithful of St. Mary rejoice in the brilliance of this day and offer thanks to the Almighty and their beloved hierarch for this special blessing.

Rev. Fr. Remus Grama,

St. Mary’s Church, Cleveland


The parish archives of St. Mary’s Romanian Orthodox Church

The Weekly Bulletin of the parish

Valerian D. Trifa, Album Aniversar, Vatra Romaneasca, 1954

Theodore Andrica, Romanian Americans and their Communities of Cleveland, Cleveland, 1977

Fr. Vasile Hategan, St. Mary’s Romanian Orthodox Church, Cleveland, Ohio, A Historical perspective, 1904-1979, Cleveland, 1979

Fr. Vasile Hategan, Romanian Culture in Cleveland, Cleveland, 1988

Fr. Remus Grama, 90 Years of Romanian Orthodoxy in Cleveland, Solia, 1994

Fr. Remus Grama, 95 Years of Romanian Life in Cleveland,, America Almanac, 1999