The First Fifty Years

          At St. Michael the Archangel Parish in 2007, we find our parish family worshipping in a new multi-million dollar building built in 2002 that includes a contemporary worship space, a spacious gathering area, an  intimate chapel and large meeting rooms in the basement of the church.  The building is attached to the new gymnasium, a bride's parlor, The Fannon Center (formerly the Gathering Room) and our school, which consists of 24 classrooms, 2 preschool rooms, music room, art room, computer center, cafeteria, and a library.  The large convent and rectory, along with the playgrounds and athletic fields, complete the parish campus.

          This physical presence, although impressive, is merely reflective, however, of the intense dedication of the parishioners and pastors of St. Michael's, who, from the day the parish was established in 1952, envisioned a fitting setting for their work in Christ.  They have never wavered from their determination to see it completed.  The buildings erected by the parish family serve as markers that indicate the progress of the newly established parish.  However, this story is not about buildings, but about a people, those of St. Michael the Archangel Parish, and their tremendous accomplishments in building a parish family, where, before 1952, there was none.

The Early Years

          On June 27, 1952, the Most Reverend Emmet M. Walsh, Bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, announced the formation of the new St. Michael the Archangel Parish to serve the needs of Catholics residing in Lake Cable, Hills and Dales, Avondale, and areas northwest of Canton.  Except for the three communities mentioned, much of the land was marshy and brushed covered with the balance primarily used for farming.  In fact, the site for the new church, purchased by the Diocese of Youngstown, was part of the former Lutz farm and consisted of open acreage covered with small trees and brush.  It was located at the intersection of Wise (Whipple) and Lake Cable (Fulton) Roads.  The announcement of the new parish affected those residents north of 20th St. N.W., West of the B. and O. Railroad tracks, East of Brunnerdale/Lake O'Springs Road, and South of Portage St.  Those initial boundaries included parishioners from St. John, St. Peter, St. Joseph, St. Joan of Arc, and St. Paul (North Canton) parishes.

          Bishop Walsh appointed the able and experienced Reverend Ferdinand Hartmann to lead the formation of the new parish.  Under Fr. Hartmann's leadership, the response by the parishioners was immediate and enthusiastic.  On June 30, a short three days after the formal establishment of St. Michael's, the first parish meeting took place at Villa Padoya, near Lake Cable, followed by the first Sunday Mass on July 6, 1952.  That Mass was held in the auditorium of Avondale School with approximately 250 persons in attendance.  The initial 225 families were serious about the future of their parish.  Within the month, the women had formed St. Michael's Guild, while the men formed St. Michael's Men's Club, to assist in fund-raising and to promote the development of the parish family.  As an indication of their dedication to forming family, they purposely, avoided the Altar and Rosary Society designation for the women's club and the Holy Name Society for the men so that non-Catholic spouses could take an active part in community building.  Also, the women, most of whom had young children, formed baby-sitting groups to care for children while their mothers attended meetings or worked at events.  This cooperative spirit, forged at the very beginning of our parish, continues to this day as parishioners give of their time and talents to further the work of community.

          August of 1952 was a busy month for the new parish family.  Mrs. Pauline Long volunteered her services as organist, and a choir was formed under the direction Howard Nist.  And even though they had no building to call their own, St. Michael's held a successful parish picnic at Lake O'Springs with 200 in attendance.  That same month saw the purchase of a rectory at 2936 Sharon Rd. N.W., next to Avondale School.  The home not only housed the pastor,  but the refurbished basement provided a chapel for weekday Masses.  All the furnishings, equipment, and labor for the project were donated.  Hahn Piano even loaned the fledgling group a new piano.  From this inauspicious beginning, then, the parish began to grow.

          Acquaintances became friends as members worked closely with each other when fund-raising at St. Michael's began in earnest.  The women of St. Michael's Guild, led by Mrs. Stella Schrader, held a sold-out fashion show at the Onesto Hotel in Canton on September 16, 1952, raising $2,600 for altar furnishings.  Likewise, the Men's Club, with Joseph Conrad as president, followed with a Fall Festival in October, raising another $3,279.

          In spite of the heavy concentration on providing the physical plant for the parish, Fr. Hartmann continually encouraged an active spiritual life for the parishioners of St. Michael the Archangel.  On the first anniversary of the founding of the parish, he reported in the first issue of "St. Michael's Shield," the weekly church bulletin, that there had been 40 baptisms, seven marriages, and two deaths in the parish.  He also found that although 5000 persons had received communion in the previous year, that figure revealed only one person in every five attending Mass was receiving the Eucharist each week.  Fr. Hartmann then advocated a more frequent reception of the sacrament for his flock.  He offered much encouragement to the parishioners in their daunting task of building community as well as buildings, reminding them to welcome friends and neighbors to the new parish and to help them become actively involved.  His goal was to make St. Michael the Archangel Parish the home of "friendly people."

          Although the members of St Michael's were eager for a church of their own in which to worship, no need was more pressing than that of providing a Catholic education for their children.  So, the first phase of a comprehensive building plan was the construction of a school, with temporary space for a church in the basement of the building.  After the approval of building plans by Bishop Walsh, the first building campaign was kicked off with a parish dinner in March 1953.  Frank Malone and Leo J. O'Connor acted as co-chairmen of the campaign and within a week, generous supporters exceeded the $100,000 goal by $28,000.  Within 10 days, the amount had grown to $130,000.  Because of the immediate and generous response of parishioners, the groundbreaking was held in May for the construction of the new building.

          With the combination of excellent weather, extra workers, and expedited shipments of supplies, the general contractors, Gibbons-Grable, were able to complete the building in little more than 6 months.  On the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, September 29, 1953, Bishop Walsh, on his first official visit to the parish, laid the cornerstone for the new combined school and church.  Amazingly, on November 15, 1953, a mere 16 months after their first mass in borrowed space, St. Michael the Archangel's members, led by Fr. Hartmann, celebrated the first Mass in their own worship space.  The basement church, seating approximately 400, was designed for use as a cafeteria once the planned permanent church was built.  The upper part of the school building contained five rooms and accommodated nearly 160 pupils that first year, with the Sisters of Notre Dame administering the school.  While construction of the school was being rushed to completion, the men of the parish began in July 1953 to build the convent, North of the the school.  It consisted of living quarters for five sisters and a chapel.  With volunteer labor and donations of materials, the cost of building was kept around $40,000.  In a united effort, the men, and women of the parish, volunteering countless hours of labor, finished and furnished the residence by the time the four Sisters of Notre Dame arrived to prepare for the opening of the new school.

          On November 23, 1953, the tuition-free school officially opened.  Prior to that date, parish children had been temporarily attending other schools.  Now, each day, the children were gathered from across the parish in a leased bus that made two trips each morning and afternoon.  The first grade class of 40 children occupied one room, while the second and third grades were combined in another.  The fourth and fifth grades also shared a classroom, as did the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.  The first communion class of 1954, the first in the parish, consisted of 22 children.  St. Michael the Archangel School graduated six students that same year.

          While the Sisters attended to the formal education of the parish children, members of the parish introduced the first outside youth activities in 1954.  Boy Scout, Girl Scout, and Cub Scout troops were formed, as was the San Michel Club for teenagers.  In a further outreach to its members, St. Michael's established a Guild Garden Club in 1955, along with the Legion of Mary.  At that point, there were formal parish groups for nearly every member of the family to join.  In addition to supporting the parish, the groups offered opportunities for socializing with neighbors and new parish friends, and a means of strengthening the bonds of the parish family.

          Although the new parish was deservedly proud of its successful building program, the tireless members continued their fund-raising efforts to furnish the new convent and school.  The women of St. Michael's Guild, along with St. Michael's Men's Club held the Second Annual Style Show and Card Party at the Onesto Ballroom, and, as they had the previous year, sold out the event.  The co-chairmen for the 1953 Style Show are Mrs. Betty Helm and Mrs. Beatrice La Jeunesse.  In 1954, the men and women held a successful Dinner-Dance to raise funds for the new school addition.  Yet, as busy as they were raising funds to build and furnish classrooms, the women of St. Michael's found time to reach out to the less fortunate in our community.  In December 1954, the Ladies Guild gathered toys to be distributed to needy children by the Catholic Community League.  These women began St. Michael's fifty-year tradition of reaching beyond our boundaries to assist others.

          Bishop Walsh confirmed 99 children at the first Confirmation at St. Michael's on Sept. 29, 1954, the feast of St. Michael the Archangel.  Another milestone for the parish was the occasion of the celebration of the first Solemn High Mass, offered by Fr. Hartmann at midnight Mass on Dec. 25, 1954.

          In February 1955, only 15 months after the opening of the parish school, the first of several planned additions was completed.  It consisted of three classrooms and a new social hall.  Other additions were in 1960, when four classrooms were constructed, and 1963, when six classrooms and a cafeteria were added.  In the ensuing years, enrollment rose to over 600 students at the school.  The new rectory, at its present site, was completed in 1956 and an addition to the convent, doubling its size was added in 1957.

          By March 1958, with nearly 600 families in the parish, another building campaign was begun for phase two of the planned complex, an auditorium/church building.  The goal of $150,000, required before ground could be broken, was exceeded in less than two weeks and ground was broken in April for the new structure.  The entire project cost approximately $250,000.  Expecting to celebrate the first Mass in the new church in November, the parish was surprised and delighted when the construction was completed ahead of schedule.  On September 25, the first Mass was held, and on the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, September 29, 1958, the dedication of the new church took place.  It was designed to accommodate 700 people for Mass, and was to be converted to a parish social hall when the new permanent church was built.

          While the people of the parish were forging ahead building community, their beloved leader, Fr. Hartmann, was celebrating milestones of his own.  On May 26, 1957, Fr. Hartmann celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination.  Four years later, on May 26, 1961, Bishop Walsh invested Fr. Hartmann with Papal Honors, thus conferring the title, "Monsignor."  In 1964, Msgr. Hartmann said the first English Mass at St. Michael's church, from an altar facing his people.  This was the very beginning of the renewal in the church that was instituted by the Second Vatican Council.

          Msgr. Hartmann continued his tradition of outreach to the community with an open house held to showcase the new church.  Everyone in the community was invited, and, for many of the visitors, the occasion served as an introduction to Catholicism.  Over 2,000 persons attended, as did eight ministers and several Rabbis.  Msgr. Hartmann also became personally involved in the establishment of the first (known) interfaith ministry in the Judeo-Christian tradition, at any state university in the United States.  He led a group of representatives from the Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish faiths who were concerned with the religious needs of students and faculty at the new Kent State University Stark Campus.  The Interfaith Ministry, which is still active today, brought students together in common concern "while respecting the separate beliefs of all."  This ministry was undoubtedly an outgrowth of a previous assignment, when Msgr. Hartmann established the Neumann Club (for Catholic Students) at Kent State University in Kent.  According to J.R. Milligan, Chairman pro-tem of Interfaith Ministries in 1967, his peers saw Msgr. Hartmann as spending his life in "faithful service" to the greatest commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  Msgr. Hartmann passed away in April 1967, having united the parishioners in a common cause, that of successfully establishing the new parish, St. Michael the Archangel.  He left not only a fully operational parish, but also, a legacy of caring for community, a tribute to his inspired vision, spiritual teaching, and personal example.

Christ Renews His Church

          With the appointment of the Right Reverend Monsignor Clarence A. Halter to the pastorate in June 1967, the parish, now consisting of 900 families, anticipated the building of the long-awaited permanent church.  Plans had already been drawn for the gothic structure which was to be located close to the intersection of Whipple and Fulton Roads.  However, after review, it was determined that the temporary church would be remodeled and consecrated as a permanent church.  A bell tower was added that housed three new bells, cast of bronze in Belgium, and named after the three archangels.  The bells are tuned to pitch with the largest bell (2300 lbs) tuned to musical note F.  On the bell is engraved: "My name is Michael.  I ring for the Universal Church."  Also engraved in the bell is the year (1968), along with the name of the parish, city, diocese, bishop, and pastor.  The second bell (1000 lbs) is tuned to the musical note A, and is engraved: "My name is Gabriel.  I ring to honor Mary, Mother of God."  The third bell is tuned to musical note C and reads: "My name Raphael.  I ring to call people to prayer."  Interestingly, the bells themselves do not move; only the hammer of each bell swings, thus saving wear and tear on the tower.  Along with the addition of an enclosed entry to the bell tower, the choir loft was expanded and a new baptistery and font constructed.  At the same time, in order to comply with changes in the physical structure of churches mandated by the Second Vatican Council, the communion rail was removed, the sanctuary renovated and the altar changed.  On November 22, 1968, Msgr. Halter consecrated the altar of the church.

          In addition to bringing about the physical changes of the worship space, Msgr. Halter also supported the changes in the role of the laity brought about by the Second Vatican council.  He offered Mass in English, with the altar facing the congregation, and he initiated the use of Lectors and Extraordinary Eucharistic ministers.  Msgr. Halter realized the necessity of explaining the changes taking place as the winds of renewal swept through the Catholic Church.  He held seminars, round table discussions, lectures, and Bible studies for St. Michael's parishioners to bring them up to date.  He invoked the mission of the Vatican Council in areas of worship, leadership, and ministry, and is particularly remembered for his service as diocesan chaplain for the National Council of Catholic Women.  He is also remembered for his community outreach as the initiator of the Ecumenical meetings with inter-faith prayer services held at St. Michael's.  This is a ministry that is still active and alive, with neighboring churches of various faiths reciprocating.

          During Msgr. Halter's pastorate, the parish continued to grow and he oversaw an addition to the rectory, adding offices and living quarters.  In 1972, a school library was opened to the delight of the staff as well as the students.  In 1980, Msgr. Halter celebrated the fortieth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood and the following year, at age 73, he retired.

          While Msgr. Hartmann is remembered as the envisioned guiding the spirit of early community building at St Michael the Archangel Parish, Msgr. Halter could be considered the apostle of renewal and change.  His spiritual strength enabled him to lead his flock through major changes in the practice of their faith.

The Right Reverend Monsignor Robert Fannon was appointed pastor to St. Michael's in 1981, with the parish having grown to 1,300 families.  He completed renovations of the church, including a rearrangement of the seating, and added carpeting and lighting.  He soon recognized the need to better organize the ever-growing number of ministries and services the parish offered.  A vision statement was developed which expressed our sense of community and responsibility for each other in sharing the mission of Jesus Christ.  A Parish Council was formed, consisting of staff members, representatives of the major committees and societies and at-large members elected by the parish.  Once organized, the group established new programs to meet more needs of the community.  Some new programs were pre-marriage (sponsor couple) counseling for engaged couples, Marriage Renewal weekends, and M.O.M.S. for mothers of young children.  Msgr. Fannon also instituted the Christ Renews His Parish and the Sacrificial Giving programs.  Of special interest, was the annual Lenten Series of lectures by nationally renowned theologians, a new concept in faith development for the people of St. Michael's.  Social concerns activities begun in the 1980's are familiar to us even today.  Following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Msgr. Fannon believed, "We validate our existence by how we reach out to others beyond our parish boundaries."  Thus, the parish adopted social concerns ministries such as the Giving Tree, Habitat for Humanity, holiday baskets for the needy of the community, and emergency aid.

     When the parish celebrated its fortieth anniversary in 1992, it had grown to 2300 families, with 550 children in St. Michael's grade school and another 400 in the Parish School of Religion.  That October, ground was broken for the new Gathering Room, now renamed "The Fannon Center" which served as the parish social center.  Msgr. Fannon retired in 1995.

Building on Tradition

          One of our own, the Reverend Bradford Helman was appointed pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in 1995.  A graduate of Canton Central Catholic High School, Fr. Helman had com home to the parish where he had been ordained in 1968.  The parish had grown to include 2600 families, with 550 children attending St. Michael's school and another 500 in the Parish School of Religion.  He had barely settled in to his first pastorate when he was approached by parishioners concerned with the need for a larger worship space and a gymnasium for the youth of the parish.  After a year of prudent study of all facets of parish life including finances, projected growth and costs, Fr. Helman agreed with the consultants and his parishioners that it was, indeed, time to build.  The forty-four year old dream of a permanent church was about to be realized.  After well-planned informational meetings, the parish enthusiastically responded to the building campaign, and less than six weeks later, the $3 million goal had been reached.  The building project was an ambitious one.  In addition to the new church, the old church was to be renovated for use as a gymnasium, three rooms added to the lower level of the school and the school library was to be remodeled.  Generous gifts including a Schantz Pipe Organ and monies contributed anonymously for the initial set of stained glass windows for the church attest to the depth of commitment to the parish by its members.  St. Michael the Archangel parishioners had responded to its needs as they had from the very day the parish was established.  No sooner was a need perceived, than it was fulfilled.  Finally, on November 18, 2000, nearly five years after the idea was first broached with Fr. Helman, the new worship space was consecrated.

          Although it was a busy time during the process of planning and building, St. Michael's parishioners persevered in doing what they do best.  They expressed their love of Christ by serving each other and the community through their many programs.  They also instituted new ministries, including adult and children's bell choirs, a children's vocal choir, and teen and contemporary choirs.  A Singles Club for young adults was formed as well as a singles group for mature professional adults.  Perhaps the most successful additions to parish spiritual life have been two Lenten missions featuring nationally known speakers, and the Renew 2000 series, which concluded in 2002.

          As we celebrate fifty years of parish life, we look back to our beginnings and find that, although the physical surroundings have changed, we the people of St. Michael's have not.  Whether worshipping in a public school auditorium or in our new contemporary facility, our values remain the same.  Individually and through our many ministries, we still care for each other, we maintain friendships forged through the church community, and we reach out to others in the community and beyond.  We believe that the human family is one in the body of Christ and we strive to treat our brothers and sisters as we would be treated.