St. Sebastian Parish History
Monsignor Zwisler, our Pastoral Cornerstone
In 1928, historic St. Vincent became overcrowded and it was soon apparent that another church was needed to serve the West Hill area. During the summer of 1928, Bishop Joseph Schrembs, Bishop of Cleveland, approved the plan for a new parish. He also made “the perfect choice” to bring this plan to fruition.
The Rev. Hilary Zwisler was chosen to found and sheppard the new parish. Few priests have matched his unique combination of faith, business acumen, devotion to duty and love of children.
Father Zwisler was born in Akron and graduated from St. Bernard High School. He attended Central High School, the University of Ottawa in Canada, St. Charles in Ellicott City, Maryland, St. Mary Seminary in Cleveland and the American College in Rome.
The young priest returned to us as an assistant pastor at St. Michael in Cleveland. This was followed by five years as an Army chaplain and additional assistant pastor positions at St. Edward in Cleveland and St. Mary in Akron. Father Zwisler was asked to found St. Sebastian after three years as pastor of St. Barbara in Massillon. First services were held in the Rankin School gymnasium on Sunday, August 4, 1928.
Groundbreaking for the St. Sebastian Church and School was April 28, 1929. Father Zwisler instructed that construction of the new school was to be given priority. It was hoped that classes could begin that fall. Even though the school was the first building to be completed, it wasn’t ready for students until November 1, 1929, so classes had to be held in the old Knights of Columbus building on West Market Street. The church was completed a few weeks later, and the first services were held on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1929. Total cost of construction was $150,000!
In 1957, Pope Pious XII names Father Zwisler a domestic prelate with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor. The monsignor continued to build and grow the parish. He decided that St. Sebastian needed a permanent church to replace the original multi-purpose building. So, after two years of planning, one year of fundraising and two years of construction, our current 1,000-seat church was opened in May of 1960.
Monsignor Zwisler retired in 1968 at the age of 82 and lived at the rectory until his death in 1971.
Our “Pastoral Cornerstone” left behind more than bricks and mortar for our community. His dedication to beautiful surroundings for the church resulted in hundreds upon hundreds of trees, shrubs and flowerbeds – the ambiance we enjoy today. Monsignor Zwisler also left behind a commitment to the community and its children. A commitment manifested in our school and our many service organizations, clubs, societies and social groups.
In a 1957 letter to St. Sebastian parishioners, launching the fund drive for our present church, the Monsignor said, “Your charity has made it possible to erect a combination church-school-convent, a rectory, a new convent, a recreational center and an addition to the original school.” In thanking his flock for the “wonderful charity” that made all this possible, Monsignor Zwisler concluded, “May our Blessed Lord, through the intercession of His Blessed Mother and of St. Sebastian, our Glorious patron, inspire you to put forth your best effort and sacrifice, and reward you for your love toward Him with earthly blessings and eternal joys.”
We’re confident that Monsignor Zwisler would confer that same request and blessing on today’s parishioners who, through their generous contributions, keep his vision for the St. Sebastian Church and School, not only alive, but thriving!
St. Sebastian Parish Foundation History
We Need a Strong FOUNDATION to Support our Cornerstone
In 1968, Father Charles L. Byrider assumed leadership of the church, following Monsignor Zwisler. He was noted for his love of people and unabashed support for the value of “family”. In fact, in a Sunday homily he once said, “…If things are tight, I would rather not see the money in the collection, but spent on a family vacation, instead.”
He also understood finances and soon realized that the day would come when needs would exceed what the regular parish collection could provide (especially if all our parish families suddenly went on vacation)! So, in 1971, Father Byrider, along with some long-time parishioners, established the St. Sebastian Parish Foundation. The idea was to ensure funds would always be available to continue the St. Sebastian tradition. The original foundation consisted of six parishioners and the pastor. Today, the number of trustees has grown to eight of our most committed parish faithful as well as our Pastor, but they cannot do it alone.
Take Care of your “Old Friends”
We may sometimes think of the structures at St. Sebastian as old friends. Some have been with us for more than 70 years. Although they’re showing their age, we can’t imagine our campus, or our lives, without them. Hundreds of our neighbors pass through these buildings every year. Many generations before us have enjoyed their hospitality. However, as in any aging process, the years take a toll. Things vital to the life of our church and school start to wear out. Heating, plumbing, electrical, cooling, roofs, foundations, windows, sidewalks and parking lots all need attention. All need continuing care. If proper care is withheld, like old friends, they will gradually fade away, and their passing will lessen us all.
Take Care of the “New”
In addition to proper care for our “old friends”, we must continue to add new technology, new accommodations and new revenue-generating avenues for the parish, as well as educational and youth sports facilities for our parishioner’s and their children. The St. Sebastian Parish Foundation is dedicated to supplying the funds that support the old and the new. Our aim is to provide the needed dollars to support the spiritual, educational, recreational and physical needs of our Church and School. But in order to hit our target, we need your help!
Your gifts propagate and strengthen the faith, shape young minds, educate adults, encourage youth sports activities and comfort our elderly. Next time you are on the St. Sebastian campus, look around you. See what your contributions have already done. Take pride in it. Then look again, and see how much more could be done – how much more should be done – how much more must be done!
It is important to note that all contributions to the St. Sebastian Foundation, as well as the interest generated from them, stay within the parish. So, in a way, whatever you give comes back to you and your family with interest!
St. Sebastian Parish Foundation Operations
When you make a donation to the Foundation, you will make a real, measurable difference in our community. No gift is too big, and no gift is too small. Due to the big and small gifts made to the Foundation, interest generated and market appreciation, the Foundation has contributed $8,207,539* to help our Church and School since 1996 (* total contributions from 1996 – 2014). Anyone can contribute to the Foundation and all gifts are tax deductible as the Foundation is a not-for-profit, charitable tax-exempt organization.
The money in the Foundation is managed by an investment committee among the Foundation Board with advice from a money manager and invested in a mix of equities and bonds and experiences the ups and downs as you would expect of the stock market. (Even during our current recession, our losses are less than average or anticipated; I would hazard a guess our Patron Saint is looking after us in all aspects!)
As you continue to invest in our parish, I am certain future generations will look back with grateful hearts and give thanks for what you have done for them, starting way back in 1971. St. Sebastian Parish Foundation gratefully accepts your gifts to help support our parish. There are many ways to give to the Foundation, please visit the donation page to continute to support the Parish.