Speaking & Working in Faith
St. Sebastian Roman Catholic Parish is committed to growing in holiness with the Eucharist as the center, source and summit of our lives.
We give witness to our Catholic cultural tradition through Jesus Christ, by speaking and working in faith, hope and love.
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 shepherd 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 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. He was ordained in the basilica of St. John Lateran in May of 1913 and said his first Mass at the tomb of St. Peter in Rome.
The young priest returned to Cleveland and became an assistant pastor at St.Michael. This assignment was followed by five years as an Army chaplain and 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 5, 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 named 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, the 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 just bricks and mortar. His dedication to beautiful surroundings for the church resulted in hundreds upon hundreds of trees, shrubs and flowerbeds - the ambiance that 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 of 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 towards 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!
The First Church
It was boom time in Akron in 1928 ... a time for growing, investing in the future, planning ahead.
And the Cleveland diocese was keeping pace with the times by opening a new parish to serve the Akron area which had mushroomed to almost 300,000 and was still growing.
To spearhead the organization of a new-parish, Cleveland Bishop Joseph Schrembs on July 1, called on Father Hilary Zwisler, pastor of St. Barbara Church in Massillon. The new parish was named St. Sebastian after an early Christian martyr.
St. Vincent de Paul had been the first Catholic parish in Akron, formed as the result of the coming of Irish, Germans, some French and other nationalities to Akron with the building of the Ohio Canal in 1825. Out of St. Vincent had come St. Bernard, St. Mary, St. Paul and St. Martha parishes. However, St. Vincent was still a large parish, and the growth of West Hill was demanding expansion in that area.
Father Zwisler conferred with Monsignor John J. Scullen of St. Vincent and they set the boundary lines for the new parish. Portage Path and Diagonal Road from Botzum to Wooster Avenue were designated the dividing line between the two with the southern boundary Stoner Avenue, northern border the Cuyahoga River, and the western boundary would meet the parishes of Wadsworth, Medina and Peninsula.
There were to be 400 families in the new parish and Father Zwisler rented Rankin School gym from the Akron Board of Education for the celebration of Mass while plans were being made for the first building. For a time, youngsters of the new parish went to school in the old Knights of Columbus Hall on West Market Street, just west of St. Vincent Church.
In February 1929, a deal was made with Herberich, Hall and Harter for eight acres bounded by Hawkins, Greenwood Avenue, Elmdale and Mull for the parish site. Kraus and Helmkamp, long time designers of Catholic churches, were given the contract to plan the new complex. Ground was broken on April 28, 1929, and the stipulation was that the building--a combined church, school and convent--be completed by September 1, 1929.
Contracts went to C.W. and P. Construction, building, $129,298; Kraus Plumbing and Heating, for heating, $18,955; and Electric Motor and Repair, electric work, $2,500.
The school was completed on time; the church section on Thanksgiving. A rectory was erected in 1938, a new convent in 1950, and the recreation center on three acres of land on the west side of Hawkins in 1952. When the new convent was opened, there were 650 children in the school.
Father Zwisler retired in March, 1968, after 40 years of service to his parish. He was succeeded by another native Akronite and a St. Vincent High School graduate, Father Charles L. Byrider. The monsignor remained in his parish as pastor emeritus, living in the rectory. He died October 25, 1971.
In August 1958--30 years after the formation of St. Sebastian--West Hill and Fairlawn growth demanded another parish. St. Hilary, under the pastorate of Father Edward M. Horning, was established with 325 families. As St. Vincent helped St. Sebastian, so did St. Sebastian aid St. Hilary. Services were held in St. Sebastian recreation center until a new church was built on West Market Street.
Following graduation from Akron St. Vincent, Father Byrider entered the seminary. Studies at St. Charles Borromeo, St. Mary Seminary in Cleveland and St. Charles Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland, prepared him well for his priestly life.
Ordained in 1941 by Bishop Schrembs, Father Byrider's first assignment as a young priest was at St. Paul's in Akron. From there he went to St. Augustine's in Barberton, where he was named pastor in 1958 and served as pastor for 10 years. His experience as a former pastor prepared him well to undertake his new pastoral office at St. Sebastian. His administrative ability and his love of people have endeared him to the parishioners of the church.
Following Father Byrider's retirement in 1985, lay involvement was accelerated under the leadership of new pastor, Father John T. McDonough, who came to the parish after heading the pastoral team at St. Mary Magdalene in Willowick.
Father McDonough's first major projects were to lead the parish through three years of RENEW, a national spiritual growth process which led to the formation of a large number of small faith sharing groups which meet in the homes of parishioners, and to welcome the members of St. Peter Church into the parish community of St. Sebastian. St. Peter was a Kenmore area church closed by the diocese in 1989 due to dwindling resources and membership.
To guide the growth process at St. Sebastian, a commission system was developed in 1986, a mission statement in 1988 and, in 1990, a parish Pastoral Council to structure shared responsibility within the parish.
One of the Pastoral Councils' first accomplishments was the creation of a "Vision and Goals" statement in 1992 to prioritize practical ways to build and nurture our faith community for the future. Those goals call for St. Sebastian to be a center of worship, communication, hospitality, community, and witness.
Fr. Karg has a unique perspective of St. Sebastian having been a student at the parish school in the late 1950s, and returning some three decades later as pastor.
He has been impressed by the large number of multi-generational families who worship at St. Sebastian and continue to buy homes close to other family members to stay within the parish boundaries. "I am seeing people here who are the great grandchildren of people I knew when I was here in my earlier life," he said
Today, stewardship is a familiar word at the parish. Parishioners give of their time, talent and treasure to serve God and their church, giving up time to pull weeds on parish grounds, or lending their financial expertise to the business side of church operations.
The church extends its reach into the community in a number of ways. Fr. Karg proudly points to a tutoring program that links St. Sebastian parishioners with children in the Akron Public Schools. Fr. Karg said, "The St. Vincent de Paul Society has been helping the poor for all the years the parish has been here.”
Even children as far away as Nigeria will be touched by the parish. The Rev. Chima Nwamadi, who is temporarily living, serving, and studying here, has called Akron's attention to the needs of children in his homeland. With the help of St. Sebastian parishioners and others, he hopes to build a rescue center that would house, feed, educate, and provide medical care for about 100 children.
Fr. Karg believes that "as a church, we need to be in service to humanity - not just Catholics but to anybody that we can help. "That's why we always ask, 'How can we be of service?'"
The New Church
The Saint Sebastian Parish has been proud of its new church, dedicated in May, 1960. The architecture is modern Romanesque; the exterior construction is cream-colored brick, and the interior construction Travertine marble and nine other marbles imported from Italy.
As in any church, the sanctuary is the most important part because this is where the altar is located. St. Sebastian Church has a large-mosaic depicting the scene of the Last Supper behind the main altar. The altar represents the table with the figures behind it. The altar is made of Giallo Doro marble and the mosaic scene features Jesus Christ in the center, holding a large chalice, and reverent apostles are depicted on each side of Him.
The symbols above the heads of the apostles depict the bread and wine of Holy Eucharist. The symbols of Christ Himself are a staff on the left to signify His being a Shepherd and a crown on the right to depict Christ as King. In the center of the uppermost part of the mosaic is depicted the hand of God, the Father, sending the Dove, or Holy Spirit, down upon the apostles.
The sketch for the mosaic scene was chosen from several submitted by the DePrato Co. in Chicago. This sketch was then sent to Venice where it took one year to make the 175,000 pieces of Venetian glass that make up the complete scene. It took six weeks for four Italian workmen to piece together and cement the mosaic to the wall. The Stations of the Cross were made in the same manner as the scene of the Last Supper and are embedded in Travertine marble.
The stained glass windows were made of baked glass by Francesco Marcione over a period of a year. These windows are dedicated to Our Blessed Mother, as Queen, and depict phrases taken from the Litany of Loretto. Two persons from the past were chosen to illustrate each phrase. The windows in the choir loft depict St. Cecelia, patroness of music, and St. Gregory, composer of Gregorian Chant.
There are 14 hand carved wooden statues in St. Sebastian Church, carved by artisans in the Tyrolean sector of Italy. The eight side altars have stained glass windows on each side to depict the lives of the saints represented.
There is a bronze plaque of the coat of arms of St. Sebastian on the ends of each church pew. St. Sebastian had been a pagan so there are crosses to depict his conversion and there are chevrons because he was a martyr. This same coat of arms in stainless steel is mounted on the outside of the church. The top window above each door has a gold silhouette emblem of a circle with an "M" in the middle drawn to resemble an angel and also represent Mary, our Mother.
It took two years to plan the church, one year to raise the necessary funds and two years to build it.