The Beginning 1958-1981
Archbishop Edward F. Hoban ordered the creation of the Cleveland Diocese’s 224th parish–St. Hilary, approximately six months before the late Pope John XXIII announced history changing intentions to call the Second Vatican Council. The parish was officially established on August 1, 1958. St. Hilary was carved from its mother parish, St. Sebastian, to serve the needs of a growing population expanding west of Akron in the 1950’s. Our parish was born inside Copley Township, but within two years, found its property inside newly created Fairlawn Village. As Fairlawn grew, so did St. Hilary.
Father Edward M. Horning was named the founding Pastor and it was with 325 families that the new parish was formed. Father Horning proved to be an able administrator who followed the mandates of Vatican II to the letter. He led the parish through those changes for more than two decades until his retirement on his 70th birthday in 1981.
During the initial development of the 10-acre site on West Market Street, the sacraments were celebrated at St. Sebastian’s recreation center. Monsignor Hilary Zwisler, pastor of St. Sebastian, and Father Horning broke the ground for a combined church and school on June 10, 1959. The first Mass was celebrated in the school’s gymnasium on Easter Sunday, April 17, 1960.
The new “church” was soon to become the grade school’s gymnasium and cafeteria the other six days of the week. St. Hilary School opened its doors to 270 students in grades one through eight on September 5, 1960. Five Akron Dominican sisters from Our Lady of the Elms staffed the school.
With the growth of St. Hilary parish and its surrounding communities, it soon became apparent that a larger worship space was needed. Ground was broken in June of 1965 for the new church.
On Sunday, December 4, 1966, the 852 seats of St. Hilary were filled as Bishop Clarence G. Issenmann blessed the new church with all the solemn rites of the Church. Setting the tone for the entire day was Msgr. Michael J. Murphy, Rector of St. Mary’s Seminary and considered one of the most articulate speakers within the diocese. Preaching at the dedication Mass, Msgr. Murphy summed up the sacrifice of the parishioners to build such a church by proclaiming “this is a moment of faith!”
Father Horning arranged for parish missions and a program called Genesis II. Traditional and contemporary music ministries were formed and parishioners were invited to serve as lectors, a new role for the laity under Vatican II. In the late 1970’s parishioners received training to facilitate home-based Bible studies.
On All Saints Day, November 1, 1981, Father Horning celebrated his seventieth birthday and the beginning of his retirement. The Eucharistic Liturgy was concelebrated by Bishop Anthony Pilla, Bishop Gilbert Sheldon, and Father Horning. In a letter to Father Horning, Bishop Pilla praised him as an inspiration for organizing a thriving parish community and for serving the diocese with profound dedication.
1981-1994 (The Koegel Years)
In 1981 Father Thomas M. Koegel was named pastor of St. Hilary parish, a community that had grown to over one thousand families. Father Koegel’s pastorate was marked by the parish’s spiritual growth and its continued expansion of ministries. Under his leadership new activities sprouted and flourished, including the parish renewal program J.O.Y. and small Christian communities. Father Koegel had a gift for challenging parishioners to use their time and talent for the good of the parish. The liturgical life of the parish was enhanced by musicians, artists, lectors, Eucharistic ministers and greeters. A Schantz pipe organ was installed in 1987, thanks to the generosity of several parishioners. This addition necessitated the renovation of the sanctuary of the church.
By 1988 the phenomenal growth of the suburban and rural areas of Fairlawn, Copley, Bath, Montrose, and Richfield created an increasing need at St. Hilary to serve the area’s two thousand plus registered Catholic families. St. Hilary had again outgrown its facilities. On May 27, 1990, ground was broken by Father Koegel and Bishop Gilbert Sheldon for the new Spiritual Center. The Spiritual Center which adjoined the church was built to house a large gathering area, fully equipped kitchen, parish staff offices, and meeting rooms. At this time, four new classrooms were also added to the parish school.
Bishop Anthony Pilla dedicated the new Spiritual Center on May 5, 1991. It became the hub from which to carry on the many tasks needed to be performed by both staff and parishioners, ministering to an ever growing parish family and community. On June 7, 1998, the 40th anniversary of the parish, the Spiritual Center was rededicated as the Koegel Spiritual Center.
On March 24, 1994, the week before Holy Week, Father Koegel was taken unexpectedly by the Lord while playing a round of golf, one of his favorite pastimes. A Beacon Journal editor, writing in eulogy, characterized him with these words: “His sense of social responsibility was reflected in the everyday life of the parish. He was a priest with a keen sense of how a church could help a community. In a gentle way, by seeing high expectations for his congregations, he had a knack for influencing people to do good things.”
1994-2007 (The Yahner Years)
In 1994, Bishop Pilla appointed Father Gordon A. Yahner the third pastor of St. Hilary parish. Father Yahner brought a rich background in social justice, working for many years in the inner city of Cleveland. He accepted the responsibility for a suburban parish that had grown to over 2500 families. At his installation Mass on September 18, 1994, he noted the blessings that had come to the parish under the leadership of Father Ed Horning and Father Tom Koegel. He expressed gratitude for the community’s energy and commitment to parish life and for their warm welcome. “Together may we discover God present in our lives and in the lives of those around us. May God bless us as we journey together and may we grow in love for one another.”
St. Hilary did indeed continue to grow in many ways, resulting in the need for another expansion project in 1994. The parish community had outgrown its school, recreation, and worship space. With the assistance of newly ordained associate pastor Father John Miceli, Father Yahner prepared the parish for another building campaign entitled “Investing in Our Future.” The three-phased program included renovation of the school’s administration area, expansion and renovation of the existing worship space; and construction of a new gym. By 1994 St. Hilary School had reached its capacity of 550 students. Plans to allow for a maximum of 810 students began on May 21, 1997, when Bishop Anthony Pilla and Father Yahner broke ground for the new facilities.
During Father Yahner’s thirteen years as pastor, he guided the parish through much growth not only in terms of buildings and numbers of parishioners but in the multiplication of activities and outreach to the larger community. By 2007 some 90 organizations had become part of life at St. Hilary: opportunities for spiritual development ranging from the Charismatic Prayer Group to the Zen/Christian meditation group, scripture studies, Alpha, and Faith Alive Retreats; opportunities for religious education through Adult Religious Education presentations, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and Generations of Faith; and opportunities for outreach to the larger community through Journey Together for Justice, focus groups on the environment, fair trade, homelessness, peace and nonviolence, right to life, as well as cooperation with community organizations to help the poor. Father Yahner retired on his seventieth birthday on March 14, 2007
2007 and Beyond
St. Hilary welcomed its fourth pastor on March 15, 2007. Bishop Richard Lennon installed Father Steven Brunovsky as pastor on May 13, 2007. A native of Seven Hills, Ohio, Father Steve was ordained in 1992. In addition to his youthfulness and sense of humor, Father Steve brings to St. Hilary a wealth of experience from previous assignments: St. Paul in Akron, St. Mary in Hudson, St. Francis Xavier in Medina.
Father Joseph Warner was appointed as parochial vicar in June 2007. Originally from Copley, Ohio, Father Joe worked for some years as a civil engineer before experiencing a call to the priesthood. He was ordained in May 2003 at the age of 42.
Our youthful priests are appropriate for a parish whose median age is now thirty-eight, reflecting the large number of young families who call St. Hilary their spiritual home. They bring us great hope for a vibrant future as a parish. We are grateful for all who have come before us: priests, religious, parish staff. The vibrant faith life, community outreach, and beautiful parish buildings, which we enjoy today, are a testament to their generous love and commitment.
Father Frank Basa joined the parish as Parochial Vicar when Father Joseph Warner became the Pastor of Blessed Trinity in December, 2009. Fr. Frank was a very active member of the Knights of Columbus as well as the Boy Scouts. Father Frank has moved on as Parochial Vicar at St. Bernard’s in June 2013.
Fr. Steve Breck joined the parish as Parochial Vicar in June 2013. He was ordained in 2000 and had served as Parochial Vicar in three locations prior to joining the St. Hilary family. In May 2016, Fr. Breck was appointed as Pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Willowick.
Fr. Charles Strebler was then appointed our Weekend Associate in 2016.
We welcome Fr. Matthew Jordan to St. Hilary Parish as our new parochial vicar.