Hungarian Americans of Cleveland

Cleveland Press Articles

Guardian angel to his house of God

By Thomas S. Andrzejewski
Plain Dealer, JUL 13 1975

Sliver-colored bolts dot the front doors of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church on lower Buckeye Rd. SE. They are a necessary disfiguration to one of Cleveland's landmarks because they hold locks and bars.

Two months ago, the Rev. Julius E. Zahorsky explained, burglars almost broke into the church, so, more bolts were added.

Father Zahorsky, 65, is the pastor, administrator, assistant and, at times, housekeeper and maintenance man for the church at 9016 Buckeye.

And with his 38-caliber revolver, he is also a policeman for the church. Lower Buckeye is a high-crime neighborhood.

"The night here is so noisy," said Father Zahorsky. "You hear the sirens, the shooting and the crying of the people."

Once, Father Zahorsky was awakened by the sound of someone's trying to break into the rectory next door to church. Armed, he went to a window and caught a glimpse of the would-be burglar, who fled when he saw the priest.

"It is not the best feeling to have to watch for every noise at night, to listen if someone is breaking in," said Father Zahorsky.

St. Elizabeth, founded in 1982, is the oldest Catholic Hungarian parish in the country. The present church was dedicated in 1922. It was made a landmark two weeks ago by the Cleveland Landmarks Commission.

But the parish now has only about 400 members, not even enough to fill the 1,206 seats in the church. Only about 20 parishioners live in the neighborhood.

Father Zahorsky hopes that, because the church is now an official landmark, a new neighborhood could develop around it. But he is not optimistic.

Much of the housing is falling apart. There are major fires every week, said Father Zahorsky, partly because the neighborhood is so old. There should be a way to raze it and build new housing, he thinks.

If not, then Father Zahorsky gives St. Elizabeth Church five years to live.

Because of the dwindling number of parishioners, all of whom are Hungarian, Father Zahorsky is the only priest assigned to the parish. A Jesuit, the Rev. Michael Szeder, lives in the rectory with Father Zahorsky. He does language research and helps with parish duties.

The crime problem has made it impossible to hire a housekeeper, said Father Zahorsky. And even after the 10 o'clock mass on Sunday, in the morning daylight, parishioners have been robbed.

The church also has a parish hall, but it has been unusable ever since thieves stripped it of plumbing and wiring five years ago. There is not enough money in the parish to make repairs.

Thieves are sp brazen, said Father Zahorsky, that they have stolen cars parked in the church parking lot on E. 90th St.-even cars to be used in a funeral procession while the funeral mass was being said in church.

The neighborhood is now predominantly black. Father Zahorsky refers to blacks who live near the church as "our people," and does not blame them for the crime. It is outsiders who are the problem, he believes.

The parishioners live as far away as Lake County and the western suburbs. Some live out of state, but maintain membership.

Membership in the parish is open only to Hungarians. But services are open to all. There are some blacks who attend mass, said Father Zahorsky.

Father Zahorsky came to Cleveland from Budapest in 1956. He was first assigned to St. St. Ladislaus Church in Lorain, then to St. Elizabeth in 1965. Is he afraid in his present assignment?

"No," he answer, "because I was a chaplain in the Second World War. So I know the feeling of being in danger."