History of Saint Sebastian Church
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 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 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!