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.
Taken from the 1978 Parish Directory
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.
Taken from the 1993 Parish Directory
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?'"