In 1922 when Rocky River was mostly farmland and Wagar Road was little more than a dirt trail, Bishop Joseph Schrembs recognized the potential growth west of the Cuyahoga River and organized four new catholic west-side parishes. In May, he appointed his secretary, Fr. Richard J. Patterson, as pastor of one of these new communities. Fr. Patterson’s choice of the name, St. Christopher, the patron of travelers and motorists was an appropriate one, for the automobile age was dawning soon and would transform Rocky River from farmland to busy town. The faithful of Saint Christopher Parish celebrated their first Mass on May 14th 1922 in Rocky River Town Hall. Later that same year the diocese purchased seven acres of land on Detroit Rd. to build a temporary church. The first Mass, on the new location, was celebrated on Palm Sunday, 1923.
In 1952 Father Edmund Ahern commissioned plans for a larger church. By 1934 Saint Christopher parish population reached 1,000. Fr. Ahern broke ground for the new building, a modified Romanesque structure with Perlata d’Italia marble altars, a stone tower and belfry. The cornerstone of this magnificent edifice was laid in 1953. Archbishop Hoban dedicated the new church on December 12, 1954.
Later into the century St. Christopher Parish continued a steady growth. In 1997 Fr. John Chlebo became the fifth pastor of St. Christopher. In the summer of 2001 St. Christopher opened a new Parish Center consisting of a large multi-purpose room with a stage, full service kitchen, and 4 smaller meeting rooms. A new library, computer lab, school offices, and PSR offices were added to the school. To meet the sacramental needs of the parish the interior of the church was renovated in 2008.
The parish community currently consists of approximately 3,300 families, a day school enrollment of 350 students and a Parish School of Religion enrollment of 480. In 2022 St. Christopher Parish will celebrate its 100th anniversary! Building on a rich history and looking with hope to a future of faith and friendship, we continue to serve the needs of the people of Rocky River and the greater Church of Cleveland.
Who was Saint Christopher?
There are several legends about Saint Christopher. The most popular one is when he was crossing a river and a child asked to be carried across. When Christopher put the child on his shoulders, he found the child to be unbelievably heavy. The child, according to the legend was Christ, carrying the weight of the whole world. This caused Christopher to become the patron saint of travelers.
Before the formal canonization process began in the fifteenth century, many saints were proclaimed by popular approval. This was a much faster process, but unfortunately many of the saints so named were based on legends, pagan mythology, or even other religions. In 1969, the Church took a long look at all the saints on the calendar to see if there was historical evidence that the saint existed and lived a life of holiness. In taking that long look, the Church discovered that there was little proof that many ‘saints,’ including some very popular ones, ever lived. Christopher was one of those names that were determined to have a basis mostly in legend, and along with 39 others, Christopher’s name was struck and dropped from the universal calendar. His former feast day was July 25.
The Vatican ruled that parishes named after him could keep their names, although new churches would not be named after him. While Christopher’s name was removed from the official Church calendar, he, in fact, remains a saint. The Roman Martyrology records that Christopher was put to death in Asia Minor during the persecution of the Roman Emperor Decius in the 3rd century. Nothing else is known about him.
Images of Saint Christopher are found in our Church. A statue that portrays Saint Christopher carrying the child Jesus as he holds the world is located in the Nave. Greeting parishioners in the Gathering Area is a stained glass window which depicts Saint Christopher carrying the Christ child over a raging river.