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Cleveland Restoration Society's Sacred Landmarks Committee is keeping religious buildings safe

Posted: 7:56 AM, Oct 02, 2019
Updated: 2019-10-02 18:41:30-04
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CLEVELAND — The Sacred Landmarks Committee within the Cleveland Restoration Society is working all over greater Cleveland to keep some of the area's oldest buildings operational.

When you see the full-wall mosaic behind the altar, the stone work, and the stained-glass windows around the chapel at the old St. Mary's Seminary, it's easy to forget the building has a different purpose now.

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The chapel in the old St. Mary's Seminary has pews that face each other with a mosaic behind where the altar once stood.

The buildings that used to house Cleveland's future priests now houses the Hitchcock Center for Women, which cares for roughly 60 women battling substance abuse and their children.

"Working on recovery issues affects everybody and the women don't necessarily have a place to go with their children," said Hitchcock Center for Women Executive Director Sue Tager.

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Hallways that used to house future priests now hold women recovering from substance abuse and their children.

Being close to their children is an important part of recovery for the women and it's only possible because the seminary is so large.

"On one side, it's great because we can serve a lot of women, women with children," said Tager. "But on the other side, it is such a big building that it can be very overwhelming."

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Courtyards surrounded by stone still show signs of the building's original religious use. The Hitchcock Center for Women has used the building since 1992.

Overwhelming, because the roof was leaking, creating damage that can still be seen in some parts of the building today, on top of the fact that there was so much building to care for.

That's where the Cleveland Restoration Society's Sacred Landmark Committee comes in to help churches, or organizations like the Hitchcock Center for Women, prioritize what work needs to be done first so they can best use their resources.

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The seminary's library still holds books from when priests trained in these rooms, including some books in Latin.

"If you can't do everything, what do you do first and how do you do it," said Cleveland Restoration Society Director of Preservation Services Michael Fleenor.

To figure it all out, Fleenor's Sacred Landmarks Committee come through buildings like the old seminary with experts in a wide variety of restoration work.

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Near the library, water damage has ruined some of the wall causing part of it to fall off onto the carpet.

"The tile had been ignored or a long time, the flat roof areas had been ignored for a long time and they just needed some TLC," said 1st Choice Roofing Company Vice President Tom Truelson. "It's such a cool place as it is, if we don't start with the top, you're going to have damages and stuff that you can never replace."

Tuelson's company helped shore up the roof while Greg Frost's Frost Building Maintenance evaluated masonry work that needed to be repaired.

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A mosaic behind the chapel's altar remains in place while clients use the room for reflection and outside groups occasionally hold mass.

"It was not anything terrible, but just a lot of small areas that need attention," said Frost. "If you have a loose brick or loose stone, that's a big issue."

The committee's report on the building helped identify more than $1,000,000 of repairs that need to be made.

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Clients use the seminary's interior courtyards to get outside and give their children a safe place to play.

The Sacred Landmarks Committee doesn't offer any kind of funding but it brings advice from industry experts and recommendations for reputable contractors to do the work.

It gives the buildings much needed upgrades, while passing on something much more important to the women working through recovery at the Hitchcock Center for Women.

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The dome over the seminary's front entrance peaks out above the roof-line from one of the interior courtyards.

"It's just nice that people see that we're reinvesting in where they're living, where they're getting treatment, where they're working on their recovery," said Tager.

Since 2014, the Sacred Landmarks program has helped 18 congregations or organizations with assessments:

  • Cory United Methodist
  • East Mount Zion Baptist
  • Liberty Hill Baptist
  • St. Colman Catholic
  • St James Catholic, Lakewood
  • St John Episcopal
  • St Stephen Catholic
  • Old Stone Church
  • Lane Metropolitan Church
  • Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
  • St John AME
  • St Ignatius of Antioch Catholic
  • Communion of Saints/St. Philomena, East Cleveland
  • Hitchcock Center for Women
  • Lee Road Baptist Church
  • St. Aloysius Catholic
  • Edna House for Women
  • Antioch Baptist Church

Since 1996, the program has helped nearly 600 congregations.