church history | Through the years

“The church isn’t a building. It’s the people.” This old saying is a mantra at St. Luke Church, 5235 South Ave., Boardman, which has had a yearlong celebration and service activities in recognition of its 50th anniversary. A special Mass will be at 7 p.m. Thursday on the feast of the patron saint followed by a wine and cheese reception. A dinner, by reservation, is planned Oct. 21 at Antone’s Banquet Center in Bordman. Charter members will be recognized.

The beginning: The prosperity of 20th-century Youngstown gave birth to St. Luke. Steel mills and small businesses flourished. Catholic churches prospered. On Sept. 14, 1962, Bishop Emmett Walsh announced the creation of St. Luke Mission Church. The Rev. Edward Dierker, then pastor of St. Nicholas Church, was named administrator of the mission, comprised of sections of St. Nicholas, St. Dominic in Youngstown, St. Charles in Boardman and Holy Family in Poland. The Catholic residents of these areas were informed that they were now members of St. Luke, which would meet at Robinwood Lane Elementary School on Indianola Avenue in Boardman. The Rev. Robert Bartz, also from St. Nicholas, joined Father Dierker in celebrating Masses. As the weeks passed, children from some families continued attending other Catholic schools in the area, while the Ursuline Sisters set up a religious education program for public school students in the evening at Robinwood.

Success: The success of the mission changed plans. Bishop Walsh originally had planned to make the first construction project a church building and use Robinwood for religious education classes for five years. In six weeks of the mission church, 1,200 families had registered. Many made it clear that they wanted a Catholic school of their own.

Construction: In February 1963, Bishop Walsh directed that a church, school and rectory be built on land along South Avenue that the diocese had bought earlier. Building plans were scaled back when the lowest bid was $1.2 million. The multipurpose room of the school would be used as a temporary church. Construction began in late 1963. The school opened to four grades of students in September 1964. The school’s multipurpose room was outfitted with pews. The first Mass at the new St. Luke was Nov. 29, 1964. The rectory was completed in January, 1965. Father Dierker was the first pastor of the parish and the Rev. Don Oser, assistant pastor.

Activities: The dances in the early years revealed a camaraderie among parish members. The men formed the Holy Name Society, which helped the young parish. It organized the dances and started St. Luke Festival in 1965 as a fundraiser. Profits funded sports programs for the youth of the church. Holy Name Society members also painted classrooms in the school, did landscaping around the school and built a picnic pavilion. Women formed the Rosary Altar Society in November 1962. They organized picnics, card parties, dinner parties and bake sales to raise money for sanctuary furnishings, vestments and other items. They also sponsored a Day of Reflection during Lent to become spiritually renewed and hosted ecumenical workshops.

Changes: The Rev. John Ashton was named pastor. He made the multipurpose room a gym and sanctuary. Father Ashton addressed the parish debt of $800,000, a big task in the face of lost steel mill jobs and high interest rates. He negotiated a moratorium in paying obligations to the diocese, implemented austerity measures at the parish and sold rectory furniture and portable classrooms. The Rev. Ronald Klinger was named the next pastor in 1978, and he continued to pay the debt. On Oct. 18, 1985, St. Luke celebrated the last payment on its debt.

St. Luke School: Opening in September of 1964, it had eight rooms, housing grades one through four. Sister Miriam Engles served as the first principal. Most of the teachers in those early years were Ursuline sisters and some were young laywomen who were part of a cadet teacher program. The Home and School Association began later when Sister Mary Dunn was principal. The school closed in 2010.

New sanctuary: In the late 1980s, parishioners of St. Luke wanted more. They had worshipped for nearly 25 years in a school gym, and they wanted a sanctuary. Bishop James Malone named the Rev. Joseph A. Fata pastor in 1988. A parish council was formed and Sister Mildred Ruffing became director of religious formation. In June 1991, parish council approved a fund drive. Council adopted a plan to cover construction in pledges that would be paid over three years. The final construction cost was $1.3 million. A groundbreaking took place May 28, 1995. Bishop Thomas Tobin presided over a dedication Mass on May 5, 1996. The design was innovative. Pews were divided into two sections that faced each other and in the middle was the sanctuary with the altar and ambo. This design reinforces what St. Luke has always been – a circle of friends.

Source: Church history

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