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Monday: 7:00 - 7:25 pm
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Monday: 7:30 pm
By NORMA HIGGINS, Morning Journal Correspondent, 9-20-92
AVON -- "Breaking the silence, the first notes from the organ float over the audience below like a loving voice.
For the past 22 years, the talented hands of James Smith have led St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church faithful through the music of their service.
An Avon native, Smith lives in the same house on Centennial Avenue that he was born in. In addition to his music, Smith has been a teacher in county parochial schools for almost forty years. For the past eight years he has taught seventh and eighth grade students at St. Mary's Church School, in Avon, including religion, health, English, reading, spelling, science and art. "In fact, this is the room I was a first grader in," Smith chuckled, "talk about completing a circle."
|James F. Smith: "His playing is an extension of his personal faith in God." MORNING JOURNAL/PAUL WALSH|
In addition to teaching, Smith's musical talents have been appreciated by parishioners at St. John Roman Catholic church, St. Peter Church, and St. Stanislaus Church, all in Lorain.
"I heard they needed a teacher right here at home," said Smith. "Besides, Sam likes to see me home for lunch." Sam is an exuberant, 125-pound, black shaggy friend who goes to the store and Dairy Treat in the car, sitting a half head taller than Smith. [Jim's loyal companion now is Riley.]
In 1957, when Smith was teaching at St. John's, the organist left; and he was asked to 'play something' for two weeks until a replacement could be found.
"That's what got me started, and I stayed for 13 years," said Smith, who had studied piano at St. Mary's Church as a child, but never took organ lessons. There was considerable illness in the family home; and, Smith, one of four children, took the responsibility of caring for his parents.
|St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception|
Neighbors remember summer afternoons when Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky kept Hayes and Centennial streets culturally aware as Smith brought the old upright grand to life.
"His playing is an extension of his personal faith in God," said Father Egan, pastor of St. Mary's Church. "To us he has been most effective and most faithful."
"Jim has a delightful sense of humor (when he lets it be known) and expects no recognition for his service," said Father Egan.
Smith quietly goes about his day, thoughtfully "doing his thing" with the least amount of fuss.
Smith graduated from St. Mary's, went to St. Ignatius High School, and received his baccalaureate amd masters degree in education and administration at St. John's College in Cleveland.
"There was so much paper work, and worry about finances in administration," explained Smith, who had spent a short period in administration. He obviously prefers teaching and being with children.
"They are not really all that different," said Smith, talking about children and his experiences over the years. "I don't have any discipline problems."
"I think the fact that parents are really personally involved makes a big difference," he added, "they pay tuition and they want to be sure their children get the education they (parents} want."
Smith has curtailed his musical activities somewhat, now playing for Saturday's 5:30 pm service and Novena service on Monday evening. [Jim is now retired both as organist and teacher.]
In an impromptu concert this week, with an audience of two, Smith played softly as the afternoon sun highlighted the beautiful altar figures, casting shadows here and there, lulling listeners with the peaceful atmosphere.
"Amazing Grace" increased the timbre of the organ's voice with rich bass notes punctuating the familiar hymn. Suddenly the church was filled with music reaching to the peak of the vaulted blue ceiling arches. "The Bells of St. Mary's," clarion clear, sent shivers down the spine.
"I played 'The Bells of St. Mary's' for the processional of the children's Mass when school started," explained Smith. "They loved it." ..."
OBITUARY from The Morning Journal, 7-6-10
James F. Smith
AVON -- James F. Smith, age 81, entered into rest July 3, 2010 at Elyria Memorial Hospital. He was born on February 21, 1929 in Avon, Ohio and grew up there, his beloved town.
He attended and graduated from grade school at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception School in Avon, then attended and graduated high school at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland. After high school graduation, he attended seminaries in both Cleveland and Cincinatti. He then went on to Cleveland State University where he received his teaching certificate.
Jim taught at the following schools; St. John's in Lorain for 13 years, St. Stan's in Lorain for 11 years, St. Pete's in Lorain for 4 years, and St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Avon for 10 years. He also played the organ at various churches in Lorain and many years at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.
He was preceded in death by his parents Carl and Helen (nee Schwartz).
He is survived by his brother Eugene (Donna), and 2 sisters Carol (Jack) Smith and Ellen (Ed) Webber, loving uncle of many nieces and nephews and great nieces and great nephews.
Many of his students visited him through the years. There is a special family in Arizona whom he kept in touch with and they with him.
Jim always held a special love for dogs, Riley, his pet dog, was his special friend.
He always loved music of all kinds and played the piano in his home for enjoyment. He loved baseball and was a Cleveland Indians fan.
Friends and family will be received on Thursday July 8, 2010 from 2-4 PM and 6-8 PM at the Misencik Funeral Home, 36363 Detroit Rd, Avon, where closing prayers will be on Friday at 9:30 AM followed by a 10:00 AM Mass at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. Interment at St. Mary Cemetery, Avon.
Memorial contributions may be made to St. Mary's Building Fund, 2640 Stoney Ridge Rd. Avon.
NEWS ARTICLE from The Sun, 4-21-05, By MARY DAVIES, Staff Writer
``St. Mary's possesses that 'old school' charm
AVON -- Like a longtime neighborhood coffeeshop with regulars, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception School in Avon has thrived without much promotion.
Those who enroll their children there know it's good and are quite satisfied to forego the fresh, new public schools popping up around the city.
The school's principal-elect, Father Leo DeChant, said even some of the construction companies building hundreds of new homes in Avon hadn't heard of the school, nestled in a western portion of the city, which still looks a bit rural.
"There's a desire to let people know we're here," said Father DeChant, now an eigth-grade teacher at the school. "Alot of people don't even know we're open." ...
With Avon's population booming, school leaders realize now is the time to vie for new enrollment and expand its walls. A recent survey of 80 of the school's 90 enrolled families indicated a desire to grow and become more prominent.
Marking the school building's 120th anniversary this year, St. Mary is preparing for four new teachers and a new principal who intends to shift the school's development into high gear.
St. Mary leaders are planning for the addition of a gymnasium, additional classrooms and meeting space and an expanded outdoor playground. They also intend to open a preschool program within the new few years and foster the growth of a newly formed alumni club.
"Our immediate goal is to grow," said Father DeChant, a 1966 St. Mary graduate. We have a good product, but we're just going to keep improving it."
The school itself began in 1845, several years after German settlers established its supporting parish, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.
The current school building of winding hallways and spacious classrooms began as four instruction rooms and was expanded several times since 1885.
Its modern technological features surpass that of many public schools, such as buildingwide wireless Internet capabilities and having each classroom equipped with a personal computer, DVD player and limited cable TV.''
NEWS ARTICLE from The Press, 8-24-05, By Julie A. Short
``New St. Mary's principal familiar face with fresh ideas
AVON -- Father Leo DeChant will be wearing many different hats this upcoming school year. Not only is he the new principal at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception School in Avon; he will also unofficially carry out the duties of public relations director, curriculum guru, technology wizard and all around go-to guy ...
St. Mary's school was the first multi-room school in Avon and began in 1845. The school is celebrating the 120 anniversary of the 1885 building that is visible from Stoney Ridge Road.
"The early settlers built the brick schoolhouse before they built the brick church," DeChant said. "It shows a commitment to Catholic education." ...
"We now have 152 students in grades K-8," he said. "That's 20 more than when we opened for school last year . The kindergarten class this year is at 25. Last year we had 13."
The new and current students will be offered some of the best technology in the city, according to DeChant.
"We have wireless connectivity throughout the building," he said. "There are 26 laptops that can be taken throughout the building. Each classroom has one brand new and one five-year-old computer."
Every classroom is equipped with a television, VCR and DVD player. Other physical improvements to the school include new lighting, drop ceilings in the hallways, freshly painted cafeteria, carpeted classrooms and remodeled bathrooms.
"On the educational side, I've ordered additional science materials for experiments and more education software for our teachers," DeChant said. "We are also using the Accelerated Reader program in the classrooms which has proved very beneficial for other schools. I also plan to start a science fair this year."
St. Mary's also boasts a fully licensed teaching staff with two teachers, Cindy Vielhaber and Kelley Dunegan, alumni of the school. DeChant is also a graduate of St. Mary School as is secretary Annette Dunegan.
"We offer Algebra I which the students can count toward high school credit," DeChant said. "Other special class offerings include art, vocal music, instrumental music and physical education. Our physical education/health teacher is also a certified athletic trainer. We also have a full library.
"We have a band program for grades four and up," DeChant said. "There is also a drama club, newspaper, yearbook and peer mediation. We have a CYO program for volleyball, basketball and track. Football players are welcome to join Holy Trinity's team. We will also be starting an intramural sports program this year."
DeChant is also excited about the school's mentoring program, which pairs up younger students with older students so they can get to know each other better.
"My strong suit is curriculum," DeChant said. "I plan to do a lot with our curriculum and instruction. We try to be as inclusive as we can. The school also has a gifted program. The first thing on my agenda is to strengthen that program."
The new principal has been with the school for five years. He most recently taught seventh and eighth grade. Before that he was a teacher and administrator at the former Lorain Catholic for 14 years. He is a member of the Fathers of St. Joseph on Case Road. The DeChant family's roots are deeply planted in Avon, having settled in the rural community in 1840.
"I'm thrilled to be back at St. Mary's," he said. "This is a delightful school, even before the improvements. There is a real family atmosphere here. As principal, I'm a good idea person. I like to think I can bring some effective leadership here."
DeChant would like the public to know that St. Mary's is a "real" Catholic school. "We are not a private school run by a church," he said. "We are a people of faith."
The principal is also pleased that the school has been able to stay relatively affordable for families. The school is also working to implement a scholarship program. Tuition at the school is $2,100 a year and a family plan is available.
"Education is expensive," he said. "You find that even with the public schools. We do our best to offer a quality education. We are trying to streamline some of our expenses. Much of the items for the renovations were donated. We try to be as efficient as we can.
"We invite everyone to come and enjoy the fun at St. Mary's," he continued. "We just had a family picnic at St. Joe's with over 200 people in attendance. There truly is a renewed spirit here. We are working to continue spreading the word."''
NEWS ARTICLE from The Press, 11-4-10, By Rebecca Turman
[St. Mary's Parish Life Center opens]
``AVON -- After years of planning and working on the 'Building for a Brighter Tomorrow' campaign, members of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception parish in Avon saw their efforts pay off Oct. 17.
The date marked the dedication and grand opening of the new Parish Life Center. Bishop Richard Lennon, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception's the Rev. Tom Cleaton and John Stipek were all part of the ceremony held for parishioners and friends ...
"I think it was about $1.4 million that was raised by parishioners," Cleaton said in an interview last week. "Part of that money is coming in over the next couple of years. It was pledged." ...
Though so many Catholic parishes in Northeast Ohio are closing or struggling, Cleaton said the reason the Avon parish is growing and receiving donations during hard times is because of the number of people in the community.
"We are in an area is that is growing," he said. "I've lived here 10 years. We've gone up from 600 families to just over 1,000 families now." ...
Prior to the new expansion, the church and school have not seen major additions since 1953, when the school added four classrooms and indoor plumbing, former St. Mary School Principal the Rev. Leo DeChant said when the 'Building for a Brighter Tomorrow' campaign began.
The Parish Life Center will provide a recreational facility for children and adults, as well as meeting rooms to facilitate the work of parish ministries, Cleaton said.
Asked why the Parish Life Center expansion was necessary for the church, Cleaton said, "The biggest part of it is the gymnasium for the kids. We really didn't have a gymnasium (before). It was more of a cafeteria. It's getting harder to get gym time at some of the other places."
"The other part of it is the meeting rooms," he said. "The parish was built in the 1800s. Before, meetings were held in the basement of the rectory."
Cleaton said the hope is to use some of the meeting rooms as science labs for the school.
Contact Rebecca Turman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Other Lorain County Parishes:
Holy Trinity Catholic Church, 33601 Detroit Road, Avon, OH 44011
Holy Spirit, 410 Lear Road, Avon Lake, OH 44012
(440)933-3777, (440)871-8157(Cleve), (440)933-3789, FAX(440)871-8157
St. Joseph, 32929 Lake Rd., Avon Lake, OH 44012
(440)933-3152, (440)871-0616(Cleve), FAX(440)933-8919
St. Teresa of Avila, 1878 Abbe Rd., Sheffield Village, OH 44054
St. Thomas the Apostle, 715 Harris Rd., Sheffield Lake, OH 44054
St. Julie Billiart, 5500 Lear Nagle Rd., North Ridgeville, OH 44039
(440)327-1978, (440)327-1979, FAX(440)327-1994
St. Peter, 35777 Center Ridge Rd., North Ridgeville, OH 44039
For Further Information:
Local Catholic Church History and Catholic Ancestors - Ohio
HISTORICAL SKETCH OF AVON, OHIO, TO 1974