Fr. Laubacher: The Building Years
St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Willowick, Ohio -- 1949 to 2009
A history written by Kathleen R. Sull
From the very first days of this parish to the present time, St. Mary Magdalene’s has been blessed with dedicated parishioners and fine clerical, religious, and lay leadership. This brief history will highlight some moments in our parish history.
Father Laubacher: The Building Years
Bishop Edward Hoban founded this parish January 27, 1949 and Fr. Harold Laubacher was pastor from then until he retired on September 10, 1968. During his pastorate the parish grew enormously, from 600 to 4,000 families. There were 196 students during the 1949-50 school year, and by 1968 there were 1,549 children in grades one through eight. But the numbers don’t begin to tell the story.
The new parish needed a church and school, and parishioners had to raise money to build them. The Ladies Guild held bake sales, card parties, fashion shows, dances and craft fairs. Holy Name men organized summer festivals, turkey raffles, and autumn carnivals. In addition, they visited every parish family to solicit building fund pledges. Fr. Laubacher bought property, hired architects and contractors, and oversaw construction. He sometimes even “helped” the bricklayers by showing them how they could do their job more efficiently.
The Church: Throughout 1949, Sunday Masses were held in public schools. The first Mass in the unfinished church was March 5, 1950 and Bishop Hoban dedicated the completed building on September 17, 1950. The church was the perfect size for the young congregation. However, the 1950s housing boom brought hundreds of families to Willowick, and many of them joined St. Mary Magdalene parish. By 1956 the church had to be enlarged by cutting the vestibule off from the main part of the church and moving it fifty feet closer to Vine Street, adding seating capacity for 400 more people. Fr. Laubacher reported to the bishop: “To accommodate the people for Mass during this time, we had eight masses each Sunday, four of them in the gymnasium.” When the bishop established St. Justin Martyr parish in Eastlake in June of 1962, more than 400 families transferred from St. Mary Magdalene. Our church was still crowded because the 1960s brought even more young families with children into Willowick.
The School: On October 24, 1949, four Ursuline sisters and two lay teachers welcomed 196 students. The school building had only six classrooms – an adequate size then, but not for long. During the 1950s, the school had to be enlarged several times. Classrooms were added in 1951, 1954 and 1955, but even that wasn’t enough space for all the children. By September 1956, enrollment was so high that no new students were admitted. In 1957, a second story was added to the school, and in 1960 another addition brought the classroom total to thirty-four. The late-fifties through 1968 were the years of wall-to-wall desks and half-day sessions in St. Mary Magdalene School. Dedicated Ursuline sisters and lay teachers continued to hand on the faith to our parish’s children in the day school and parish school of religion program.