Our Parish History
In 1859 the Catholics of Bellevue organized as a congregation under the direction of Rev. Narcissus Ponchel, resident pastor of St. Mary Church of Norwalk. The first resident pastor of Immaculate Conception, Rev. James Monahan, was appointed in April 1861. At that time the parish congregation met in an old warehouse near the former right-of-way for the Pennsylvania Railroad on East Center Street. Purchased from J.B. Highbee for $500.00, this warehouse would serve as a church until 1884.
Rev. Tim Mahoney replaced Fr. Monahan in August 1866. Fr. Mahoney established the parish school in 1867 and served as pastor until 1871. With the appointment of Rev. Edward Mears in 1871, plans were begun for a new church building.
In 1873, plans to erect a new church were interrupted by a national financial panic. The following six years were a time of change in the parish with the Rev. J.D. Bowles serving as pastor from April 1874-1876. For two years the parish was under the care of Rev. James Molloy as a mission from Clyde, until he was succeeded by Rev. J. Gibbons in 1878. In 1880, Fr. Gibbons went to Rome for a year. During his absence, the Rev. G. F. Houck of Cleveland cared for the parish as administrator for two months, followed by Rev. T. Cahill who was appointed the administrator in 1880.
With the return of Father Gibbons in 1881, efforts were renewed to construct a new church building. Two lots near the center of Bellevue were purchased for $1800 in January of 1883. Bishop Gilmour of the Diocese of Cleveland dedicated the new church on August 3, 1884, built at a total cost of $17,000.00. Father Gibbons passed away April 1885, and on April 16 of that same year, Rev. F. Rupert succeeded him as pastor.
Under Fr. Rupert, the debt for the church property would be paid off in two years. In the spring of 1887 the old brick public school in the rear of the church was purchased and refitted as a parochial school. This structure replaced a frame building that had served as a school since 1867.
In 1890, Father Rupert left for Washington, D.C. The Rev. P. Schirack, C.P.P.S. and the Rev. W.J. Smith were appointed as temporary administrators for Immaculate Conception until Fr. Rupert’s return in 1891. He remained at Immaculate Conception until his appointment as pastor of St. Paul’s Church in Norwalk in October of 1894. During his tenure in Bellevue, the old frame church was torn down and the lot sold in 1892. He was succeeded by Rev. Gustave H. Rieken in 1894, who was then succeeded by Rev. J. Michenfelder in 1895. He served as pastor until 1919.
Rev. F.A. Terwood was appointed as pastor on June 12, 1919. During his pastorate, the new eight-room school and auditorium as well as the parish rectory were constructed. The school was completed in 1922 and the rectory was completed in 1929. Fr. Terwood poured his energy into meeting both the spiritual and material needs of the parish. He died on October 6, 1932, and was succeeded by Rev. Joseph E. Maerder.
Despite challenges of the Great Depression, Fr. Maerder was successful in freeing the parish from the debt incurred by building the school and rectory. Fr. Maerder passed away on October 11, 1948, and Rev. Louis J. Mayle of Toledo succeeded him.
Fr. Mayle began his pastorate by proposing the building of a new and larger church. An unfortunate fire during the Advent/Christmas season ruined the church decorations, side altars, sanctuary and carpet. Donations were provided for the redecoration of the church, installation of two new side altars, two confessionals, and carpet. Fr. Mayle was transferred to St. Ann’s parish in Toledo, Ohio, on November 26, 1954.
Rev. Albert J. Bishop succeeded Fr. Mayle as pastor in 1954. Fr. Bishop’s initial priority was to enlarge the existing church or build a new church to meet the needs of the growing congregation of more than 900 households at the time. However, due to increased enrollment, the school was expanded to eight classrooms, a cafeteria, hall, and additional storerooms at a cost of $240,000.00 in 1956. These were dedicated during Christmas of 1957. At this time the parish was free of debt. Three properties were purchased to provide additional parking space, and the convent was expanded to include a chapel, community room, dining room, utility room, sun parlor, six bedrooms, and two baths.
A new church seating 800 or more people was needed to keep up with the needs of the growing parish. The total estimated cost was $350,000.00. Contributions of $27,000.00 in the form of centenary gifts helped to offset the initial costs. The drive to fund the new church began on May 14, 1961. Construction began in 1964. Church bells were installed and blessed in January 6, 1965. The laying of the cornerstone took place January 24, 1965. Bishop George J. Rehring dedicated the new church September 18, 1966.
Father Albert J. Bishop celebrated his Golden Jubilee on June 8, 1969, and he retired August 20, 1969. He remained in residence at Immaculate Conception until his death on March 8, 1978. After Fr. Bishop’s retirement in 1969, the parish welcomed Rev. Robert Lamantia as pastor, followed by Rev. Leo A Lehmkuhl in June of 1973. September of 1977 saw the addition of kindergarten, expanding the school enrollment to 147 families and 287 students. Rev. Robert Weithman became the new pastor following the retirement of Fr. Lehmkuhl in June of 1981.
Rev. Charles Singler succeeded Fr. Weithman as Pastor of Immaculate Conception on August 4, 1992. During this time, Fr. Singler completed his graduate studies at the University of Notre Dame. This education helped renew the liturgical celebrations within the parish. With Fr. Singler’s departure, Rev. James Seibert, C.P.P.S was appointed temporary administrator of the parish in November, 1995.
In July of 1996, Fr. Robert Tucceri became the 20th pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish. He began his pastorate with a re-evaluation of parish programs, the creation of a school endowment, as well as facilities and cemetery operations. Funds from generous donors allowed for the replacement of school windows and doors and other repairs, including the walls of the church building. In addition to other church renovation needs, construction began on a new school addition in March 2002. A new Gym/Activities space, four new classrooms, a science lab and new library were dedicated on December 8, 2003. Fr. Tucceri passed away after a prolonged illness on Feb. 9, 2003.
After serving for a year as temporary administrator during Fr. Tucceri’s illness, Rev. Keith Stripe was appointed as pastor of Immaculate Conception in July of 2004. Shortly after Fr. Keith’s appointment, he formed a church renovation committee. This was the first major renovation of the church since its construction in 1966. Architects Dan Frederick and Tim Roberts created a comprehensive plan to address the needs of the parish. Fr. Aurelius Boberek served as a liturgical consultant and Studer-Obringer served as general contractor.
The new renovation project included the remodeling of the former sacristy behind the altar area to provide new parish office space. The sacristy was relocated to the area between the rectory and the church. The balcony area in the north end of the church was enclosed to include conference rooms. Oak wainscoting replaced old ceramic tile on the walls of the church. Painting, carpeting, the addition of sound-buffering materials, insulation and air conditioning from Armstrong Air Conditioning were included in the renovations. All of the stained-glass windows were repaired, cleaned and re-installed with insulation. The addition of an elevator allowed for handicap accessibility for main, second, and basement levels. The final phase of the renovation was the refurbishing of the church basement. The total cost of the renovation was $879,572. A Mass of Thanksgiving was held in celebration of the completion of the project on April 24, 2005.
From 2006-2007 the parish began the final phase of the renovation project. The 8,000 sq. ft. rectory was in a state of serious disrepair, and so it was decided to raze the structure and expand the newer adjacent sacristy at the south end of the church building. The residence for the parish priest was then relocated to a house purchased at 854 Monroe Street a little ways south of the parish campus. A short time after, Fr. Stripe was reassigned as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Maumee, OH, and on July 1, 2008, Rev. Jonathan Wight was appointed the pastor of Immaculate Conception.
Fr. Wight supervised the completion of the planned campus renovations and the ongoing maintenance needs in the church, school, and adjacent parish properties. During his tenure, Fr. Wight was committed to deepening the parish’s devotion to the Church’s Sacred Tradition through celebrations of the Liturgy and a renewed dedication to liturgical music and chant, which included the installation of a magnificent new pipe organ by Muller Pipe Organ Company from Maumee, OH.
Fr. Wight, after concluding two terms as pastor, was succeeded by Rev. Kyle Gase in July of 2020. The next two years were difficult for Catholic parishes around the world as the effects of a global pandemic would challenge our ability to worship as a community of faith and to gather socially as a community at large. In spite of these challenges, efforts were made to adjust to new situations of social distancing and a ban on public gatherings, which prompted the addition of live-streaming services for liturgical celebrations, forms of distance learning for our students, and the eventual re-opening of our church and school campuses for public worship and learning in accord with ever-changing government guidelines.
Fr. Gase served as pastor until formally stepping down to take another assignment in June of 2022, and has been succeeded by Rev. Albert Beltz, who now serves as the 24th pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish.
In spite of the many unforeseen challenges of recent years, our parish continues to adapt and grow in order to meet the spiritual, social, and material needs of our community. We continue planning for the future with ongoing maintenance endeavors, capital projects to improve the look and use of our school, church, and cemetery properties, steadily increasing school enrollment, ongoing theological and liturgical formation of our teachers, catechists, and parishioners of all ages, and plans to expand our ministerial service through the forming of parish volunteers.
As we look forward with abiding trust and great hope in Jesus Christ, we re-dedicate ourselves to building upon the solid tradition of our Catholic faith, grateful to the many hands that have sacrificed and helped to lay this foundation for the formation and salvation of generations yet to come!