Archbishop Joseph Schrembs's Battle to Obtain Public Assistance for the Parochial Schools of Cleveland during the Great Depression

Article excerpt

MARTIN POLUSE*

Archbishop Joseph Schrembs (1866-1945) was an American churchman who championed the spiritual, physical, and educational needs of his diocese. He was the fifth bishop of Cleveland; his administration (1921-1945) encompassed twenty-four years of dedicated ministry to his diocese and to the American Catholic Church. Even though Schrembs never was the head of an archdiocese, he was presented with the title of archbishop by Pope Pius XII on March 25,1939, for his eminent leadership and assiduous service.1 During his tenure the Diocese of Cleveland and the American Catholic Church became involved in various social and political issues, issues which profoundly affected him and his fellow prelates of the American Catholic hierarchy. One of these issues was the campaign to obtain public assistance for Ohio's parochial schools during the Depression era. Although this campaign to save Catholic education was a co-operative effort on the part of Ohio's bishops, the tenacious leadership of Schrembs was the driving force behind it.

Joseph Schrembs was born on March 12, 1866, at Wurzelhofen in Bavaria, the second youngest of sixteen children. He was brought to the United States at age eleven and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Henry Richter for the Diocese of Grand Rapids on June 29, 1889.2 On January 8, 1911, Schrembs was named Titular Bishop of Sophene, as well as Auxiliary Bishop of Grand Rapids.3 A few months later Schrembs was appointed the first bishop of Toledo, Ohio, on August 11,1911. From 1911 to 1921 Schrembs emerged as the "builder" of the Diocese of Toledo, establishing thirteen new parishes and thirtythree schools.4 His firm belief in Catholic education became the focal point of his administration. However, Schrembs did not limit his ministry to the local issues of his diocese. As the United States entered World War I, Schrembs became involved with the National Catholic War Council, serving on its Administrative Committee. During the tumultuous war years the National Catholic War Council acted as a liaison for the American Catholic community for the purpose of"unifying the church behind the war effort.5 After the war, Schrembs and the majority of the American hierarchy desired to continue the National War Council or at least a similar national Catholic organization, though its purposes would now be concerned with Catholic welfare, especially in the areas of Catholic education and social justice (hence the change in name from war to welfare).6 From 1919 to 1922, the National Catholic Welfare Council (NCWC) struggled with internal structural problems and external acceptance among Roman officials and certain members of the American Catholic hierarchy.7 It was during these years that Schrembs emerged as one of the most vocal supporters of the NCWC. Eventually it was Schrembs who played a prominent role in saving the NCWC, and in so doing, propelled himself into the forefront of the American Catholic hierarchy.

The final and most important leg of Schrembs's episcopal career commenced on September 8,1921, with his installation by Archbishop Henry Moeller of Cincinnati as Bishop of Cleveland.8 Schrembs along with other members of the American Catholic hierarchy strongly believed that religious education was vital for the present survival and the abiding future of the American Catholic Church. Consequently, Schrembs patterned his new administration on the successes that he had achieved in the Diocese of Toledo, by providing the Catholic community of Cleveland with schools and colleges to educate its youth. However, with this emphasis on education and building, the Schrembs administration found itself hard pressed for money, especially for the elementary and high schools. Although Schrembs initiated attempts to obtain public monies for his parochial schools as early as 1922, his efforts became more desperate during the Great Depression. Intertwined with this issue of public assistance was the fact that Schrembs sought public assistance without sacrificing church control. …