On June 27, 1952, Bishop Emmet Walsh, Bishop of Youngstown, announced the formation of the new St. Michael the Archangel Parish to serve the needs of Catholics residing in Lake Cable, Hills and Dales, Avondale and areas northwest of Canton in Stark County. The land for the future church was marshy and brush-covered and primarily used for farming. Bishop Walsh appointed Father Ferdinand Hartmann to lead the formation of the new parish.
Within a month of formation, parish women formed St. Michael’s Guild and the men formed St. Michael’s Men’s Club, to assist in fundraising and to promote the development of the parish family. This cooperative spirit, forged at the very beginning of the parish, continues to this day as parishioners give of their time and talents to further the work of the community.
Although the members of St. Michael’s were eager for a church of their own in which to worship, no need was more pressing than that of providing a Catholic education for their children. In 1953, the first phase of a comprehensive building plan included the construction of a school, with temporary space for a church in the basement of the building.
On November 15, 1952, St. Michael the Archangel’s members, led by Father Hartmann, celebrated the first Mass in their own worship space. The basement church, seating approximately 400, was designed for use as a cafeteria once the planned permanent church was built. On November 23, 1953, the tuition-free school officially opened. The First Communion class of 1954, the first in the parish, consisted of 22 children. St. Michael the Archangel School graduated six students that same year.
Since those early days, the parish community has grown consistently under the leadership of Monsignor Clarence Halter, Monsignor Robert Fannon, Father Bradford Helman and Father Donald King. Father Benson Okpara, Ph.D., who was appointed pastor in 2019, has brought many welcome additions to the parish, such as LED projection screens in the church along with a technology center and both a stained-glass window and mosaic in the Eucharistic Chapel. The parish now has more than 60 ministries to serve the parish and community, as well as a thriving Catholic school.
“Anniversaries are about celebrating the past, but also looking forward to a better tomorrow,” Father Okpara said. “My desire is that we continue to live out [our faith], celebrate the efforts of the men and women [of the past] and ask God to help us to be faithful to their sacrifices.”
Father Okpara said he would like to see the St. Michael parish community continue to reach out to their brothers and sisters who are in need of housing and food assistance. The parish is already actively involved in Habitat for Humanity, using time and talent to address the needs of the homeless in Stark County.
“We have laid the foundation,” Father Okpara said. “Now we are being sent out, like the disciples, to proclaim the Good News that was planted here 70 years ago.”
Father Okpara would eventually like to create a site in Stark County where individuals could come to receive a hot meal, shelter and respite from the challenges of their lives—where they can feel the love of God.
He continued, “There are a lot of young men and ladies who need a second chance in life. Because of mistakes they have made in their life, they can’t even find their feet. This would be a place to help them learn skills [and find a job]. I am not giving up on that dream. The parish supports me, and I continue to work on it.”
During its 70th anniversary year, which ended in August, the St. Michael parish community celebrated in a variety of ways, including creating a 70th anniversary prayer; a 70th anniversary song, Mission of Love, written by Jeff Fricker; a novena ending on the Feast of St. Michael; and a special Mass on the Feast of St. Michael. Parishioners also designed and sold t-shirts with their 70th anniversary logo, created a picture directory, initiated a service project in honor of the anniversary and held a 70th anniversary wine tasting social. Finally, Bishop David Bonnar celebrated Mass in conjunction with the annual parish picnic on August 20.
To learn more about the St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Canton, visit their website: www.StMichaelCanton.org.