A Brief History of our Church

The ancestors of the Transylvanian Saxons were German Saxons who in the 1400's migrated to Transylvania, a region of Hungary. The migration was the result of a political and economic deal worked out by the rulers of Electoral Saxony and Hungary. The migrants developed this wild and uninhabited area from scratch creating a beautiful homeland for themselves and became known as the Transylvanian Saxons.

Poverty along with political and ethnic oppression in Europe during the late 1800's caused many people, including some Transylvanian Saxons, to leave their homeland and migrate to America and other countries. The first migration by the Transylvanian Saxons to the Cleveland area occurred in the late 1800's and early 1900's. As many immigrant groups before and after them, they formed into various associations such as a Singing Society, a Sick Benefit Association, and a Women's Society. The earliest Transylvanian Saxon immigrant did not found a church because many did not see America as their permanent home. They had come to America to make money and to return to Transylvania to enjoy it. This all changed at the end of World War I. At that time Transylvania was transferred to Rumania. This change began an even larger out migration from Transylvania and made the Saxons already here realize that America was to be their permanent home.

In the early 1900s there were a couple of attempts to form a Siebenburger Saxon Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cleveland with no permanent success. Then John Foisel, a young Saxon teacher and theologian came to America in 1921. Following a year of study at the Philadelphia Lutheran Seminary, he was ordained by the Pittsburgh Synod and assigned to missionary work among his countrymen in Cleveland, Ohio.

The 26 year old missionary held his first service in Cleveland at the Westside Sachsenheim on June 4, 1922 and by July 9, 1922 he was able to organize St. John's Lutheran Church (Siebenbuergische Saechsiche Evangelisch Lutherische St. Johannes Kirche) with 63 members. The congregation became a member of the Pittsburgh Synod and the Reverend John Foisel was called to be their pastor. Services were held in various rented halls, and then at Bethany Lutheran Church on the Westside and Calvary Lutheran Church on the Eastside. The early months were difficult ones for the fledgling congregation what with normal growing pains, as well as the necessity of holding only Sunday afternoon services at Bethany and Calvary Lutheran Churches.

By September 1922 the congregation, with the help of the Mission Board bought property on Eddy Road consisting of a lot 91 ft. x 250 ft. and a frame dwelling. The house served as the parsonage, Sunday School and Saturday School and meeting place for the various organizations of the congregation. Sunday services were still held at Calvary and Bethany Churches on the East and West Sides until the Church itself was built. The cornerstone was laid on September 7, 1924 and the Church was dedicated by Pastor Foisel in December, 1924 during the first service held in the first Church to be built by Transylvanian Saxon people in the United States.

In 1926 the membership of the church was divided East and West with the people living on the Westside of Cleveland eventually becoming St. Thomas Lutheran Church. To compensate for the loss of its "Westside members" St. John's church made every effort to win the un-churched and to receive the new Saxon immigrants who chose to make their home on the Eastside.

Like the rest of the nation St. Johns suffered financially during the depression. During those trying years the bank several times threatened with foreclosure. Several short "financial campaigns" finally succeeded in wiping out completely all indebtedness in 1943.

During World War II 120 members of St. John's served in the Armed Forces. Seven of them were killed in action. After the war St. Johns became the center of activity of Lutheran Relief for Transylvania Saxons, Inc. which was organized and presided over by Pastor Foisel. This organization assisted Lutheran World Action and Lutheran World Relief with gifts of 20,000 (210,800 in 2007 Dollars) during one year, and sent food, clothing and medicines (12,000 parcels and Care packages) valued at over 170,000 (1,791,800 in 2007 Dollars).

The German American Resettlement Service, Inc. (1952) another group sponsored and headed by the pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church of Cleveland made out Assurances and Affidavits of Support for 287 Refugee families, provided furniture and money loans (no interest) and gifts to needy immigrants in this city. They also gave Christmas presents of more than 5,000 (38,750 in 2007 Dollars) in the form of medicines and money to the TB Hospital for Refugees in Austria, and several Expellee camps.

In 1959 in an effort to follow the migration of her members to the suburbs the congregation purchased land on Ford Road in Highland Heights in anticipation of building our present church home. In 1961 the Eddy Road building was sold and for about two years the congregation met in rented halls until the dedication of our present building in February 1963. Nine years later at the 50th anniversary the congregation burned the mortgage. In 1979 the congregation built and dedicated a tracker organ, the instrument that we enjoy today. And in 1984 St. Johns added Foisel Hall, the educational wing to the existing building, built without incurring any debt.

From its purely ethnic beginning with services in Transylvania Saxon German, St. John's has evolved into an English speaking congregation with members from many nationalities. The ethnic beginning, however, remains a colorful piece of the fabric of our Congregation's present received from the past.

On the occasion of our 85thAnniversary we cherish the memories of the members who have gone before us and remember them for their faithful and unselfish service to our Lord and His Church. To those who are with us today, we also express our heartfelt appreciation for your support of God's work in our congregation. The future of our congregation is in God's hands. We pray that God will grant us the strength, patience and endurance to continue the mission entrusted to us in this place.