Both Sister Ann Diehl, CSJ and I were curious about how the Oblates of Mary Immaculate came to have a home in Toledo, Ohio. In her research she found a typed page titled “Short History of The Toledo Mission House and St. Benedict’s Mission” Here is what that revealed:
“The house was founded in the spring of 1938, at which time the Very Rev. James T. McDermott was the Provincial of the 1st American Province. The home is a beautiful estate in the residential district of the city of Toledo and was the former home of John N. Willys, manufacturer of Willys-Overland cars and jeeps. He was also a former Ambassador to Poland.
The house is a three story structure with a chapel on the third floor. The chapel has a seating capacity of 24, and also has four altars, one on each wall. There are many larg rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors, and the 1st floor is housing the parlors, dining room and kitchen. The home is on the corner of Robinwood Ave. and W. Delaware Ave., and the property includes a beautiful garden spot.
The work of the Oblates in Toledo is covered by missions, retreats, chaplaincies at St. Vincent’s hospital, the State Hospital, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Ursuline Convent. Besides that, our Fathers teach at the Ursuline Academy and the College there, run by the Ursuline Nuns. Likewise, the Oblates conduct a black Mission Parish by the name of St. Benedict’s. Fr. Joseph Shea, present Superior of the Toledo house is also the pastor of St. Benedict’s and has been since his arrival in Toledo in 1938.
St. Benedict’s was established in 1932 by the Jesuit Fathers and was housed in an old frame building which was very inadequate. At this time there were only 50 black Catholics in the city. Now the Oblates have a growing parish housed in an abandoned Protestant Church which was purchased for $14,000. It can accommodate 500 people, and also has class rooms and meeting rooms for social purposes. In 1944 the 1st grade of grammer school began, and each year a grade has been added, so that this past June (1951) Fr. Shea held his first graduation exercises. The Sisters of Notre Dame teach in the grammer school.”
With this information I was able to find that St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church was created as a non-territorial parish in 1932 to serve black Catholics in Toledo. The first church building was located at 566 Avondale Ave. In 1937, a second church building was placed into service at the corner of Dorr and Washington Streets. A parish school was established there in 1944. These facts line up with the history sent to us by Sister Ann.
The church and school closed in 1965, when the State of Ohio took possession of the land to build an expressway, and the need for such a church no longer existed. Church members and school children joined the territorial parishes in which they resided.
I find it funny that John North Willys only lived here for ten years but even this early history of the house references him as having resided here.
We have the blue prints for the chapel and the reference here that there were four altars makes sense when comparing that lay out to the blue prints. The raised area on the west wall remains where the main altar would have been. There are four recessed lights in the center of each wall. We are now fairly sure these would have been above each side altar as well as over the main altar.
Its been fun to learn some new things about the house that line up with things that are still here, like the altar platform and the four brass ceiling lights on each side of the room. ( A side note: the lights were painted with several layers of paint that we removed to reveal the original brass fixtures underneath.) I have been doing a lot of research to try to substantiate some of the stories about the house and have been learning a lot about the people who lived here and whose histories we now share as owners of this historic house.