CLEVELAND — Members of a Cleveland church are taking to the streets and taking pride in the area surrounding their place of worship.
St. Casimir Church was built by Polish immigrants in the early 1900s. Volunteers are now working to help ensure the building’s beauty is preserved both inside and out.
The main altar inside the church is constructed of wood, marble and ivory. Intricate artwork that illustrates the foundation of John Niedzialek’s faith is carved on it.
“I still remember after my first Holy Communion,” he said. “Walking down here and my mother telling me, ‘How come you walk so crooked, Johnny?’”
His family has attended St. Casimir for generations.
“It’s our grandfathers and so on that helped build this church,” Niedzialek said.
“The Polish immigrants gave everything they had, and they didn’t have much at the time, to build this great church to worship in.”
It holds a special place in Niedzialek’s heart.
His parents were married at the church and later his daughter followed in those same footsteps.
St. Casimir is a Catholic church with more than a century of history and passionate parishioners say they’ve witnessed the power of prayer there.
The church was closed by the Cleveland Catholic Diocese almost a decade ago, but the Vatican ordered it open two and a half years later.
“Many people feel that this was not just a coincidence but a miracle that occurred,” Niedzialek said.
Since then, Niedzialek and other alumni who attended the former Catholic school on the church grounds help take care of the property.
Donna Friscic Gulya and other ladies handle the inside of the church.
“Hopefully, there will be people that will follow us and take our places,” she said. “Because we’re all senior citizens.”
And as for the outside, that’s where Niedzialek comes in.
“I’m usually coming from work or going to work or going somewhere, so yeah, I’m the best-dressed trash man around,” he said.
Armed with a pair of gloves and a trash bag, he picks up the litter on the streets surrounding the church.
“Opening up your window, taking out a McDonald’s bag with eight separate ketchup packets and throwing that separately out your window . . . doesn’t that take a lot more effort than just putting it in the garbage?” Niedzialek said.
He tidies things up before mass each week.
“And you think it’s fun to peel off those ketchup packets after cars have run over them?” he asked. “Peeling them off the road? No, it’s not. It’s not a lot of fun.”
He said he’s always surprised by the amount of trash just tossed on the ground.
“You never know what you’re gonna find some days,” Niedzialek said. “I like those $40 liquor bottles and $50 cognac bottles. Those really are amazing.”
He said he’s gotten some help from folks at the nearby elementary school and the court system, but said it doesn’t take long before the area is trashed again.
It’s a cycle he can’t comprehend.
“It’s a part of stewardship to keep the earth looking clean,” he said. “It’s what St. Francis taught us. And the nuns that taught here taught us. And to be honest with you, what our mom and dad taught us.”
He said he’s hoping others learn to find a trash can and start taking pride in the community that means so much to so many.
“See how simple this is?” Niedzialek said putting a piece of garbage in the trash bag. “It’s not a hard job at all. But it’d be a whole lot easier if nobody dropped it.”