How it began

The move from St. Ignatius College on W. 30th Street to John Carroll University on the East Side was a hard-nosed battle, and Fr. Thomas Jefferson Smith, S.J., was instrumental in making it happen

By John Walsh

During the late 1800s, the Jesuits had two schools in Cleveland – St. Ignatius on the West Side and Loyola on the East Side. St. Ignatius consisted of a residence and a one-story brick building for a classroom, but there was no room for a playing field or any expansion. Loyola was located in a run-down neighborhood. Still, the upscale part of town was on the East Side, and, for years, the Jesuits wanted to build a school – consisting of a high school and college – there.

“When I came in 1890, it wasn’t clear if St. Ignatius College would survive. The Jesuits were German-speaking missionaries to a land that remained a mission country until 1908. They had a hard time teaching English and recruiting the Irish lads expected to make up much of our ranks. I was born in Liverpool and went to school with Arthur Conan Doyle at Stonyhurst. I studied in Germany and joined the Society in 1872, just in time to be expelled with all the Jesuits in that land. When I came here, it was a homecoming. In September 1891, our enrollment was 120. I began recruiting and quickly brought in 38 new students – 23 of them from my Cathedral parish. I helped make St. Ignatius a school that served the East Side as well as the West Side.”
– Fr. James Rockliff, S.J.

At the time, the third Bishop of Cleveland, the Most Reverend Ignatius Horstmann, wrote a letter granting the Jesuits permission to build on the East Side. However, Bishop Horstmann’s successor (Horstmann died in 1908), Bishop John Farrelly, called Fr. William Sommerhauser, S.J., rector of the Jesuits at the time, and told him to close Loyola and leave the East Side. Yet Bishop Farrelly allowed Fr. Sommerhauser to do whatever he wanted on the West Side. The reason for the bishop’s position couldn’t be established.

The Loyola property was leased, so Fr. Sommerhauser bought it and kept Loyola open. However, Bishop Farrelly insisted the Jesuits leave the East Side and said the letter from Bishop Horstmann was never registered in Rome.

So Fr. Sommerhauser took the letter to the Apostolic Delegate in Washington, D.C., and told Archbishop Giovanni Bonzano the story. Archbishop Bonzano, who didn’t want to become involved in the situation, told Fr. Sommerhauser he should see his secretary, Monsignor Chiroti, and he would tell him what to do. Msgr. Chiroti and Fr. Sommerhauser composed a letter stating the case and sent it to the congregation.

Fr. Sommerhauser received a letter from the congregation telling him he could open a school and the bishop was to help him acquire the property. An unsealed letter, which was addressed to Bishop Farrelly and told him the same thing, also was enclosed. Fr. Sommerhauser then sent the letter to the bishop.

A day later, Fr. Sommerhauser was pulled out of Cleveland by his provincial, Fr. Francis McMenamy, S.J., and sent to St. Charles in Missouri. Fr. Thomas Jefferson Smith, S.J., then was made rector in Cleveland.

In 1921, Bishop Farrelly died, and around the same time, Fr. Smith received orders from his provincial to close Loyola on the East Side.

Bishop Joseph Schrembs, who succeeded Bishop Farrelly, came to St. Ignatius one day for the Mass of the Holy Spirit. After the Mass, he told Fr. Smith he understood the Jesuits would like a place on the East Side, and Fr. Smith concurred. The bishop told him to find a location, and when he did, would give him a parish in the area.

University growth

1886 – St. Ignatius College founded; original wooden structure
1891 – Brick St. Ignatius College building (presently St. Ignatius High School)
1903 – Alumni association formed
1923 – College renamed John Carroll University
1931 – Construction in University Heights, formerly Idlewood Village, starts
1935 – AD Building, Bernet, and Rodman Halls; first class at new campus in October
1945 – School of Business established
1950 – ROTC on campus
1952 – Pacelli Hall
1955 – Dolan Hall
1957 – Gymnasium, now know as the Tony DeCarlo Varsity Center
1959 – D.J. Lombardo Student Center
1961 – Grasselli Library
1964 – Murphy Hall
1966 – Bohannon Center and Wasmer Field
1968 – College of Arts and Sciences becomes coeducational
1969 – University governance reorganized under new board with three-fourths lay and one-fourth Jesuit
1975 – Johnson Natatorium
1978 – Sutowski Hall
1981 – Millor Hall
1986 – Recreation Center Complex
1987 – Fritzsche Religious Center – Saint Francis Chapel
1988 – Hamlin Hall
1989 – Bruening Hall added to School of Business
1990 – Campion Hall
1994 – O’Malley Center for Communications and Language Arts
1995 – John G. and Mary Jane Breen Learning Center
2003 – Dolan Center for Science and Technology; Don Shula Stadium
2008 – Green Road Annex
2010 – Hamlin Quad

Fr. Smith contacted a real-estate agent to locate a parcel of land right away. The agent said he had 29 acres, so Fr. Smith and his consultants went to see the location, which was on a steep slope. All agreed it was the right place. The real- estate agent thought it would be possible to buy an additional 10 acres that adjoined the property.

The next day Fr. Smith had second thoughts about the matter and, as soon as he could, called the real-estate agent and told him to cancel the deal. He looked at other properties, but they were unavailable or unsuitable.

Fr. Smith finally contacted the Van Sweringen brothers, O.P. and M.J., wealthy real-estate men who were developing Shaker Heights. Fr. Smith told them what he wanted, and the Van Sweringens agreed to sell him 26 acres at $8,000 an acre. Fr. Smith said he’d have to receive approval from Rome, so the Van Sweringens agreed to hold the property.

Fr. Smith received approval from Rome, but when he read the contract from the Van Sweringens, he learned there were numerous restrictions, such as the Van Sweringens had the right to approve the plans and the buildings must be 100 feet from the road. Fr. Smith said he couldn’t accept the property with these restrictions. But the Van Sweringens said there would be no deal without the restrictions, and if Fr. Smith didn’t accept the proposition, they’d see to it he’d never develop on the East Side.

One day the original real-estate agent Fr. Smith dealt with said he thought he had just the site, which was next to the Van Sweringens’ property. The owners, members of a real-estate
company, wanted to sell the 80-acre tract but not to the Van Sweringens. Fr. Smith bought 45 acres at $5,000 an acre.

As promised – an elderly member of the company saw to it the promise was fulfilled – the real-estate company also bought Loyola for $50,000. This was the first payment on the new property.

The Van Sweringens then approached Fr. Smith with a proposal to trade him 19 acres of their property for 19 acres of his, and they’d put in a 70-foot-wide road through their property that would provide the Jesuits access to the cross roads. Fr. Smith was agreeable but insisted there be no restrictions on the property he received from the Van Sweringens. The Van Sweringens claimed there were none, but Fr. Smith insisted it had to be in writing. He checked with a lawyer who he met through the original real estate agent, and the lawyer told him to insist on seeing an abstract.

Groundbreaking in University Heights

About a year later, Fr. Smith received a call from the lawyer of St. Ignatius telling him the Van Sweringens were ashamed to face him, but the property was free of restrictions after the brothers paid $25,000 to have the restrictions removed. The trade was made, and the Society of Jesus had the fine property on which John Carroll University stands today. Fr. Benedict Rodman, S.J., started the building of the University in 1931. The first classes were held on the new campus in 1935. JCU


  1. Dear Mr Walsh
    My two brothers are JCU alumni and gave me a copy of your article on the early days of JCU, notably the move to the current campus on Fairmount Circle.
    While a student at Notre Dame in 1968 I researched the Van Sweringen developments in Clelvleand and wrote my thesis about them.
    I wanted to add a few onservations.
    The deed restrictions were central to the development of Shaker Heights, Beechwood and Pepper Pike. They formed the foundation for the zoning law in these communities. No developer with the commitment of the Vans to Shaker Heights would readily give them away.
    Eventually the Vans arranged a land swap which cost JCU nothing and the Vans paid the legal costs and built the access road. That has to be seen as a net gain to JCU and the Vans got a stable institution to anchor Fairmout Cirlce just as the facilitated the building of HB, US and Laurel on land they donated in the same vicinity as JCU, albeit in Shaker Heights.
    In the article there is an allusion to the Vans being ashamed at the delay. The word embarrassed might be a better way to say it. In 1930-31, the Vans were heavily involved in the completion of the Terminal Tower project and refinancing the acquisition of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, This proved to be their undoing in 1935. However, prior to 1930 the Vans were always able to refinance their deals in the public markets. The advancing depression made this impossible. The Vans and their staff were struggling to manage their debts in a collapsing economy.
    I should add that it is unlikely that the Vans actually were involved in any significant way in the JCU deal structure other than to give it their OK. The day to day operations of Shaker developmet was under the supervision of Ben Jenks. Mr Jenks would have had direct responsibility for this deal along with the two internal legal counsels, J.J. Anzalone and John P. Murphy, both Catholics ironically.
    If the Vans were embarrassed it would have been becasue they could no longer snap their figers to make things happen after 1929. To swap the land would probably have required a change in the bank pledge aggreements. The land was probably pledged to support credit agreements that were part of the 1930 refinacing for the MoPac deal. Collateral substitution in credit agreements is never easy and it would have been awkward for the Vans to do given the much bigger issues at stake.
    The MoPac deal never should have happened. It proved to be financially and strategically a disaster. As sages said in the 30s, the Vans never should have gone east of Green Rd or west of the Mississsippi.
    Sincerely Yours,
    Joseph G Blake
    Bethlehem Pa
    (My thesis is available in both the Shaker Heights Library and the Shaker Historical Society which now has legal right to it.)

    • Mr. Blake,

      I appreciate your detailed insight into the matter. Thanks for bringing this perspective to my attention. Perhaps I should have used more sources when writing the story. I’m off to the library to read your thesis.


      John Walsh

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.