In a letter dated May 1st, 1933, Father Zwisler wrote to his parishioners:
“A grave emergency has arisen. Your parish faces a serious crises, which you alone can, and, I have every confidence, will avert. This Emergency occasions an Urgent Appeal . . . the success of the Appeal will save your parish with its efficient Church, School, and convent.”
The letter went on to describe what is later known as the Great Depression. The parish built quickly and accumulated substantial debt during a very prosperous time in our nation. It was thought that the fledgling community could easily handle the debt given enough time. But before the new building was even occupied, the financial crash hit and its wake leaving four years of economic depression and high unemployment.
The parish budget was slashed. The pastor no longer took his pay. About 60% of the parish was fortunate enough to be able to continue to support the parish, and money was carefully set aside to pay parish debt.
The heaviest obligation was coming due on June 1st, $8,000, a tremendous amount of money in 1930’s dollars. The parish had carefully saved the money and placed it in the bank. But then the bank crashed and the money was lost.
“We must meet this obligation,” wrote the pastor. “This cannot wait. Parish Solvency and Credit are at stake. You have maintained your Parish credit until now. You cannot default. Failure to meet this obligation (would be) disastrous. You will not fail. You will be generous in relieving a tense situation created by the Bank, not by you.”
The appeal was asking “each solvent adult” to give $10, the more fortunate being asked to make up for what the less fortunate were not able to give. The money had to be raised in just three weeks time. So he asked, “Please to bring, send or mail to the Rectory or place on Collection Plate on any of the next three Sundays.”
At the end of the letter he added, “With your very generous response, you may also make it possible for your Pastor to draw on some of his long past due allowance, and thus enable him to continue to maintain his Ford in the better interest of the parish.”
According to the St. Sebastian Silver Jubilee booklet, during this time “the pastor was driving a faithful 5 year old Model T Ford in those days to try and keep up with his many appointments. One day he was heading for an important engagement when the “flivver” finally stopped running and he left it in its tracks.”
The campaign was not entirely successful in meeting all of the parish debts.
Every parish in the Diocese of Cleveland pays an assessment to the diocese. This helps maintain offices and programs that serve the entire diocese. As the dioceses offices do not generate their own funding, they rely on an assessment or tax, which is a portion of the Sunday collection, to fund them. In September of 1934, Father Zwisler wrote to Bishop Schrembs asking for relief from having to pay the assessment due to economic hardship.
“This concerns our diocesan (assessment). In spite of our heavy parish debt, we have never failed to meet all our diocesan obligations even during these depression years. This includes not only the (assessment), but every diocesan campaign or collection as well. With the help of God, we are doing so this year in spite of the fact that the parish is debt poor. We cannot, however, meet the (assessment) until the end of this year.”
The letter goes on to explain the bank failure and the extra costs involved with meeting the extra debt incurred because of late payments. He also explains other parish financial responsibilities:
$13,000 in salaries
$2,400 in taxes
$1,500 Diocesan tax
$600 rectory rental
$800 office expenses
$500 building repairs and renovations
$500 sacristy and sanctuary expenses
$300 janitor and supplies
These amounts when added to the parish debt meant that $44,500.00 was needed to operate the parish for that year. As a side note, it was estimated that it cost the parish about $8,000.00 a day to operate in the year 2010.
For his part, the bishop wrote back:
“I have your letter of September 20th, and I fully appreciate your financial difficulties. Try, by all means to keep up the spirit and the morale of your people. Surely the present depression cannot keep on forever. Let us hope and pray for better days.
“With kindness and personal good wishes,
“Very cordially in Christ,
Bishop of Cleveland.