Newbury, Ohio

Founding Home
of the
St. Helen Unicycle Team


The St. Helen Unicycle Team was recently featured in the Catholic Universe Bulletin.  Click Here to read the article, “St. Helen unicycle drill team reunites, still wowing the crowds”.

St. Helen’s traces its history to the efforts of a group of Kiwanis Lake residents who surveyed the geography of the present church in 1946 in an effort to determine what part of the population was Catholic. They presented their findings to Father James Maher, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Chardon, in an effort to establish the need for a new parish in Newbury.

Father Maher addressed, in a letter to the Bishop of Cleveland, his recommendation that, “I have had some meetings with two of the officers of the community who are Catholics and the result of those meetings has been the knowledge of forty-two families who are or will attend Mass here regularly. The officers of the community as well as me feel that this permission will result in bringing back some slack Catholics who live close to this community and who use distance as an excuse for staying away from Mass.”

Starting in June of 1947, Sunday Masses were held at the Kiwanis Lake Community dance hall by Father Maher and Father John Murphy and continued for two years while a search for a permanent church site was underway.

Bishop Edward F. Hoban was on his way to a confirmation in Parkman, when he passed a barn along Route 87 in Newbury and said, when he met Father Maher in Parkman, “I’ve found the place. Come out with me and we’ll look it over closely.”

Eventually, the barn along with ten and a half wooded acres was purchased for $6,500 from a Cleveland attorney who had a summer home in Kiwanis Lake. The area appeared to be well-suited to serve Newbury, Burton, Russell and Novelty.

Father Maher became the founding pastor of the Mission Church of St. Helen’s, named for the patron saint of Father Maher’s mother. The first services were held in the barn on August 28, 1949, while it was being converted to a church. At that time there were close to sixty parishioners.

The early days of St. Helen’s were punctuated with many small inconveniences; a leaky roof caused puddles of water to accumulate in front of the altar and mud was a constant problem in the parking lot. Cars frequently had to be towed. Inside, before the potbellied stove was installed, worshippers often could see their breath during the service. The first Christmas Mass was celebrated in the basement of the barn, now the school cafeteria, which was the first part of the building to be finished.

New parishioners helped paint pews, which were gifts from St. John Cathedral in Cleveland and St. Philip Neri Parish, and placed wainscoting inside the church. They laid linoleum and sewed altar cloths. The new altar was a gift from the Cathedral and candlesticks were from St. James Church in Lakewood.  Renovation of the barn was completed in 1950. The blessing and dedication of the church was on Sunday, August 20, 1950 by Bishop Hoban. The architects, Stickel, Kelly & Stickel, called it one of the most successful conversions they had ever made.

The school of St. Helen’s opened in 1961, when Father Moran celebrated a High Mass to dedicate the new facility. Twenty-three students participated, with just a fifth grade established.  This was decided to be a practical starting point since children under grade five could be accommodated well at Notre Dame Academy. The school building itself was dedicated in 1962, which had already grown to include both fifth and sixth grade students. The first graduation, of 25 students, occurred in 1965.

The expansion of St. Helen’s school to include grades 1 through 3 was finished in 1979, due to the unselfish dedication of the Sisters of Notre Dame, the priests and parishioners who have given their solid support over the years.

A new altar was constructed in 1960. Then, in 1971, a renovation was done, with new pews, carpeting, communion rail, and an altar facing the congregation. A new tabernacle was remodeled into an altar of repose. Two years later, new stained glass windows were added, along with the mosaic on the side altar. Then, on August 18, 1974, the newly installed Bishop of Cleveland, James A. Hickey, blessed the church on its 25th anniversary.

The Unicycle Drill Team has become a hallmark of the Parish Community and probably its most truly unique activity. This was begun by Father Moran in 1965, when one unicycle was purchased for general physical education purposes. The skill caught on and many school children were riding them, bringing recognition of St. Helen’s as “the school on wheels.” Over the years the unicycle drill team has performed in Presidential inaugural parades, the Indianapolis 500 festivities, many football game entertainments, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, Cleveland’s St. Patrick’s Day parade and numerous other events.

The memory still fresh in the minds of many parishioners when our last directory was published in 1984 was the devastating fire which heavily damaged the church on October 23, 1982. During the subsequent rebuilding and renovation of the church by General Contractor J.H. Winterich, Masses were held in the school gym. Neighboring parishes and the Sisters of Notre Dame generously helped get St. Helen’s through this period of reconstruction. The north end of the church was rebuilt; the entire church was rewired and air conditioning was installed. The ceiling was lowered and the sanctuary was relocated to the center of the church. In addition, the seating capacity was increased and a cry-room/bride’s room was added. A crucifix made in Oberammergau, Germany was imported to hang over the sanctuary.

On Friday, October 7, 1983, the first Mass in the newly-renovated church was celebrated on behalf of the children of St. Helen’s by Father Andrew O’Boyle, St. Helen’s pastor since 1976, assistant pastor Father Karl Weninger and Father Paul Sciarotta, chaplain of the Sisters of Notre Dame. Bishop Anthony Pilla rededicated the church on November 12, 1983, more than a year after the fire. Father O’Boyle, in addition to his many fruitful efforts during his tenure, had been instrumental in establishing a Memorial Fund Drive to raise money for the reconstruction. Father O’Boyle extended this drive into the surrounding community, gaining many pledges from area businesspeople.

In January of 1992, after the retirement of Father O’Boyle, Father David Chojnacki, formerly the pastor of Transfiguration Parish in Cleveland, was appointed pastor of St. Helen’s. He was succeeded in summer of 1993 by Father Jay McPhillips, who had completed five years as assistant pastor here and continues to lead us spiritually today.

We are dedicated to the belief that St. Helen’s is a parish with a particularly strong sense of accepting and belonging – one with warmth and readiness to acknowledge all the talent, work and generosity of so many that makes a parish community as we continue to grow and thrive. On September 14, 2008 our newest addition of our church was dedicated and our alter anointed. New has replaced the old, but our past will forever be our foundation. The part we play is a precious gift - one that if given with love and thanks -  to one another and God.