Voinovich Service Held At Our Lady Of the Lake Church
Even in death, George Voinovich managed to provide a boost to his favorite Cathoilic parish—Our Lady of the Lake, formerly known as Holy Cross.
Never before – and probably never again – will the church at East 200th St. and Lake Shore Blvd. receive as much news coverage as it did during and after his funeral on June 17.
Voinovich, a former Cleveland mayor, Ohio governor, and U.S. senator – has long supported Our Lady of the Lake (OLL) – and Holy Cross before it -- sending several of his children to school there and generously supporting numerous events sponsored by the parish, such as the annual “Life on the Lake” fund-raiser that benefits the school. His newspaper obituary recommended two options for memorial donations in lieu of flowers: the Molly Voinovich Memorial Fund, in memory of his late daughter, and OLLCatholicSchool.
It is not often that a church of any denomination experiences the honor of hosting a funeral service for an Ohio governor or U.S. senator. But George Voinovich, the “kid from Collinwood” as somebody dubbed him, never really left the lakefront environs of Northeast Cleveland despite holding public posts that required him to spend much of his time in places like Columbus, OH, and Washington, D.C. – not to mention an occasional globe-hopping trip to promote international trade opportunities for Ohio businesses.
Sen. Voinovich and his lovely wife Janet, who met as students at OhioUniversity, raised their family and maintained their home in North Collinwood for more than 50 years.
As a young community newspaperman, I was fortunate enough to get a close-up view of George’s debut on the political scene, including participating in interviews during his first campaign – for a seat in the Ohio legislature. Both my colleague Tom Brazaitis and I came away from those interviews quite impressed with George. And in 1966, I had the privilege of writing the very first newspaper editorial ever endorsing him for public office.
That editorial ran in the old Euclid News-Journal and in the Collinwood Scoop, weekly papers serving the two adjacent lakefront communities in those days. Both were publications of the Collinwood Publishing Co., which had offices and a printing press on East 152nd St.
Not long after George Voinovich won his initial campaign -- for a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives -- he permitted me to spend a full day shadowing him in Columbus as he went about his duties. He showed me around the state Capitol building and introduced me to some of the key political figures of that era. The result was a follow-up feature article with a headline something like “A Day in the Life of Your State Representative.”
Ever since, I’ve followed George’s political career with great interest – and much admiration. When I learned that he had passed away, I felt both saddened and compelled to be near him at the end – at his service at Our Lady of the Lake and as part of the motorcade that took him to his final resting place at All Souls Cemetery in Chardon. (Out of respect to the former Ohio Governor, the motorcade was escorted along the way by at least 20 or 30 motorcycle policemen, along with other police vehicles, to ensure a safe trip to the cemetery.)
The service at OLL attracted many dignitaries –including Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, former mayor Dennis Kucinich, Euclid Mayor Kirsten Holzheimer-Gail, and a former Spanish Ambassador, Manuel M. Lopez, who is now now an “emeritus” honorary consul general for Spain. (Prior to the service, Ambassador Lopez mentioned to me that he had lived in Euclid – on East 197th St. – for 31 years and had been a member of Holy Cross parish himself. He and his wife now live in Middlefield, OH.)
Rev. Joseph Fortuna, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake, was the primary celebrant for the funeral mass, with former pastor Rev. John McNulty, and Rev. Mark Hobson, pastor of St. Aloysius-St. Agatha, as concelebrants. Also in attendance were Most Rev. Richard G. Lennon, the Bishop of Cleveland, Most Rev. Anthony M. Pilla, retired Bishop of Cleveland, and Rev. John F. Murphy.
A recurring theme of the service was that George Voinovich was a man who lived his faith. “George was an extraordinary human being,” Fr. Fortuna said during his homily. “He was able to meet and respect people who were different from himself … He had a passion for the common good.”
In addition to the crowd that crammed into the church, the service attracted quite a few curious onlookers who gathered across the street, some in lawn chairs, to take in the spectacle – including two mounted policemen stationed on either side of the front church steps awaiting the arrival of the funeral party. Parked nearby, on East 201st St. was the Collinwood Alumni Assn. locomotive, on hand as a tribute to one of the high school’s most illustrious graduates.
Two days earlier, a large crowd turned out for Sen. Voinovich’s wake at DeJohn-Flynn-Mylott Funeral Home in Willoughby Hills. Some mourners stood patiently for up to two hours as the line slowly inched its way through the building en route to the salon where the family greeted George’s many friends and admirers. Among them were former Cleveland Browns coach Sam Rutigliano and Jack Schron, a member of the Cuyahoga County Council and two-time candidate for the county executive’s post. (Schron, the president of Jergens Inc., a Waterloo Rd.-based manufacturer of fixtures for industrial plants, noted that he had accompanied Voinovich on overseas trade missions to India, Brazil, and other nations.)
It’s not surprising that so many people felt compelled to pay their last respects to a man who dedicated his life to public service. George Voinovich will perhaps be best remembered as the Cleveland mayor who rescued the city from a serious fiscal crises, but he also served with distinction as Ohio’s governor and in the U.S. Senate.
Sen. Voinovich was never a flamboyant politician – but rather one who displayed both wisdom and common sense. It’s too bad there aren’t more public servants like him.
Rest in peace, George. You’ve earned it.