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Catholic School Impact: One Cleveland Family, Paying It Forward

This summer, anyone who walks the halls at Archbishop Lyke and St. Thomas Aquinas schools will likely be dodging ladders and workers. But there’s a lot more going on in those halls than 1,535 gallons of Sherwin-Williams paint. Amid all the uncertainties of this summer, one thing is for sure: Committed Clevelanders are sparking a renaissance at these schools, both in how they look and how they operate–and few are working harder to make that happen this summer than Dominic Ozanne and his sons.

For the Ozanne family–including sons Joshua and Dominic II and their father–restoration work at Cleveland’s first Partnership Schools isn’t just another project managed by the construction company that bears their family name. This is personal.

When Leroy Ozanne came to Cleveland in 1946 and became the first African-American building inspector for the city of Cleveland, he and his wife belonged first to Blessed Sacrament in Glenville–one of the segregated churches African-American Catholics were allowed to attend then–and later to St. Cecilia’s, where Dominic entered grade school. And even when the family moved out to Shaker Heights, Dominic returned to that parish to be married.

St. Cecilia’s School and several others merged to form Archbishop Lyke School–named for a cleric who still inspires Dominic and others.  As Dominic tells it, he met then-Bishop Lyke at St. Dominic’s in Shaker Heights, at his youngest brother’s confirmation. “We’re sitting there, it’s seven o’clock at night, we’re thinking ‘oh, well, another confirmation’—and in walks this brown-skinned guy in full bishop regalia at the end of a procession, and for two hours my brother and I were about to jump out of our seats…with the pride of having an African-American bishop.” And the admiration extends beyond regalia and representation; Dominic befriended Lyke, who he describes as an “extremely classy guy…very cool, very poised, very kind”–and one who died of lung cancer tragically young.

Then-Bishop Lyke baptizes Dominic Ozanne II as his parents look on.

So restoring these two Cleveland Catholic schools in southeast Cleveland is about more than new fixtures; it is about family and the proud history of Catholic institutions that have served and have been animated by generations of Catholics from backgrounds often marginalized even within the Church itself.

For the Ozannes, though, these schools aren’t just about the past. They are about the vibrant, impactful community of Catholics in Cleveland today. All three men graduated from St. Ignatius, and they talk at length about the deep and extensive sense of community they have now as a result of their Catholic school experiences.

“You can meet anyone from a Catholic school in this diocese, and that connection is there,” Joshua explains. Interning with the company this summer while he is in college, he speaks enthusiastically about these buildings having “dignity” and historical fixtures–glasswork, pillars and statues–that make their commonality with other Catholic schools visible. “They even smell the same,” he jokes.

St. Thomas Aquinas gets visited by the Partnership Schools van as restoration work begins this summer.

Similarly, Dominic II talks of the ways in which his Catholic school experiences gave him common ground with new colleagues and supervisors in professional settings. So in addition to their own efforts and that of their colleagues, the Ozannes are bringing their significant professional and personal community into the work at the schools this summer.

George Grenier, Director of Facilities for Partnership Schools in both Cleveland and New York, is unequivocal on one point: the Ozannes’ work and their willingness to get others involved is making all the difference in starting up Partnership Schools-Cleveland. “Dominic has brought an amazing team to the table,” George explains. “I say something like ‘Dominic, I need a cleaning company’—and he says, ‘I know a guy,’ and it turns out he’s the best, most helpful, has the same mission—and that kind of connection has happened ten times already.” George estimates that the Ozannes’ efforts have saved Cleveland’s Partnership donors a third of the anticipated cost of the renovations, a move that directly increases the schools’ ability to help more students in these difficult times.

The Ozannes are quick to deflect attention away from their own efforts to the community of which they are a part. “The Partnership is getting a pretty good deal,” Dominic notes, indicating that our network is taking over management of school facilities that have benefited from years of effective stewardship by the diocesan facilities team led by Larry Murtaugh and Bill Brady. He gives credit to Rich Clark, former head of Saint Martin de Porres High School and now the Cleveland-based leader of the effort to build a thriving network of Partnership Schools to the city. And he rapidly lists off the clergy and religious he credits with keeping the schools open: Father Mike Barth, Father Phil Bernier, Sister Brigetta Waldron, Father Dan Begin, Father Tom Fanta, and Fr. Bob Marva, just to name a few.

This pride in the community and history of which they are a part translates into ambition for the schools on behalf of all three Ozannes. As Dominic II explains, this project feels “totally different” from others he has worked on. “Doing something for your Catholic family–it puts a positive fire in your belly. You have to bring your A game, and I’m thinking about how to communicate that to subcontractors, and bring it to our morning meetings.”

Joshua chimes in that he wants the students who will benefit from his work “to repeat the cycle–to hear the same message my dad grew up learning and taught me and my brother.” It is a message of hard work, service, academic success and community-building.

His father agrees that Catholic education can have a significant impact, and notes “there is a whole additional level of validation and success metrics that African-Americans can take away from their Catholic education experience.”

He also sees an impact that spreads beyond the individual students. The combination of the Partnership’s model and the support of Clevelanders to make it happen mean that “families can count on the stability of the schools, stability that hasn’t been there” as chronic worries about Catholic school closures have persisted. And if families know they have stable, high-quality school options, “you can plan your lease counting on us being here. People can buy houses” knowing they won’t have to move in search of a better school. Rich Clark agrees: “When we have schools succeeding, we’ll have neighborhoods succeeding.”

So fueled by a rich, multi-generational Catholic past, enlisting the help of their professional and Catholic communities, and driven by a vision of social justice and flourishing in Cleveland, the Ozannes are improving far more than buildings this summer.