How I became a St. James altar boy: New heights with Father Pete

In his series “How I became a St. James altar boy,” Ralph Horner writes about growing up next to St. James Anglican Catholic Church in Goodrich-Kirtland Park and how he got drawn into being an altar boy and, eventually, “a high Anglo Catholic, but not under the Pope Pius XII.” In the last installment, Horner shares how his little sister humiliated him in front of the congregation. This week, he learns a little more about Father Pete.

Father Peterson was a slightly round, jovial guy and was loved and highly respected by the congregation. He was a lot more than just a parish priest. His title was Canon Peterson and that indicated that he was an authority on church law and doctrine.

He was a high official in the American Anglican church. He was constantly called to England, where the Church of England high offices were, for one official duty or another. He also visited Trinity Cathedral, which is the high office of the Anglican Church of Ohio and the homes of his congregants.

Pastor Vivan Albertus PetersonPastor Vivan Albertus PetersonHe often took me with him. He even took me to the city jail when he gave mass to the prisoners. When he visited the homes of the congregation members, I realized why the people, whose homes were the mansions and big houses of Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights, seemed so alien to me.

I found out that my humble East 55th Street, at some point in history, used to be a very classy neighborhood. The kind-of-fancy people who we visited in the Heights used to live there. When Saint James was built East 55th marked the eastern border of Cleveland, where the families of the upper class founding fathers lived, and their offspring were the rich congregation at St. James.

In its early days, East 55th Street was the Shaker and Cleveland Heights of its time. The neighborhood changed and the upper crust left, but they did not leave Saint James Church. Those families tended to stick to Saint James Church, no matter where they moved and didn’t care about what direction the old neighborhood had changed to. 

On occasion, Father Pete would take me with him when he was having lunch with his affluent and influential friends at fancy restaurants. I think they got a kick out of dining with a non-influential and non-affluent little kid from the inner-city.

One time I ordered Chicken Fricassee. I had no idea what it was, but it sounded fancy. I told my mother that I had Chicken Fricassee with Father Pete and she replied, “No son, what you had was called ‘Chicken Pox,’ and you had to stay home from School for four days.” 

Father Peterson was married, as priests are permitted to be married in the Anglican Church. His wife's family were old money types and, apparently, she was worth quite a bit.

Her family owned the land that the downtown May Company was on. That is well-to-do. I had been to Father Pete’s home in Cleveland Heights many times. Surprisingly, it was fairly humble for people of means. It struck me as kind of odd that they  had two servants. Two servants in such a small house? 

I did some research  at the Cleveland Public Library downtown and I found out that Father Pete and his wife had lived at a different address before living in the home I visited. I drove to that address and—low and behold—it was a Cleveland Heights mansion! The servants in the house I visited must have been a carryover from that mansion.

Why they moved to that small house, I do not know.

Ralph Horner
Ralph Horner

About the Author: Ralph Horner

Ralph Horner grew up in the 1950s and 1960s on Whittier Avenue in the Central and Hough neighborhoods. In the 1960s and 1970s, at the age of 19, he managed a French Shriner shoe store on Euclid Avenue, where he got to know many of the people who hung out on Short Vincent.  A self-proclaimed juvenile delinquent living in the inner city, Horner observed the characters who were regulars in the neighborhoods he lived and worked in. Now in his 70s, Horner shares the stories of some of his more memorable experiences on Short Vincent with the FreshWater series, Rascals and Rogues I Have Known.