The History of St. Mary's Ukrainian Orthodox Church
The Early Years – Our ancestors began their immigration to North America at the end of the 19th century. Their deep spiritual nature, rooted in the thousand-year-old ties between the Ukrainian people ant the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople, manifested itself in a desire to worship in their ancient Eastern Rite. The tragic history of our homeland, which was then divided between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires, however, had gradually served these ties. Most of these early Ukrainian Americans and Canadians came from the western Ukrainian lands controlled by Austria-Hungry, where political pressures had caused them to enter into a Roman Church in an effort to preserve their cultural and spiritual identity. Nevertheless, they staunchly defended their Byzantine, i.e., Greek Orthodox, spiritual heritage. Other Ukrainians emigrated from central and eastern areas under Russian domination, where they were dissatisfied with attempts by the Russian-appointed hierarchs to use the Orthodox Church institutions to improve their own nationalism and political goals. These arrivals also yearned for a return to a direct spiritual relationship with Our Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Civic and religious freedom as well as economic opportunities attracted more and more immigrants to the New World. The rolling farmlands, coal-rich mountains, and developing industry of eastern Pennsylvania attracted a large proportion of the immigration. Large numbers of Ukrainians began to settle in the First and Sixth wards of Allentown by the year 1903, and planning began soon thereafter for a parish for their special spiritual needs.
Because of the preponderance of western Ukrainians in this early wave of immigrants, our parish was initially organized as the St. Mary’s Greek Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception. The First Divine Liturgy was celebrated in August, 1909, by the Rev. John Dorozynsky. It was held in a parochial school basement with about ninety parishioners in attendance.
Progress, Growth, and Our Own Building
Our parish membership grew rapidly and great progress was made in a few short years. On January 11, 1911, a group of parishioners, under the energetic leadership of Rev. Nestor Dmytriw, purchased a section of land at the corner of Fullerton and Catatsauqua Avenues, with the intention of using it for a future church building. The parish was formally incorporated under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on March 8, 1912. Later that same year the former Episcopal Church of the Mediator at Front and Furnace Streets in Allentown was purchased. The first Christmas service was sung by an inspired choir under the direction of Wasyl Mazur, and remained a vivid lifelong memory for all those in attendance. This was the first Christmas service in the first church building that belonged to the Ukrainian people in Allentown.
The congregation’s desire for a true Byzantine-style church building was realized within five years. At a parish meeting held on May 28, 1916, presided over by the pastor, Rev. Anthony Lotowycz, a motion was passed to erect a new church on the previously purchased tract of land at the junction of Fullerton and Catasauqua Avenues. A new rectory had already been purchased on May, 1914, close to this property. Due to the whole-hearted cooperation of the parishioners, construction was soon started.
Progress was rapid. On September 23, 1917, our present church building was dedicated, marking a major milestone in the history of our parish and adding a distinct landmark to our community. To finance the construction costs of $22,000, a great amount of volunteer time was contributed, a tradition that St. Mary’s is famous for to this day.
Early Cultural and Social Life
Other aspects of our early social and cultural life are worth mentioning. There was Branch 51 on the “Sich”, an organization of about fifty young men and women who dedicated themselves to physical culture, national education and tradition. These able and well-trained youths performed gymnastic exercises on an adjacent field where St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church now stands. An Active parish dramatic group was associated with the church choir and named in honor of the great Ukrainian composer, Mykola Lysenko. The more literary elements of the parish formed a library society to maintain a highly popular and widely used reading room, “Prosvita”. Many of these activities were centered around our original church which was rebuilt into out Parish Center at 803 N. Front Street.
A church Congress (Sobor) was held on April 9, 1929, at our Parish Center in which twenty-four laymen and fifteen clergy took part. At this congress the decision was made to organize a separate Ukrainian Orthodox Diocese under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In 1930, Fr. Dr. Joseph Zuk, a renowned theologian who had previously served St. Mary’s as pastor, joined the diocese.
In July 1931, a Second Church Congress of clergy and laymen took place in New York City, presided over by Bishop Callistos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. Additional congregations were added to the Ukrainian Orthodox Diocese and Fr. Dr. Zuk was chosen bishop-elect of the diocese in July, 1932. He was consecrated in September of that year and served as the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of America until his untimely death on February 23, 1934.
Bishop Bohdan Shpylka was consecrated by Archbishop Athenagoras of the Greek Orthodox Church on February 28, 1937 at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity of New York. There were forty-five parishes and missions under Bishop Bohdan, including a Cathedral in New York City. His Grace would be elevated to Archbishop before he passed away in November, 1965.
St. Mary’s parish was once again called upon to help shape the future of our diocese when a Church Congress was held in Allentown in September, 1966, at which Archimandrite Andrei Kuschak was elected as the new Primate of our church. After his consecration on January 28, 1967, he began a long Episcopacy in which he stressed pastoral work, the close relationship between our church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and respect for our Ukrainian identity. At the conclusion of yet another Church Congress hosted by St. Mary’s in March, 1983, our church was elevated to the level of Metropoly and Archbishop Andrei made a Metropolitan. Fr. Nicholas Smisko was consecrated as an Auxiliary Bishop in our diocese. Metropolitan Andrei passed away on November 17, 1986.
Continuing Progress and Accomplishments
Along with the increased respect and vigor on our diocese, substantial progress continues to be made within our parish. The last few decades have witnessed a wonderful series of accomplishments:
- 1940 - The church interior was completely transformed into Byzantine art and design.
- July, 1945 - The parking lot adjacent to the Parish Center was purchased.
- October, 1945 - The original mortgage on the church was burned.
- June, 1950 - The War Memorial erected on the church grounds honoring parish members who served in World War II was dedicated.
- June, 1954 - The carillonic bells in our church tower were installed and dedicated.
- 1958 - The church interior and church pews were refurbished.
- 1963 - A beautiful new Iconostasis was installed.
Two major additions to our facilities require special mention and give an indication of the continued growth of St. Mary’s. On June 9, 1963, our expanded Parish Center was dedicated. It includes a modern large banquet hall, a new enlarged club room downstairs, new bowling alleys, and modern kitchen facilities. Since then, the club had become a favorite place for bowling, for the best live band entertainment and for good evening’s entertainment and sociability.
Our parish’s needs for improved and enlarged Sunday School facilities led to the design and construction of a new Fellowship and Cultural Hall adjoining our church structure. In addition to classrooms, it contains a chapel, library, and downstairs hall and kitchen and was dedicated in July 31, 1988.
Parish Organizational Growth
Another important organization that has made significant contributions to the growth of the parish is the St. Mary’s Sacred Heart Sisterhood. Since its inception in 1914, the organization had given of its time and money, accumulated through monthly dues, collections, during the holiday seasons, and various activities, to take care of the general appearance of the church.
The Ukrainian American Citizens Club of Allentown has been in integral part of our parish since it was incorporated in September 1921. The club is not only self-supporting, but also has and continues to make substantial contributions of money, services, and expertise to our parish, such as the club’s support of the church sponsored Malanka social function. The club was a major driving force in the 1963 expansion of our Parish Center that has made this facility such a valuable asset to our community.
In 1954, the need to involve more of the younger women of our parish in its social life led to the organization of the St. Mary’s Young Ladies Auxiliary. Through its catering of almost weekly banquets, weddings and other social affairs, it has raised a substantial amount of money to support the church building, rectory, Parish Center and Fellowship and Cultural Hall. In 1955 its support helped to organize a folk dancing troop that has become St. Mary’s traditional Ukrainian Dancers.
St Mary’s Sunday School was established in the spring of 1956 in order to give the parish children and adults an Eastern Orthodox Christian education and to stimulate among the parish youth a greater interest in the church and its activities. Growth over the years has been rapid. In order to raise funds in has held such events as the Annual Fashion Show, sponsored the parish Coffee Hour, and sold a number of books and there items of religious and cultural interest. The monies raised have enabled it to provide all instructional materials to its students free of charge and to sponsor social and cultural activities.
One other organization needs to be mentioned because of the large proportion of its members that belong to St. Mary’s. The “Society of Olga Basarab”, Branch 40 of the Ukrainian Women’s League of America was founded in 1925. It has endeavored to aid the cultural and educational programs of the parish via financial contributions and educational instruction, such as the pysanky classes given in past years.
The Patriarchal Visit
His Grace Bishop Vsevolod of Scopelos was consecrated as the fourth Ruling Bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of America on September 27, 1987, and, through his deep interest in our parish’s spiritual development, further strengthened our respect for Our Mother Church of Constantinople. The Patriarchal visit to St. Mary's Ukrainian Orthodox Church on July 18, 1990, was a historic event that will not be forgotten. The visit came on the Eighteenth Anniversary of His ascension to the Throne of St. Andrew the Apostle. This was the first time that an Ecumenical Patriarch visited the Western Hemisphere during his tenure. However the was not the first time that a future Patriarch visited St. Mary’s. Both his predecessor, Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, who along with Pope Paul VI began reconciliation of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and his successor, His All Holiness Bartholomew I, the current Ecumenical Patriarch by the Grace of God, visited St. Mary’s.
Late Twentieth Century Events
As the twentieth century drew to a close, a number of significant events occurred in our parish. A senior’s organization was formed on September 18, 1989, to provide fellowship and support opportunities for our still-vibrant retired parishioners. The St. Mary’s Seniors have raised considerable funds through their monthly hoagie sales and continued work in varenyky sales.
On October 12, 1990, Deacon Dr. Anthony Ugolnik was assigned to our parish to assist our long time pastor, Very Reverend Protopresbyter William Czekaluk. Dr. Ugolnik was ordained to the priesthood on July 6, 1991 during a Hierarchal Divine Liturgy, becoming the first American-born priest to serve our parish on a regular basis. The festivities also included the unveiling and blessing of the plaque commemorating the Patriarchal visit.
On August 24th of that year the centuries-old hopes of Ukrainians for the restoration of an independent homeland were realized by the Grace of God. This independence was brought about without bullets fired or bloodshed.
In June of 1993, the new icons for our fellowship hall chapel, written in the traditional Ukrainian style by the Makarenko Studios, were blessed by Archbishop Vsevolod. During that year our parish held its first blood drive. This annual event demonstrates the true Christian virtues of selfless love and service to our fellow human beings in need of medical support.
The year 1995 will be remembered as the beginning of the final realization of the decades-long search for true unity among all Ukrainian Orthodox living in America. On March 12, Sunday of Orthodoxy, the Hierarchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA was accepted under the Omophorian of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople by His All Holiness Bartholomew in Istanbul Turkey.
St. Mary’s would soon significantly advance this integration when on Sunday, July 16th, His grace Bishop Vsevolod and His Eminence Archbishop Antony of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA co-celebrated for the first time, hosted by our parish. Negotiations had already begun for the unification of our two jurisdictions into one larger, stronger and universally recognized Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
In August of 1996, the negotiations begun the previous year between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of America and Canada, under His Grace Bishop Vsevolod, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, under His Beatitude Metropolitan Constantine, came to final fruition. At a consistory meeting it was unanimously voted to convene a special Sobor to consider the proposed merger of our two Ukrainian Orthodox jurisdictions. A congregational meeting on Sunday September 29th had an overwhelming consensus to instruct our delegate, Mary Woroniak, to vote for unification. On Saturday, November 9th, the unification was approved by a vote of 50 to 0. Finally all Ukrainian Americans of the Holy Orthodox faith were unified and canonically recognized.
Broadening Our Mission
During 1995, another parish organization was formed which has as its mission the support of our youth and fostering among them of a renewed spirit of love and commitment to our Holy Orthodox faith. The St. Mary’s Scholarship Committee organized and held its first “Ukie” Open Golf Tournament on August 9th of that year. With the funds from these tournaments and weekly donations from our parishioners, it has been able to provide more than $15,000 in financial support for our church-school students. More than a dozen young members of St. Mary’s have benefited from its efforts.
On April 13th, 1997, a chapter of the Ukrainian Orthodox League (UOL) was organized at St. Mary’s. During its existence it has raised and contributed more than $30,000 to our parish and other worthwhile charitable causes. In 2007, just a decade after its formation, it was recognized as National Chapter of the Year. More than 25 adults and nearly a dozen teenaged juniors are members.
On September 15, 1998 Deacon Joseph Kreta was assigned to our parish. Through his efforts there was a revived interest in Bible study and church school education. Beginning in 1999 there has been substantial participation by our church school students and teachers in the annual UOL Essay Contest and we have had a dozen first-place finishers in various age groups.
In 2003, it was reported at the semi-annual congregation meeting that as part of our long-planned church icon restoration project changes needed to be made to the altar in the sanctuary. A committee to consider all aspects of the restoration, including exterior repairs, interior modifications and choice of artists and craftsmen began holding meetings in early 2004.
Father Czekaluk’s Passing
The year 2004 would also mark the falling asleep of our beloved Very Reverend Protopresbyter William Czekaluk, who had served us faithfully since arriving at St. Mary’s in February, 1964, with Pani Matka Helena (Anna) and daughter Larissa. It is indicative of his dedication to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his parishioners that Father passed on while preparing for Wednesday evening Presanctified Liturgy on March 31. Father Myron Oryhon, who had assisted Father Czekaluk since January 2003, has ably replaced him and continues to further our parish’s commitment to the Orthodox faith.
At a special congregation meeting called in November, 2006, to act on the recommendations of the restoration committee, a complete plan was presented and approved. It included completely repairing, repainting and stenciling the walls; new icons; new lighting; new altars and modification to the Sanctuary.
In 2007, Andrij Maday, an art professor and member of the Ukrainian Orthodox faith, began writing the new icons in traditional Ukrainian style. Early in 2008 the firm of H. A. Smith began the laborious, intricate restoration of the church walls. As we approach the culmination of the year-long celebration of our 100th Anniversary, we look forward to the blessing of our new church interior during the Hierarchal Divine Liturgy.
We, the members of the 100th Anniversary Committee, dedicate this book to our ancestors who left us not only with a beautiful parish, but also a love for our Orthodox Church. With the help of Our Lord Jesus Christ may we have many, many prosperous years ahead.
[From the 100th Anniversary book (2009)]
Artist at Work Eight Months Completing Task.
Rededication Services Set for May 30 [of 1941 ed.] – Bishop Bohdan to Preside.
When the congregation of St. Mary's Ukrainian Orthodox church and other followers of that faith gather in the 24-year-old house of worship on Fullerton Ave. May 30 to participate in the dedicatory services which will be presided over by Bishop Bohdan of New York, they will find the interior completely transformed. The redecoration of the auditorium marks the termination of a renovation project instituted by the parish last year when a new roof and crosses where erected on the structure.
Sharply contrasting with the somewhat drab interior of the past, the work is the product of more than eight months of painstaking labor on the part of Walter E. Boettcher, well know delineator of and authority on ecclesiastical art. From the floor of the chapel to the high vaulted dome which surmounts it every inch of wall space had been transformed by the magic touch of the artist's brush.
The dark oak wainscoting which lined the walls to the height of the window sills has been replaced by a marble composition while the sills themselves have been covered over with a similar plastic in a lighter shade. Every pillar and column is resplendent in the sparkling gold and vari-colored interpretations of Byzantine art. Declaring that architecturally the church is an outstanding exmple of this old religious art, artist Boettcher has followed this theme to the smallest detail in the myriad mosaic or tile patterns of that period.
Employing every symbol of the Orthodox church to advantage in the accent every support and window of the church, he has placed especial emphasis on the white lily, symbol of the Mother of Christ. It is to be found again and again in the formal mosaic patterns and appears in subdued repitition on the guard rail of the choir loft.
Besides the colorful friezes, in which more than $1,000 worth of gold and silver leaf was used, there are many life-size natural color murals which add to the sanctimonious atmosphere which prevails. It would be hard to determine whether the altar or the rotunda is the more impressive from an artistic standpoint. Quite naturally the altar of severe white and gold and its concave shell attracts attention first. Surmounting the altar arch is the Holy Father, God Almighty, and six angels while on either side of the arch base are murals of the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus and Christ. The base of the altar shell is a series of mosaic arches embellished with many symbolic crests and above which rises the Blessed Virgin, St. mary, who is surrounded by cherubs.
The huge central dome, from which is suspended an enormous beaded, brass chandelier, repeats the sky and star theme of the altar rotunda only here it is in formal pattern and contains in addition to celestial lights the many crosses of the Orthodox faith. At the confluence of the dome and ceiling portraits of the four evangelists alternate with scenes depicting the annunciation, the nativity, the resurrection and the crucifixion. On the ceiling are eight medallions, each a portrait of one of the old prophets and interspersed on the walls are six portraits of the lesser saints. The four outstanding saints: St. Vladimir, St. Nicholas, St. Olga and St. Michael are pictured in full-length life-sized murals which flank the north and south windows.
When the last stroke of the brush has been applied to St. Mary's Orthodox church, Artist Boettcher will have completed his 91st church since he came to the United States 15 years ago. Previous to the establishment of his own business here he served an apprenticeship with the elder Boettcher who carried on the traditions of European ecclesiastical art in his native Germany. Born in Koenigsburg, East Prussia, young Walter mounted the painter's scaffold at the age of 13 and a half years. Alternating between his father's instruction and the maestro's of the Royal Academies at Koenigsburg, Berlin and Munich, he set out for the United States at the age of 21 and has pursued his profession here ever since.
Boettcher was voluble in his praise for the design of the local church which he termed one of the few churches of true Byzantine architecture in the United States. The Byzantine art, he states, is by far a purer religious art than either the Gothic, Renaissance or the Romanesque.
For History and Spirit
Page 1 of Local Section of the Morning Call
Monday, July 7, 2008
By Chris Reber of The Morning Call
St. Mary's Ukrainian in Allentown is restoring its sacred icons it time for its 100th anniversary.
Near the ceiling of St. Mary's Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Allentown, Jim Dotzel is carefully restenciling the details where a new icon of the Nativity will hang.
The effort is painstaking. Dotzel and his employees aren't just restoring some icons, they're rejuvenating the spirit of this Sixth Ward church. They're remembering the history of the working-class immigrants who, in search of the American dream, founded the church a century ago.
“The church building, its architecture and structure, is meant to transport us from the earthly to the heavenly,” the Rev. Myron Oryhon said. “It's to transport us to a heightened spiritual experience.”
In October 2009, St. Mary's will celebrate its 100th anniversary. Ten years ago, the church's parish committee decided to celebrate its centennial with a complete restoration. With every inch of the sanctuary draped in detailed icons and stenciling, a restoration would be no easy task.
The monumental undertaking carries a $500,000 price tag. Then the church building at Fullerton and Catasauqua avenues was built in 1917, it cost just $22,000. Until that time, parishioners held services in their homes, or at Central Catholic High School.
For this year's work on the icons, the church's restoration committee went on a national search to find the right contractor and iconographer.
“We put it to the congregation, not for a vote, but for a consensus,” Oryhon said.
Iconography holds a special significance in the Orthodox Church. While worship is reserved for God, icons are highly venerated, and that means they carry a large price tag. Some of the larger icons the church plans to install may cost up to $20,000.
A 14-foot-tall depiction of Mary, the church's patron saint, sits in its chapel, waiting to replace a smaller version hanging above the altar.
“Ever since it has come, I come in every morning and evening and say my prayers before the icon,” Oryhon said. “All of the faithful, when they see it, have been moved to tears.”
Andriy Maday, the iconographer, who lives and works in Cleveland, has worked in Cleveland, has worked on and off over the last six months to recreate classic scenes from the life of Christ and the apostles for St. Mary's. The oil-on-canvas masterpieces are rolled and shipped to the church, where a local company is installing them.
“The icons are sometimes called 'windows into heaven,'” Nikolai Fartuch, the parish council president, said.
Finding the right contractor to carry out the restoration was just as important as finding the iconographer. Dotzel, who owns H.A. Smith Painting in Wilkes-Barre, has painted more than 250 churches in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York since his father started the business 30 years ago. But St. Mary's intricate design has proven to be one of his largest projects.
“It's one of the most time-consuming projects we've ever done,” Dotzel said, “just because of the stenciling.”
Dotzel's been charged with restenciling the sanctuary's intricate décor and installing Maday's icons. Iconographers allow only a select few to handle their work, so the trust bestowed upon Dotzel's extraordinary.
“It's all self-taught, you can't help but learn,” Dotzel said. “Every job, we gain a lot from the iconographers.”
Throughout the renovation, parishioners have had to make small sacrifices in the name of the restoration. And Oryhon said he sometimes has to reming the workers of their language in the church.
For those church members who have come to know a certain at services, arrangements are made.
“Some people have sat in the same pew their entire lives,” Fartuch said. “But when they come in and see the scaffolding, they are OK with moving.”
Oryhon said the parish has been amenable to the relatively brief imposition. Just like the effort to restore the city around it, the project requires patience. The result, he said, will be well worth it.
“It's the reconsecration of the church,” Oryhon said. “It's the commemoration of the anniversary, and huge milestone.”
St. Mary's Ukrainian Orthodox Church will commemorate its 100th anniversary with a yearlong celebration.
The centerpiece of the celebration is the $500,000 restoration of the sanctuary.
The anniversary commemorates the founding of the parish. The current church building at Fullerton and Catasauqua avenues was not built until 1917.
For the church's 80th anniversary in 1989, then-Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I – the highest figure in Eastern Rite Churches – made his first visit to the United States.
The Rev. Myron Oryhon said he expects the church renovation to be completed by fall 2009, when the church will conclude its celebration.