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History of St. Mary Church

 

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St Mary Byzantine Catholic Church

4600 State Road

Cleveland, Ohio 44109

(216) 741-7979

 

St. Mary.............1938 - 2013

 

Our roots as St. Mary Church, Cleveland, Ohio go back some 75 years and well should we know our past and celebrate it. A nation's history, a family tree, a man or woman's biography - this knowledge of yesterday is as important for faith as it is an awareness of our civic, family or personal identity. If sometimes today we think we are more sophisticated, more learned, smarter, our vision brighter and larger, - let's not forget we stand on the shoulders of the men and women who went before us. The evangelist Matthew thought it important enough to track the genealogy of Jesus back to Abraham; but St. Luke leaped over many generations to trace Jesus back to Adam, and . . . GOD!

 

Early in 1938 a group of men, residents of the Brooklyn district of Cleveland, met for the purpose of organizing a Byzantine Catholic parish. They were Stephen Monchak, Wasil Molchan, Wasil Zevchik, John Radio and Michael Kurak. The fruit of their labor was the compilation of the names of 137 families.

 

God's hand led them to send a committee to report to the Dean, Very Reverend Edmund Tabakovich, who accepted their invitation to be present at an assembly of the faithful on August 15, 1938. Also attending were the neighboring pastors: Fathers Stephen Petrick, John Krusko, Stephen Gulyassy and George Hritz.

 

72 family were present at this meeting . . . "the founders" of St. Mary. The statutes of the new congregation were provided by HIs Excellency, Bishop Basil Takach. These were read to the group and unanimously accepted; this the new parish was canonically founded. The presiding official, the Reverend Dean, announced officially that from this day on, the parish was recognized as a part of our diocese, under the patronage of MARY, the Dormition of the Mother of God.

 

The election of committeemen took place; they took their oath of office, and made the first collection for the new parish: $17.18. These men were:

 

Mike Kurak Mike Slepecky
Andrew Rash John Mohnacky
Stephen Monchak John Maruchnicz
George Lesso Henry Homer
Wasil Molchan Peter Zidik
John Freight Mike Korsnak
George Hallahan Mike Dudiak
John Chizmar Emil Skripko
Mike Barilka Peter Hmelar
Joseph Furda Andrew Hlebasko
Basil Petruska John Lucas

 

 

Now the good people were anxious to have a suitable location for church services.

 

Finally it was decided to rent a small, one floor wooden shop where stone monuments were fabricated, on the corner of West 35th Street and Stickney Ave. A rental fee of $30.00 a month was agreed upon, together with a three year lease and an option for the purchase of the building. Eagerly, the new parishioners transformed the mechanical shop into a temporary church. The total expenditure for pews, lumber and furnishings was $1,143.00.

 

A little tower was placed on the roof to designate the building as a Church. This together with a simple little altar were made by two devoted parishioners. Plans then were made to bless this crude little place for worship. The building having been made acceptable, the congregation awaited its first temporary pastor - Father Stephen Petrick. The eventful day of the blessing took place on the 25th of September, 1938, when the Dean, Father Tabakovich, assisted by the Reverend Fathers Petrick, Krusko and Hritz, blessed the new church.

 

In 1939 the congregation bought additional lots adjoining the first location. The lot on the Stickney side was bought for $500.00. A second lot was later purchased for $1,775.00. In the meantime, repeatedly petitioning Bishop Takach, they received the good news that "finally, in the early part of 1939, the Bishop gave his consent and sent them their first permanent pastor, the young Father Daniel Ivancho" (coming from Holy Ghost Church, ordained September 30, 1934 and leaving his pastorate at St. John Church, Minneapolis). His first baptism was James Wismar (July 9); first marriage, Francis Esper and Mary Slepecky (August 5); and first funeral, George Kocis (September 17).

 

The parish eagerly cooperated with their new spiritual leader. His energy and tireless work brought on not only spiritual but also material progress. The wooden building - church was purchased outright as well as 3 more lots. A rectory was built at a cost of $13,000.00.

 

A recreation hall and auditorium were built adjoining the little church. This was such an excellent gathering place for the parishioners and kept them in a thriving communal spirit. Here Communion breakfasts were served, religious plays and concerts were given, and bazaars and entertainments were held.

 

Gradually the little flock grew; financial strength increased - a symbol of the sacrificial hearts of the people. In a few years, careful thrift and economy brought the total cash on hand to $69,100.00. Plans were underway for a new church to be built on the corner of Biddulph and West 35th Street. However, these ambitious plans could not be materialized at this time because of the outbreak of World War II.

 

The efforts of the youthful pastor were climaxed when on August 29, 1946, the Apostolic Delegate in Washington, D.C. announced that "the Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, has appointed Father Ivancho (our pastor!) the titular bishop of Europus and coadjutor bishop with the right of succession to the Most Reverend Basil Takach, Apostolic Exarch of the Ruthenian Catholics in the United State of America."

 

With Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen offering the homily, he was consecrated Bishop in St. Paul's Cathedral, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on November 5, 1946. At that time St. Mary Church was the recipient of an honor that had never fallen on any parish in the history of our people in America!
However, in November 1945, a newly ordained Father Emil Masich was sent to St Mary Church to assist the temporarily ailing Father Ivancho. When Bishop Ivancho departed to assist Bishop Takach at the Cathedral in Homestead, Pennsylvania, Father Emil was appointed administrator of the parish. He was cordially received in the parish. His youthful vigor and zeal promoted the same good spirit that the Most Reverend Bishop had nurtured. He organized athletics and guided the youth activities of the congregation with much interest.

 

On April 1, 1947, Father Nicholas Elko was appointed pastor. The good people responded to a money raising campaign so generously that plans for the new church were initiated. The groundbreaking took place October 3, 1948 with the Dean, Father Tabakovich and Monsignor Tomislav Firis officiating. On May 9, 1949 our former pastor and good Bishop returned to bless the cornerstone for the church. On April 30, 1950 he officiated at the Solemn Blessing and Dedication of the new St. Mary Church, with Bishop Edward F. Hoban and Bishop Floyd L. Begin and the Right Reverend Abbot Theodore Kojis, O.S.B. attending. A new big page in our parish story and history!

 

Father Joseph Bodnar (later Monsignor) was appointed pastor on November 15, 1952,beginning 25 years of dedicated service and fond cherished memories and relationships. In 1955 increased parking problems resulted in the demolition of the old church and hall, which for the first time made off-street parking available. The news came from Rome, that the second St. Mary pastor had been elevated and consecrated there on March 6, 1955: Most Reverend Nicholas T. Elko. He continued to show his interest in the development of the parish, as he conferred with Father Bodnar on the needs of a parochial school.

 

In February 1956 the Corpus Christi Church property (4119 Stickney Ave.) was purchased from the Diocese of Cleveland for the amount of $34,828.00, with the intention of beginning a temporary school. With the permission from Bishop Elko, work began on June 10, 1956 to convert the former church into a school and a former rectory into the convent. The renovation work was completed for His Excellency to return to his former parish to dedicate the 3 room parochial school on August 19, 1956 .

 

School bells opened the first scholastic school year on September 3, 1956, as 84 enrolled students were met by 2 sisters of the religious order, Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate, from Toronto, Canada and lay teacher, Mrs. Eleanor Bushi. On September 5 a passenger school bus was purchased to transport the pioneer students. The Parent Teachers Unit (PTU) was organized at this time.

 

In later years the Sisters of St. Basil the Great from Uniontown, Pennsylvania came to labor with love, talent and dedication, assisted by an increasing number of lay staff members. How quietly, arduously and effectively they have sacrificed and emptied themselves through their teaching ministry in shaping the minds and hearts of the young.(D)

 

September, 1957 saw the enrollment increase to 134 pupils, with the addition of a 5th grade. The following years there came 191 students and 2 sixth grades. Plans were formulated in 1958 to build a new and bigger school next to the Church on State Road and to sell the old school to the Circle Workshop for the Handicapped for $60,158.00. Father Bodnar, with the Parish Committee, submitted the new school plans to Bishop Elko. Architect Nicholas Lesko was approved, and the contract for construction granted to M. Glagola, Inc. July 15, 1958 Bishop Stephen J. Kocisko (auxiliary bishop) came from Pittsburgh for the groundbreaking ceremony; and on March 1, 1959 Bishop Elko officiated at the solemn cornerstone blessing. Work progressed, and on February 28, 1960, Bishop Elko returned for the dedication of the new school. The building was completely equipped, including a modern kitchen and cafeteria, managed by Mrs. Mary Danko. Kindergarten through the 8th grade were provided in 1960-1961. The school year of 1961-1962 had an enrollment of 374 pupils!

 

No story can be told of the history of any Byzantine Catholic Church in the world without mentioning the position and role of the parish cantor. The cantor is an integral part of parish life, leading the congregation in singing the responses during Divine Worship.

 

Through the years, cantors were often taken for granted - unsung heroes who continued to do their best for our people in spite of many hardships and misunderstandings. Historically , cantors were often Defenders of the Faith. They preserved the fullness of our heritage and liturgical tradition, especially during politically trying times. St. Mary Church has been blessed with the good fortune of having talented and dedicated men serving as Cantors with great devotion. In the early days they not only sang at all liturgical services, but were called upon to teach the elements of faith to the parish children, to conduct a choir, to organize and direct plays as part of the cultural activity of the parish, to prepare young boys to serve at the altar and to accept other duties proposed by the pastor.

 

During the first 50 years, cantors included Michael Kurak (1938), Michael Zaretsky (1940) and Michael Stinich (1947); followed by Professor Nicholas Kalvin who arrived in 1950 and became a memorable institution within the parish. He joined the parish school staff in 1959; was the heartbeat of Byzantine Catholicism at St. Mary until one month before St. Mary Church's Golden Anniversary in 1988. He fell asleep in the Lord, on July 15, 1988.

 

Monsignor Bodnar not only was concerned with the spiritual life of the parishioners but their personal and financial lives . In 1960, he established, with the leadership of Joseph Makuh, the St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Credit Union to assist parishioners in obtaining loans and savings accounts. First housed as an office in the Church basement, the growth and success of the credit union blossomed and a small office was purchased on State Road. The dedication of parishioners shown in response by volunteering to be board members and supporting this institution with savings accounts and loans. Many a new car seen in the church parking lot was there with the assistance of the credit union. Two current parishioners, Mary Glagola and John Dragan, each provided dedicated service for fifty years as board members. Eventually the credit union expanded its membership to include all churches in the Eparchy of Parma and changed its name to Byzantine Catholic Credit Union. Economic times became tough, banks were hard to compete with and its membership dwindled. However, to provide continued service, in 2012 the Byzantine Catholic Credit Union merged with Unity Catholic Credit Union and still maintains the Byzantine office at 4682 State Rd.

 

Our parish story continues....on May 29, 1977 the parish family gathered for an Appreciation Day for Monsignor Bodnar, ending 25 years of dedicated service. " For some of the parishioners at St. Mary, he was the only pastor they had ever known. To all he had been not only pastor, but a friend and part of the family." Msgr. Bodnar suffering ill health had the assistance of Deacon Michael Hayduk in the spring of 1977. On June 1, 1977, the newly ordained Fr. Michael Hayduk was assigned as an assistant. This assignment lasted one day; Msgr. Bodnar left on sick leave the next day, and Fr. Mike served the parish as administrator until October when Monsignor Basil Smochko was made pastor. Monsignor Bodnar passed away in 1980 while serving in Whiting, Indiana.

 

On January 20, 1981, the adjacent old Producers property was purchased for $325,000.00 Loans were secured to renovate the building, and the Crystal Chalet catering hall was officially opened in November 1982. The property initially housed the day care program, the preschool and two kindergarten classes of St. Mary School.

 

Very Reverend Dennis Hrubiak became pastor on August 1, 1985. During his term of guidance and administration, the parish family celebrated the Golden Anniversary (50th) in 1988 and the opening of St. Mary Hospitality House in 1989.

 

Fr. Michael Hayduk returned to St. Mary as pastor in 1992. He provided spiritual guidance and leadership to parishioners until 1997. In 1996, Father Mike suffered a series of heart attacks and was placed on sick leave. He continued to reside at St. Mary during this time having the assistance of Fr. Emil Masich and Fr. Ron Timock. Fr. Ron commuted from the seminary in Pittsburgh every weekend to offer liturgy and assist in the needs of the parish. After Fr. Hayduk recovered, he was assigned to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and Fr. Ron served as administrator of St. Mary from late 1997 until June 30, 1998, when he returned to his diocese in Michigan.

 

Down through the years prayers have been offered: "O Master, call Good Workers to the Harvest!", and several young men of the parish have answered the call to the Holy Priesthood as parish vocations: †Fr. George Evancho (ordained 1964); Fr. John Lucas (ordained 1966); †Fr. Joseph Zombor, S.J (ordained 1967), Fr. James Batcha (ordained 1985) and Fr. Joseph Repko (ordained 1995). Other vocations from our parish and school include Deacon Joseph Hnat (ordained 2008) and Dr. Deacon John Petrus (ordained 2001). Both are married men with families and maintain professions besides their deaconate duties. Deacon Joe serves here at St. Mary and Deacon John is currently serving at St. Emilian in Brunswick, OH. Subdeacon Andrew Summerson, also a parishioner and graduate of our school is currently studying in Rome.

 

During the years of 1956 through the late 1980's, the pastors of the church did have associates present in the parish to assist and serve the parishioners. Serving with Monsignor Bodnar were Fathers: Robert Radvansky and Nicholas Ivan (in 1956), John Volosin (1957), Nicholas Kraynak (1959), John Opalenick (1961), Alexander Nanko (1963), Robert Ruglovsky, Joseph Zambor, S.J. (1969), Paul Bovankovich and William Blum (1970) and Vladimir Wiwcharowsky (1974).

 

Assisting Monsignor Smochko were Fathers: Basil Hutsko (1979), Richard Janowicz (1980), Emil Masich (1981), Gary Francisko (1982) and John Zolota, S.M. (1985). With Father Hrubiak (1986) in parish ministry were Fathers: Bryan Eyman (1985), John Trompak (1987) and Father Emil Masich in residence (1988).

 

In the 1990’s, with Fr. Michael Hayduk (1992) was Ron Timock (1997/98) and with Fr. Steve Koplinka (1998) was Fr. Terrence Farmer (2003).

 

In March 1989, St. Mary started a Hospitality House in the front area of the Old Producers building, serving hot meals every Tuesday to all those who entered their doors. Whether needy due the economic times, or just in search of friendship, laughter or support, the Hospitality House provides a comfort to many. After 13 years on State Rd., the Hospitality House relocated in July 2002 to Holy Spirit Byzantine Catholic Church on W. 54th in Parma where it still continues to provide food and friendship every Tuesday. Everyone who has helped out over the years and there have been hundreds, have a calling to be of service. Many of the workers have retired or passed on, but are always remembered. Dorothy and Ken Papke have selflessly given of their time and talents organizing and maintaining this wonderful Outreach.

 

In 2002 the front building of the Producers complex was sold to a local businessman in hope of restoring businesses to the area. A few years later the Kindergarten class and the Student Library were moved to the Church Basement, so all students could be housed within one structure. Currently (2013) the preschool and daycare have moved into the Main School /Church complex allowing all children an environment of learning and safety under one roof.

 

St. Mary School has remained a very solid educator of a wide range of children from many backgrounds. Their education well prepares them for the rigors of High School life. St. Mary School is currently the ONLY Byzantine Catholic School in America , maintaining grade K through 8. Both the school and parish take great pride in this status. We no longer have nuns as part of the teaching staff, which is a recent happening. We do have a fine group of teachers imparting their years of knowledge to the children to strive for the best they can be!

 

Fr. Steven Koplinka joined us in July of 1998 - It’s hard to believe 15 years have passed already. He has been in Cleveland since 1995, after spending 25 years in the monastic life at St. Benedict's Abbey, Benet Lake, Wisconsin. Things near and dear to his heart besides St. Mary Church and School are his native Long Island home, where his sister, brothers and their families still reside. His love for those ‘darn’ Yankees, always a major rivalry of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, has made from some interesting and fun filled bickering with parishioners. His passion for organ music started during the monastery days and he enjoys providing an impromptu concert for anyone visiting. And we cannot forget to mention his furry/ feathery family of 2 cats and a bird, Bootsie, Max and Twinkie along with being a great fan of "Snoopy and Friends".

 

Our parish is blessed to have Fr. Steve serve our congregation with pride, common sense and practical leadership, as the parish family continues to grow. We currently have an active Pastoral Council, established over 13 years ago to be the backbone of parish activity and fundraising. A financial council to oversee and make major monetary and economic decisions. The Committee men, Altar Society and altar servers in their capacities assist in making the church continue to run smoothly. We have our PPS (Pierogi Pinchers Society), a loyal group of volunteers, who prepare this delicious part of our heritage and raise much needed funds. While our Choirs of years past, under great leadership, are now very fond memories; today we continue to praise God with a Choral group of devoted parish members who love to sing and give glory to God. The group rehearses the old and incorporates new choral selections under the leadership of a member who has sung in a choir since she was a young teenager. In addition to the choral group, we have four cantors who also give selflessly of their time.

 

Our Parish celebrates its 75 anniversary with great pride. Yes, things have changed over 75 years, we have sadly lost founders and benefactors, beloved clergy and religious; we have seen families grow up and move to other parts of the country; our buildings have aged just as many of us have......BUT, we see parishioners coming together to celebrate the Liturgy; enjoying each other's company by having coffee together or chatting outside the church; we see young families with little ones attend and we all participate in the Baptism, Chrismation and receiving of Holy Eucharist of our littlest and newest members of our parish family.

 

We are St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church in Cleveland, OHIO, celebrating 75 years!
               

                       Mnohaja L'ita            Blahaja L'ita

 

 

     
 

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4600 State Road

Cleveland , OH 44109

(216) 741-7979

 

 

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