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St. Josaphat's Parish: Then and Now
Fifty years of existence for St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Catholic Parish and Church provides us with a measured time frame for reflecting in the present upon events of the past, which shaped our future. Looking back to the situation in Ukraine, the status of the Ukrainian Catholic church, and our own parish in 1951 and comparing it to today, we cannot be struck by the contrast and how far Ukraine, the Ukrainian Catholic church, and St. Josaphat's parish have come in five decades.
In 1951, while many Ukrainians that were displaced from their homeland were arriving in American and settling in the New Britain area, others were still fighting for their freedom in Ukraine. The underground Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), having fought the Nazis, continued its struggle against overwhelming odds for several more years.
Following the death of Ukraine's greatest churchman, Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytsky in 1944, his coadjutor Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj became Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. By the time the Soviet forces had re-occupied Ukraine and perpetrated atrocities against the Ukrainian Catholic church. Joseph Stalin gave the order to destroy and liquidate the Ukrainian church. The soviets arrested all the hierarchy and many believers. Metropolitan Slipyj was arrested and imprisoned in the inhospitable frozen Soviet gulags.
The church of our forefathers was forced to go underground in order to sustain its existence in a very dangerous environment. In two more years Joseph Stalin would finally be dead. This dictator of the USSR was responsible for the Artificial Famine of 1933-34 (where up to 14 million Ukrainians were killed); and for the destruction of our Ukrainian Catholic church. He outlawed our church and declared it illegal. It wasn't until after Stalin's death that the Ukrainians Diaspora was able to find out that Bishop Slipyj was still alive and these rumors provided hope for the further existence of our "catacomb" church.
At a time early in the Cold War, with their country devastated by invaders and yet again under the heel of this communist despot, a handful of God-fearing people newly arrived in this free land of George Washington, set about a task with vision and determination to show that they could still worship in there own Ukrainian Catholic church in the New Britain area, and God-willing would worship again someday in Ukraine. They established St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Catholic Mission, providing a base upon which they would establish St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Catholic Parish and build St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Catholic church.
One of the pioneers and founders of St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Catholic Church was the family of Peter and Kateryna Chlibowicz. Initially, meetings took place in the Chlibowicz home. They were also instrumental in sponsoring eighteen families to immigrate to the New Britain area, increasing the membership of the new Ukrainian Community.
At times, the family of Iwan and Natalie Hudyma allowed their home to be used for church organizational meetings and related activities.
Pavlo and Paraskevia Tinyszin were another active pioneer family, who provided assistance to the new arrivals. Their sons Mikolaj and Wasyl Tinyszin helped them in these endeavors. The Tinyszin family also used their home for many community and parish meetings.
Other founders and pioneers who helped lay the foundation for the Ukrainian Catholic parish were the families of Jaroslav and Sofia Hrycaj, Mychajlo and Helen Stasiuk, and Stefan and Kateryna Perun. There were times when the family of Joseph and Maria Sycz hosted visiting clergy in their home, including his Excellency Bishop Schmondiuk of Stamford.
The establishment of a Mission Parish in New Britain, CT was
already in its formative stage during the time line November 1950
through February 17th, 1951. The first meeting of the Initiative
Group for the establishment of a Ukrainian Catholic Community
in New Britain took place February 10th, 1951, at the home of
the Chlibowicz family. Present were:
Msgr. Balandiuk presented the trials and hardships the Group
could face in establishing a new community with such a small group
of people. Nevertheless, the Group decided to go forth with their
On February 13th, 1951, Rev. Volodymyr Korchynsky organized the
Ukrainian Catholic community. With the blessings of Metropolitan
Constantine Bohachevsky of Philadelphia, a General Meeting was
held in the Chlibowicz home (at 179 Curtiss Street), establishing
a new mission for the Ukrainian Catholic community in the New
Britain area. The first Church Committee assembled to assist the
pastor with the organization and management of the new mission
The martyr St. Josaphat, the "Apostle of Church Unity", was chosen as the Patron Saint of the new mission, laying the foundation of St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Catholic Parish and Church. Father Korchynsky continued to serve St. Josaphat's for the next ten years, traveling from Colchester to minister to his extended flock.
The Church Committee advisors Pavlo Tinyszin and Iwan Hudyma placed an ad in Svoboda announcing the reestablishment of the Ukrainian Catholic parish in New Britain as of February 17th. They extended an invitation for all Ukrainians to take part in the Divine Liturgy according to the Byzantine-Ukrainian Rite, which was celebrated by Rev. Korchynsky in St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church on March 11th, 1951. The guest cantor was Stefan Saworsky with the Colchester Choir. A festive reception in honor of this occasion was held at the home of the Hudyma family.
The founding pioneers legally incorporated St. Josaphat's Ukrainian
Catholic Church on July 9th, 1951. Pavlo Tinyszin served as the
process agent of the document on behalf of the founders. The following
founders personally appeared and signed the articles of association:
The Commissioner of the Hartford County Superior Court approved the incorporation on August 31st, 1951. The deed was recorded into the New Britain Records on September 6th, 1951. An informational item appeared in The New Britain Herald shortly thereafter announcing the Articles of Association for the new mission parish. The year 1951 ended with thirty-eight registered families at St. Josaphat's Mission as noted below:
St. Josaphat's Mission continued to grow as the cultural, religious, and social life continued to unfold. Joseph Sycz became the first Cantor ("Diak") in 1952. Branch 75 of the Providence Association of Ukrainian Catholics in America ("Providinnya") was organized under the patronage of St. Josaphat. Pavlo Tinyszin was President of the Branch for many years. In this capacity, he was able to continue assisting the new comers to St. Josaphat's. The first secretary of Branch 75 was our Cantor, Joseph Sycz. Ukrainian studies were initiated under the tutelage of Mrs. Kateryna Chlibowicz and Mrs. Anna Radowycz. Our Cantor also taught the Ukrainian Language. Later, Mr. Bohdan Markiw commuted from New Haven to teach the Ukrainian Language. Our energetic Joseph Sycz also organized the Ukrainian athletic sports club Skala ("Stone Cliff") for the youth of the parish. Mr. Meczyslav Maciak traveled from Willimantic to organize a mixed choir of St. Josaphat's. A branch of the Ukrainian American Youth Association of America, SUMA, was also organized at St. Josaphat's. For a time, religious instruction was conducted at the home of the Andrij and Helen Pawlak family.
This growth necessitated the acquisition of our own place of worship. On November 30th, 1955, the former Assyrian Church at 40 Beatty Street was purchased to be used as St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Catholic Church. In the spring of 1956, an old wooden 6-family building was purchased in East Hartford. The men of the parish took the building apart and used the material to renovate and expand the church building. However, the Parish already could foresee that this small church would not be adequate to comply with the growing needs of the parish in the near future.
In 1959, St. Josaphat's gave its only vocation in the person of Sister Dia (Stasiuk) to the Order of the Sisters of St. Basil the Great. In time, with the Grace of God, sister Dia went on to become the Mother of the Order of the Sisters of St. Basil in Rome.
After ten years of untiring work for St. Josaphat's, Father Korchynsky was transferred in 1961. Rev. John Mak became the new pastor. Father Mak established St. Josaphat's Sisterhood, whose mission was to maintain the church in good order and to carry on cultural and educational work. Kateryna Perun headed the sisterhood with the assistance of the committee members: Sophia Hrycaj, Maria Sycz, and Tamara Tinyszin. Dr. Anna Samofal established culinary and cultural courses for the sisterhood. It was at this time that the parish adopted the Gregorian calendar to compute and celebrate the Christmas and Easter holidays.
Following Father Mak's transfer, Rev. Joseph Skulsky became pastor, briefly followed by Rev. Onufrij Wolansky.
Meanwhile, an unexpected event in 1963 injected hope into our Ukrainian Catholic church: with the intervention of Pope John XXIII and U.S. President John F. Kennedy, the Soviet chairman Nikita Khrushchev released Bishop Josyf Slipyj from the gulag. Pope John publicly elevated Metropolitan Slipyj to Cardinal. As Patriarch, Cardinal Slipyj headed our Ukrainian church in exile from Rome until his death in 1984. Since he was not allowed to return to Ukraine, a formerly imprisoned cleric, Archbishop Volodymyr Sterniuk, led the underground Ukrainian Catholic church in locum tenens. Many of our parishioners were able to meet Patriarch Josyf during his visits to the Ukrainian Diaspora in the late 60's and 70's. By the grace of God, Archbishop Sterniuk met with our parishioner's when he visited St. Josaphat's in 1992.
In 1966, a house was purchased to be used as a rectory at 303 Eddy Glover Boulevard. From this time on, His Excellency Bishop Shmondiuk of the Diocese of Stamford assigned a resident priest, Very Rev. Msgr. Mykola Babak, to minister to the needs of St. Josaphat's parishioners. With the transfer of Msgr. Babak in 1967, rev. Wasyl Ostash succeeded, followed by Rev. Constantine Tymochko in 1970. With the departure of Father Tymochko in 1972, Very Rev. Msgr. Lev Mosko, Rector of St. Basil's seminary, served St. Josaphat's. For a very brief time in 1972, Rev Jan Mucharski served as pastor following Msgr. Mosko. There were times during this period when Msgr. Emil Manastersky ministered to St. Josaphat's as the need arose.
Because the parish was contemplating the construction of a new
church, a young and energetic priest, Rev. Charles Mezzomo, was
assigned as the new pastor for St. Josaphat's in 1973. With this
project in mind, on December 12th, 1973, a Church building Committee
was established with the following members:
Members at-large were:
Their first order of business was to request donations from the parishioners for the Church Building Fund. The first family to pledge $1000 was that of Iwan and Paraskevia Sybal. Their generous example was followed by the rest of the parishioners, parish friends and benefactors from the surrounding area.
In addition to a young priest, younger parishioners were elected to the Church committee in early 1974: John Pawlak - Trustee, Richard Iwanik - Trustee; Michael Shulewsky -Assistant; Helena Shulewsky - Member and Catechist. The Building Committee was retained with Adam Zborowski becoming chairman.
In a related event, in the late spring of 1974, Michael Shulewsky was elected secretary of "Providinnya", taking over from Irene Mixon. A membership drive was conducted as a condition for acquiring a $70,000 construction mortgage for the new church from this fraternal organization. Wasyl Tinyszin was elected Chairman; Adam Zborowski - Audit Chairman, Bill Hrychyshyn and Theodore Dubik - Members. Later, Walter and Wanda Melnyk became Visitors to sick members of the branch.
His Excellency Bishop Shmodiuk broke the ground on the lot for the new St. Josaphat Church at 307 Eddy Glover Boulevard, in May. A banquet was held in the hall of Holy Trinity Byzantine Catholic Church not only to note the ground breaking but also the beginning construction of the new church. The James P. Cassidy firm of West Hartford was the architect for the church. Under the guidance of Adam Zborowski, the parishioners provided most of the labor. Richard Iwanik and John Badera Jr., installed the Plumbing and Heating system. John Badera Sr. built the side icon shrines. All parishioners contributed their time, effort, money and labor for this huge undertaking.
Parishioners conducted many different fund raising activities fro the new church. Renee Popyk and Helena Shulewsky organized the first parish Pre-Christmas bazaar at the American-Ukrainian Citizen's Club; Stefan Roczniak headed the first car raffle raising ten thousand dollars; Father Charles raised five thousand dollars selling "bricks"; Kay and Rusty Fallis, assisted by Pavlo Perun and Nikola Sawczuk, sold church breads and food in downtown New Britain; the ladies of the parish, headed by Eva Kerelejza and Helen Pawlak (and later by Maria Sycz with Irene Szeszurak), raised thousands of dollars by selling delicious Ukrainian foods and breads from the church kitchen. These activities continued on through the next several years, raising substantial sums for the church. To this day the "Church Kitchen Ladies", headed by Maria Sycz, sell breads and pyrohy to benefit our church.
Finally, in 1975, the construction of the church was completed. The church was built in neo-Byzantine style with its three gold and blue domes copies of those in St. Sophia Church of Holy Wisdom in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. The interior of the sanctuary features an Icon Screen ("Iconostasis") in the typical design of Ukrainian Eastern Rite churches. On November 9th, a jubilant procession took place from the old church on Beatty Street to the new church on Eddy Glover Boulevard. This momentous event was televised by the NBC affiliate WNBC-TV30. On November 16th, 1957, Bishop Joseph Schmondiuk blessed the new church. St. Josaphat's choir under the direction of Ihor Stasiuk sang the first Divine Liturgy in the new church. A banquet was held later at the Gourmets Rendezvous Restaurant in Newington.
In 1976, St. Josaphat's parish celebrated its Silver Jubilee. Bishop Schmondiuk Blessed the cornerstone of the new church. A festive Dinner/Dance was held at the American-Ukrainian Citizen's Club. Among related events in 1976, the old church on 40 Beatty Street was sold, and Michael Szewczuk became the new cantor.
There occasionally arose a need for a substitute to minister to our parish needs when our pastor was on vacation. Several times during the mid-seventies, Msgr. Myroslav Lubachivsky would travel from Stamford to fulfill this function. It was prophetic that Pope John Paul II named Msgr. Lubachivsky as Archbishop and ordained him to the episcopacy in November of 1979. In 1980, Archbishop Lubachivsky was elected coadjutor to Patriarch Myroslav-Ivan campaigned against the USSR for the restoration of legal rights so that Ukrainian Catholics could practice their Faith freely and openly.
After seven years of hard work, Father Charles was transferred in the summer of 1980, being replaced by Rev. Lev Lubynsky and his family. The elderly Father Lubynsky was previously ordained to the priesthood by his Beatitude Patriarch Josyf Cardinal Slipyj in 1975 in Rome. During Father Lubynsky's tenure, in the fall of 1980, the parish rejoiced with a festive celebration of the final payoff of the mortgage on St. Josaphat's church to the Providence Association. This was due in large measure to the hard work, generosity, and contributions of our parishioners. A mortgage-burning dinner-dance was held at the American Ukrainian Citizen's Club on Oak Street. In 1973-4, planning and construction was started with $37,000 in the bank. Our church was completed at a cost of $405,000. On the day of becoming owners of our own church again, the current bank balance was $37,000.
A major project during Father Lubynsky's tenure, which was contemplated previously, was the painting of the church. This project was successfully completed on February 19th, 1984. The entire church was artistically painted in the traditional Byzantine-Ukrainian eastern style of iconography and ornamentation by Makarenko studios of Yonkers. Another project completed in 1985, was the bell tower behind the church and the installation of the new church bell "Andrey", named in honor of Metropolitan Andrij Sheptytsky. A "project impromptu" by the parish was the celebration honoring the 10th Anniversary of Father Lubynsky's ordination to the Priesthood on June 16th, 1985.
In 1985, under the leadership and connections of Michael Mowchan Sr. to local and state politicians, St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Catholic parish and St. Mary's Ukrainian Orthodox parish worked together as a community in the naming and opening of State Highway Route 9 as the Taras Shevchenko Expressway. This provided a connector from the edge of Central Connecticut State University to downtown and other points on Route 9.
The Parish Celebration of the Millennium of Christianity in Ukraine-Ruce took place February 21st, 1988. Exterior Mosaics in honor of the Millennium were planned but were not ready until July. However, commemorative plaques honoring the Millennium were installed for the celebration in the entrance to the church.
Meanwhile, in the summer of 1988, Father Lubynsky was transferred to Kerhonkson, NY. Rev. Marian Procyk arrived with his family October 1st. Father Procyk had also been ordained by His Beatitude Patriarch Josyf Slipyj in Rome. Bishop Basil Losten blessed the exterior mosaics of St. Josaphat and St. Volodymyr on October 30th. St. Josaphat was the martyr for church unity; St. Volodymyr was the Emperor of Ukraine-Ruce who adopted Christianity in 988A.D. The mosaics were installed in July.
During his rather active tenure, Father Procyk organized the Parish Youth Group. Some of the activities the youth involved in included computer games, sports, hiking, overnight camping trips, white water rafting, Christmas season activities, and parish projects. Under his guidance, the youth used the parish computer to publish the weekly Church Bulletin and a Youth Journal the Future. Father Procyk also established Bible Study courses for adults.
At a historic meeting of Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev with His Holiness John Paul II in Rome in late 1989, the underground Ukrainian Catholic church was legalized. Patriarch Myroslav-Ivan Lubachivsky returned to Ukraine in March 1991.
Father Procyk was transferred to Buffalo, NY, on August 31st, 1990. The new pastor, Rev. Kiril Angelov, arrived with his family from Stamford. Father Kiril and his family originally hailed from Macedonia.
During Father Angelov's tenure, various projects often discussed in the past were completed. The iconostasis was gold leafed, and the top of the iconostasis was completed with icons of the Apostles. Additional icons in the spaces adjacent to the side doors were installed. The rectory was renovated, and the church grounds refurbished.
On August 24th, 1991, another momentous event occurred: taking advantage of the Soviet putsch, the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Soviet Ukraine declared for independence. The Ukrainian SSR was dissolved and replaced with a new entity, the Republic of Ukraine. Ukraine was free again! This was reaffirmed by an overwhelming majority of 92% Ukraine's electorate during the elections of December 1st, 1991 when Leonid Kravchuk was elected President of Ukraine. The former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic was officially dissolved December 31st, 1991.
On August 24th, 1992, Father Angelov began the first parish celebration commemorating 1 year since the Declaration of Independence by Ukraine on the church grounds. The commemoration of Ukraine's Independence has been held every year since on the Sunday adjacent to the anniversary date.
Father Angelov was transferred in the summer of 1995. The new pastor, Rev. Stephan Bereza, arrived from Yonkers with his family. The Bereza family was a recent arrival from Ukraine.
Under Father Bereza during the time-line of 1995 - 2001, the roof of the church was replaced, the domes were gold leafed, the gutters were replaced, and the grounds re-paved, and other renovations were completed. Together, we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Catholic Parish and Church, November 4th, 2001, the Twenty First century.
We parishioners in the Twenty First century owe a great deal to our founding and pioneer families and parishioners. They set about building their parish and church with meager resources and means. All were recent immigrants and their disposable income was limited for parish, church, and community affairs and projects. Still, they persevered. Through good times and hard times they continued to maintain or upgrade their church. Their strength lay in their fierce resolve, unity of purpose, and love of God.
This year Ukraine celebrated its 12th anniversary of Independence. Slowly, Ukraine is transforming itself into a major European player. Earlier, in June, Pope John Paul II (the "Slavic Pope") paid tribute to Ukraine and our Ukrainian Catholic church by his official visitation to Kyiv and Lviv. His Holiness beatified 28 Ukrainian "martyrs for the faith" for sainthood.
There's no doubt that Ukraine, our Ukrainian Catholic Church and St. Josaphat's parish have come a very long way over the past half-century.