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The History of
Holy Protection Ukrainian Catholic Church
in Bridgeport, Connecticut
(From the 40th Anniversary Booklet – October 7, 1990)

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of our parish, let us look back upon the history of our parish as well as the long-lasting contributions of its parishioners to the Ukrainian community in Bridgeport and beyond. The parish of the Holy Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary provided not only spiritual sustenance for newly arrived Ukrainian Catholics after World War II, but also became the center of community social life. Although the renewal of our parish began in 1950, its actual origins began much earlier.

Shortly after World War I a small group of Ukrainian immigrants settled in Connecticut and with their strong faith and love of God and Church in their native land, they resolved to establish their Eastern-rite Church in their adopted land. The first Church Committee was selected with the following leadership: Wolodymyr Venhyrnovych as Committee head; John Hleva, secretary and Leontyj Byko, treasurer.

The earliest liturgical services were conducted in the Roman Catholic Church located on Pembroke Street in Bridgeport, Connecticut. A Ukrainian priest, Father Onufrey Kowalshky, celebrated the first liturgy. It was largely through Fr. KowalshkyÕs efforts and those of his parishioners, that a church, located on Beach Street was purchased and renamed the Holy Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The church was renovated in time to celebrate the Liturgy of the feast of the Holy Protection of the BVM in October of 1922, within its own walls.

The second pastor assigned to the church from 1925 to 1926, was Fr. O. Kozoris. The canonical visitations to the parish of His Excellency Bishop K. Bohachevsky stem from this period. From 1926 to 1933 Fr. Volynetcz and Fr. Ulytsky served as pastors. In 1933 the parish ceased to be Catholic; in 1939 the parish charter was rewritten and the parish was incorporated in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Following the conclusion of World War II, particularly in the years 1947-1950, saw thousands of Ukrainian refugees resettling from many European nations to the United States. The Ukrainian community in Bridgeport, among others, extended the hand of human kindness to some 25 to 30 families of Ukrainian origins. These newly arrived Ukrainians were generously aided in their quest for apartments and jobs by Ukrainians from the earlier and ÒoldÕ immigration and their families. By 1949 the numbers of newcomers had swelled the ranks of the Ukrainian community to a fairly generous proportion. We all felt, however, a great emptiness in our lives because we lacked our own Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Twelve families of the ÒoldÓ immigrants, feeling the same need to belong to the Ukrainian Catholic Church, joined the ranks of the ÒnewÓ immigrants. Between 1948 to 1949 Bohdan Seniw was one individual who worked tirelessly and selflessly against all odds and obstacles to effect the organization and establishment of a Ukrainian Catholic Church. Mr. Seniw was aided in his efforts by the good counsel and hard work of Monsignor Danylo Matchkiw, at that time, the pastor of the Carpatho-Greek Catholic Church.

At a general meeting in 1949 plans were drawn up to begin the organization of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and an ÒInitiatingÓ Committee was formed, consisting of Bohdan Seniw, George Dobosz, Mychailo Halkewycz, Dimitry Charnowskyj and Roman Stec. Designated members B. Seniw, G. Dobosz and J. Fedoronko traveled to the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ansonia, Connecticut and appealed to the then pastor, Fr. Wasyl (Basil) Lar, to present to the Bishop a strong case for both the establishment of the Ukrainian Catholic parish in Bridgeport and a priest to serve its needs.

In January of 1950, His Excellency Bishop Constantine assigned Fr. Petro Melnychuk as our pastor. Fr. MelnychukÕs lack of fluency in English, however, made his pastoral work extremely difficult, particularly in traveling and asking families to join the parish. Thanks to the generosity of the parishioners and with GodÕs help, the organizational work was successful.

Father Melnychuk celebrated the first liturgy in the Ukrainian National Home which was located at 500 Hallet Street. Later, with the cooperation and permission of Fr. Santolini, Sunday liturgies were held in a Roman Catholic Church in the neighboring Italian community.

Fr. Melnychuk remained with the parish for only five months. In May of 1950, Fr. Yaroslav Shust arrived as pastor and remained at this task, selflessly serving his parish and its spiritual needs, for thirty-six years, until his well-deserved retirement in 1986.

In 1951, through the efforts of Fr. Shust and the Church Committee, we received permission from the pastor of the Roman Catholic Church on Pembroke Street to hold our Liturgies in his school gymnasium. At this time the church choir was organized under the direction of Ivan Kozak and its main function became the singing of the Divine Liturgy. Shortly after this Bohdan Seniw and Myroslav Zelyk learned that a church and rectory, located on Grant Street, would be up for sale; they informed Dimitry Charnowskyj of this fact. Finally, the pastor and Church Committee became involved in the matter and the parish voted to purchase both buildings for $24,500.

After the purchase of the church and rectory buildings, our church and community life, under the leadership of our spiritual director, quickly flourished. The Church Committee, under the leadership of D. Charnowskyj and with the cooperation of the parishioners, undertook the renovation and painting of both newly acquired structures. After the sanctification and blessing of the church by His Excellency Bishop Constantine, we celebrated the feast of the Holy Protection of the BVM on October of 1952, in our own church. In 1953 Fr. Shust was instrumental in organizing the first kindergarten as well as a ÒParentsÕ CircleÓ in the parish. The following year, with the Professional guidance and organization skills of Mychailyna Shymanska, who became the first teacher, the kindergarten was reorganized into the parish school, also known as ÒRidna Shkola.Ó Students studied religion as well as Ukrainian language, history, literature and geography, and participated in the first school choir, organized by the church choir director Ivan Kozak.

In 1958 we saw the purchase of a building adjoining the church grounds and this, when renovated, was turned over for use by the parish school. On October 19, 1958, our parish celebrated the Òmortgage burningÓ of the loans for the church and rectory buildings.

Beginning in 1951, under the leadership of our pastor and the Church Committee, and with the active involvement of the parishioners, our parish life began to progressively grow and expand.  With the encouragement of our pastor, Fr. Shust, the ÒSisterhood,Ó headed for many years by Anna Charnowska, was established. ÒPlast,Ó a youth group was also organized at this time. Celebrations and commemorations of our Ukrainian national holidays included performances by the church choir, dance groups, ÒbanduraÓ ensembles and childrenÕs theatrical skits. In addition, there were many dances, meetings, bazaars, Feast Day dinners, Christmas ÒProsfora,Ó and Easter ÒSviatcheneÕ celebrations over the years.

In 1966 state authorities notified us that our church and school properties were needed for the construction of a hospital. A Building Committee, to oversee either the construction of a new building or the purchase of a church on the corner of Noble and Barnum Avenues, was established. At a general meeting of the parish to discuss the matter, a majority of the parishioners voted for the purchase of the church on Noble and Barnum Avenues. The purchase agreement for the church property, which included a large hall and other rooms, was completed in August of 1970.

After the purchase of the church in 1970, our parish continued its work. In our new facility, Fr. Shust, with the help of teachers M. Shymanska, M. Czubaty, N. Shust, l. Fedoronko, J. Katrechko and l, Nazernok, continued and expanded the program of Ukrainian Studies. One room was set aside as the Plast meeting hall. The church choir, too, continued to flourish under a series of successful directors including, Ivan Kozak, Ivan Chomiak and Mychilo Zajac.

The parish marked its Silver Jubilee in 1975 with a Pontifical Divine Liturgy, which was celebrated by His Excellency Bishop Joseph Schmondiuk. A festive banquet and program, in which guests participated, followed the Liturgy. The Church Committee published a commemorative souvenir booklet, complete with historical photographs and greetings from well-wishers, as a memento of the Silver Jubilee.

With the purchase of the new church, the Church Committee began the process of renovating, painting and decorating the church with large wall icons. The artist B. Makarenko painted the icons, which were donated by individual parishioners and the Sisterhood. The new icons were blessed by His Exxcellency Bishop Basil H. Losten in November of 1978.

In 1978, the parish celebrated with great joy and ceremony, the Golden Jubilee of the ordination of its worthy and long-serving pastor, the Very Rev. Yaroslaw Canon Shust. His Excellency Bishop Basil H. Losten celebrated a Pontifical Divine Liturgy with fourteen priests, for the assembled guests and parishioners. Later, at the Jubilee banquet which followed, the many speeches and greetings all emphasized Fr. ShustÕs past achievements and particularly his steadfast devotion to and support of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and his unwavering belief in the dream of a fully realized Patriarchate.

In September of 1983, the Ukrainian community in Bridgeport observed the sad fifty-year anniversary of the man-made famine in Ukraine during the 1930Õs. Parishioners and priests of all three area Ukrainian churches participated in the blessing of a memorial plaque during ÒMolebenÓ services.  A memorial oak tree as well as the plaque are located on the grounds of Sacred Heart University and are among the documents registered in the archives of both the city of Bridgeport and the university.

In February of 1984, we saw the establishment of a branch of the Ukrainian Patriarchate by the activist, Wolodymyr Susla, this was the fulfillment of a dream.  Twenty-two parishioners joined the society as charter members and elected Ihor Hayda as its head. All the members of this society are active members of the parish family in addition to working for the confirmation of the Patriarchate for the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

On June 1, 1986, Fr. Yaroslaw Shust retired to a well-deserved rest. After the celebration, all the parishioners present assembled in the church hall to bid farewell to the pastor and his wife and they thanked them for all their years of dedicated service to the parish community. During this time, the parish welcomed Fr. Basil Juli as the temporary pastor who remained with us for a few months and brought much spiritual fulfillment.

In July of 1986, the parish welcomed a new pastor, Fr. John Terlecky, who in 1989 was elevated to the title of Archpriest by His Excellency Bishop Basil H. Losten. Fr. John, working with the Church Committee, was instrumental in purchasing a building across the street from the church to be used as the rectory. His Excellency Bishop Basil H. Losten blessed the new rectory when he visited in October of 1987. Fr. Terlecky worked very hard to attract our youth into active church-community life. In addition, Fr. John Terlecky welcomed many children into the parish religious instruction classes taught by catechists: Ann Marie Shushelnycky, Irene Demkiw, Lesia Wuchek, Diane Lytwyn and Margaret Romaniw under the leadership of Roma Hayda.

As the thousand year anniversary of Christianity in Ukraine neared, parishioners decided to observe the event in a particularly spiritual fashion. A ÒMilleniumÓ committee, headed by R. Hayda, was selected with representation from all three Ukrainian churches in the city of Bridgeport. These churches were: Holy Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic parish, the Orthodox parish and Holy Trinity Orthodox Church.

In the spirit of ecumenism and Christian love, parishioners of all three parishes visited and made offerings at each otherÕs churches. A moving moment of the celebration of 1000 years of Christianity in Ukraine occurred in January of 1989, during the ÒChristening MolebenÓ at the lake in Beardsley Park when a cross made of ice was used during the ceremony. Clergy and parishioners of all three are Ukrainian churches participating in the ÒMolebenÓ service, many carrying church banners and flags. Among the distinguished guests in attendance, who witnessed the ÒMolebenÓ service and the release of pigeons, were Congressman Christopher Shay, the mayor of Bridgeport, Thomas Bucci and representatives of many churches and organizations. The climax of the festivities commemorating a thousand years of Christianity in Ukraine was the concert, of Ukrainian religious music given by Musicus Bortniansky from Toronto at the Kievan auditorium. This professional choir included the music of composers such as Bortniansky, Hnatyshyn, Berezowskyj, Vedel and others. And finally Maria Oniszko commissioned, in the memory of her parents, a low-relief bronze sculptured plaque for our church, to serve as a permanent memorial of the first 1000 years of Christianity.

On October 29, 1989, Fr. John Terlecky was transferred to Hempstead, New York by His Excellency Bishop Basil H. Losten and was replaced briefly by Fr. Bohdan Karas.  Although Fr. John Terlecky served as parish spiritual and administrative leader for a short period of time, he made a strong impression on his parishioners who gave a particularly moving farewell.

In January of 1990, Fr. Edward P. Young was assigned to the parish and energetically continued the work of his predecessors. At a joint meeting of the Church Committee and Sisterhood, in March of 1990, the decision was made to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our parish on the feast day of the Holy Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary on October 7, 1990. The Jubilee Committee was selected and chaired by Wasyl Peleschuk.

In June of 1990 Fr. Edward P. Young was transferred to Johnson City, New York and we welcomed Fr. Eugene Popowicz as our temporary pastor for two months, as he had to return to Rome for his studies. On September 1, 1990 we welcomed Fr. Michael Bundz as our new pastor.

It is worth noting that the Church Committee over the past years has overcome many obstacles in its works to benefit our Church through its various activities and functions.

To be continued

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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