The History of
Holy Protection Ukrainian Catholic Church
in Bridgeport, Connecticut
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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