Archbishop Borys Gudziak Celebrates Divine Liturgy in the United States’ First Ukrainian Catholic Church
On July 24, Metropolitan Borys Gudziak celebrated the Divine Liturgy at Saint Michael’s Church in Shenandoah, PA. This parish, established in 1884, is considered the oldest Ukrainian Catholic congregation on American soil. Metropolitan Borys has visited the parish a few times during his episcopate, but this was the first opportunity to pray with the parishioners, who welcomed him at the gates of the church with the traditional salt and bread.
“I would like to thank you for your faithfulness to God, to your families, to the Church, and to the Gospel. Some of you shared concerns about the future. I come to encourage you not to fear. I come to say: ‘Peace be with you.’ We are called to be people of peace, light, and joy,” the Archbishop remarked.
Parishioners congratulated him for the occasion of his name day–the UGCC commemorates Saint Princes of Kyivan Rus Borys and Hlib on July 24. Archbishop Borys shared with them the history and meaning of the saints’ Christ-like sacrifice.
The original St. Michael’s Church building burned to the ground on April 7, 1980, and the current structure was constructed in 1984. The only thing preserved from the fire is the wooden processional cross which was being restored offsite at the time. Bishop Emeritus John Bura was rector of the parish in Shenandoah from 1976 to 1987 and headed the rebuilding process. “Bishop John put in a lot of thought and effort for the church to look as it does today. Some say that it is the most attractive building in the city,” explained Monsignor Myron Grabowsky, current pastor.
Archbishop Borys came to Shenandoah with his small communications team. The team plans to prepare a series of short films about the parishes of the Archeparchy and has started with those of the Anthracite Deanery which are the oldest.
Ukrainian immigration to the US began in the 1870s. On July 16, 1884, the faithful of Shenandoah wrote to Metropolitan Sylvester Sembratowych, then head of the UGCC, for a priest of their own rite and language. In 1884, Rev. John Voliansky arrived in town. He held the first service shortly before Christmas 1885 and the next year supervised the purchase of two buildings on Center Street. Over a period of four years, Voliansky established Greek-Catholic communities and built churches in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Minnesota. St. Michael’s congregation continued to grow as family members followed one another into Pennsylvania’s coal region, and in 1909 the first church building was completed. The inaugural Divine Liturgy was celebrated on Palm Sunday 1909.
On the morning of April 7, 1980, a fire destroyed the church and most of the priceless artifacts and icons within. Preparations for a new building began almost immediately, which was completed several years later, a century after the parish’s genesis.