“It’s hard to maintain a link to a culture that’s far away and that’s old,” admits Andrij Chornodolsky of Saint Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church, the distinctive, golden-domed structure at 2401 Eastern Ave., near the southwest corner of Patterson Park.
Nevertheless, the arduous task of maintaining that link over the last 120-or-so years has exercised and strengthened both the church itself and Baltimore’s Ukrainian community.
Now, 100 years after the first incarnation of St. Michael’s was built on S. Wolfe St., the congregation is inviting all to take part in its Centennial.
It’s a celebration of 100 years of solidarity and worship under one roof—St. Michael’s Church—as well as a reflection on a difficult and meaningful journey.
“It’s a rough history,” says Chornodolsky, speaking about the Ukrainian people, whose wider story he frequently weaves into the narrative of St. Michael’s. “It’s hard to comprehend, and for most Americans, it spins their head trying to figure out who these Ukrainians are.”
In the 1890s, Ukrainians began settling in Fell’s Point and Canton, and had no church of their own in which to worship and bond as a community.
According to “The Ukrainians of Maryland,” a history written by Stephen Basarab, Paul Fenchak, Wolodymyr Sushko and others, either traveling Ukrainian priests or Polish priests from nearby St. Stanislaus Catholic Church or St. Casimir’s Church led Ukrainian Catholic church services for the new immigrants.
“These were good, kind priests,” Chornodolsky says of the Polish pastors who added the Ukrainians to their responsibilities.
In 1910, a Philadelphia Ukrainian Catholic bishop (the Ukrainian community was already established there) assigned Father Zachary Orun to Baltimore, specifically to provide religious service and leadership to the Ukrainian communities that had grown up in Curtis Bay and the Fell’s Point, Canton, and Highlandtown areas.
“[Orun] was an incredibly dynamic, very intelligent priest,” says Chornodolsky, who is himself writing history of St. Michael’s, which will be available by the Centennial.
In 1912, Orun spearheaded the construction of the first St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, built on two lots at 520 and 522 S. Wolfe St., purchased for $1,000 and $1,590 each, according to Basarb et al’s history.
Like the present St. Michael’s building, the Wolfe St. church was started under contract and completed with hands-on help from the parishoners themselves.
“The Ukrainians of Maryland” describes the genesis and strengthening of St. Michael’s parish as Chornodolsky describes it—difficult but steadfast:
“The new parish went through many a turbulent stream and traveled the rocky roads of dissension, economic hardship, and shortages of priests before it reached a plateau where it could forge ahead and move on a smooth and even course. It stood fast and strong when the times called for such displays and survived to serve the spiritual needs of thousands as a bastion of the Eastern Rites south of the Mason and Dixon Line.”
Chornodolsky notes that there have been two very significant waves of Ukrainian immigration that have swelled the ranks at St. Michael’s. After the two world wars, in the 1930s and, later, in the 1950s, St. Michael’s parish had 500-plus families.
The second wave provided the impetus to build the larger church and community center on Eastern Ave. As with many large building projects, however, it came to fruition some time later, in 1988. The $1 million budget for the new church fell far short of the actual cost of $2.5 million.
“It got such that we couldn’t really finish it,” says Chornodolsky. “You had these domes partially sitting on our sidewalks for about a year.”
Again, the parishoners stepped in. Now, the steel-framed building carries the five domes typical for Ukrainian Catholic Churches. The main dome, golden in color, represents the Easter resurrection of Jesus Christ, Chornodolsky says. The church is less lengthwise-oriented than a Roman Catholic Church; the people sit more around the altar rather than in rows in front of it.
Brightly-colored icons adorn the interior of St. Michael’s. There’s St. Michael, of course, and Saints Andrew and Volodymyr, both of whom figure heavily into the history of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
The centerpiece of St. Michael’s Centennial celebration is a hierarchical liturgy on Nov. 11 at 1 p.m., celebrated by Metropolitan Stephan Soroka and assisted by Reverend Vasyl Sivinskyj, followed by a Centennial Banquet in the church banquet hall with greetings, a historic slide show, and performances by the church choir and the Capella singing group. There will be Ukrainian dance performances choreographed by Lev Iwashko.
A program book with greetings and best wishes is being prepared by the Centennial Committee; contact Daria Kaczaniuk Hauff for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org. As mentioned earlier, Chornodolsky is putting together a written and pictorial history of St. Michael’s. He can be contacted at Achorno@aol.com, or at 410-241-9037.
Contact Jullie Humeniuk for Centennial Banquet ticket information: Jullie.Humeniuk@realmed.com.
by Erik Zygmont