The 50th Anniversary of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in San Diego – La Mesa, California
The idea to found a Ukrainian Catholic Church in San Diego was conceived in 1959. It was then that the first efforts were made to organize the Ukrainians into a social unit. At the time, it was discovered that there were no Ukrainian “older immigrants” in the city. During 1958-59 the first Ukrainian group was founded by Ivan Worona and Nadja Cham and their families. Their goal was to find Ukrainians in the area and to acquire a “cottage” at the House of Pacific Relations, an organization that had received several cottages after the closing of the World Exposition in 1935 in Balboa Park in San Diego. The city administration dedicated these structures for the use of organized ethnic groups. The goal of the House of Pacific Relations was to foster cooperation among national groups and to give them a chance to nurture their cultures and traditions. There were very few Ukrainians and they were scattered all over the city. Before they could acquire a cottage, they had to be united into an organization with its own by-laws which would submit a request to the city for a meeting place and become a member of the House of Pacific Relations.
This procedure consumed more than a year, during which there were many interruptions. Finally, the Ukrainian American Society of San Diego came into being and was granted membership in the House of Pacific Relations, achieving equality with other national groups.
Nevertheless, at this point, no clear religious centralization existed; the faithful worshiped in several area churches. The Church of Holy Angels attracted most Ukrainians because of its Byzantine Rite and the the use of Old Church Slavonic of the Divine Liturgy. Many were reminded of the worship in their own native Ukraine.
On August 2, 1959 at the first organized Ukrainian picnic at El Monte Park, the first spark for the founding of a Ukrainian Church was ignited. A letter was read from the pastor of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Los Angeles, Father Mychajlo Koltutsky. It was addressed to the officers of the Ukrainian community and mentioned that an “anonymous donor” has offered a building to house a Ukrainian Catholic Church in San Diego, should that Church come into being. Father Koltutsky urged the faithful to organize a founding committee to begin the process of creating a Ukrainian Catholic parish.
The initial idea was further strengthened on February 14, 1960 by a letter from Rev. Stephan Semchuk from Canada about such a possibility, wherein he asked to be informed about the current status of these efforts. This letter was read at a meeting of the Ukrainian American Society. It was decided that the secretary Nadja Cham send out information about the Ukrainian group in San Diego and ask Rev. Semchuk to visit and give guidance to these initial efforts.
Father Semchuk finally arrived on March 12, 1960 and offered the first Divine Liturgy for Ukrainians in San Diego at the Onyra Women’s Club (4647 Howell Boulevard). A meeting followed the Divine Liturgy during which the founding of a Ukrainian Catholic Mission, which could later become a parish, was discussed. Present were: Iwan and Maria Bumbar, Petro and Kateryna Bumbar, Ivan, Olha and Marianna Worona, Mychail and Edna Losyk, John Lukiw, Fedirand Anna Myrosh, Iwan and Teodosia Piskur, Daria Rothe, Boris and Nadja Cham, Harry Chymka, Oleksander and Anna Zajac. The first officers of this organization were selected: Iwan Bumbar – president; Ivan Worona – vice-president; Daria Rothe – secretary; Mychail Losyk – treasurer; Board of Directors – Boris Cham, Nadja Cham, and Petro Bumbar. The mission was named the Ukrainian Catholic Mission of St. Andrew the Apostle. The guardian of the mission was to be Rev. Michael Koltutsky of Los Angeles.
In that same year two more Divine Liturgies were celebrated. In addition, through the efforts of the Bumbar family, a parish dinner was held.
Mychail Losyk, the treasurer, died in 1961 and was succeeded by John Danylchuk.
Following the Liturgy on March 12, 1961 at St. Didacus Church (4772 Felton Avenue) the Gospel, Missal, and Trebnyk were blessed. These had been purchased by mission members.
In 1961 three Liturgies were celebrated, and members went caroling.
In 1962 Father Semchuk offered four Liturgies at St. Didacus. There were always problems in securing facilities to celebrate Liturgies. When His Excellency Bishop Jaroslaw Gabro of the St. Nicholas Eparchy in Chicago visited Los Angeles in that same year, representatives of the mission requested that Divine Liturgies be celebrated once a month. With the Bishop’s approval, Father Koltutsky arranged for monthly Liturgies to be celebrated at the Church of St. John the Evangelist. He offered the first Divine Liturgy there on October 7, 1962 at 3:00 p.m. with the participation of the church choir from Los Angeles led by Volodymyr Bozhyk.
Father Koltutsky’s work was not easy. Besides serving his own parish in Los Angeles, he had to travel to the mission in San Diego and to Phoenix, Arizona. This situation lasted for four years.
Mission activities changed very little through 1963-65. There were dinners and caroling to raise funds for the purchase of a church building. Liturgies were scheduled once each month. At times Father Koltutsky was assisted by Father Salamon, Father Semchuk and Father Chaikovsky.
In April 1965 thirty-one members of the Ukrainian mission signed a petition to Bishop Gabro requesting appointment of a permanent priest for San Diego; however, no priest was available at the time.
On July 26, 1965 following the Divine Liturgy, the Ukrainians of San Diego together with the Los Angeles choir presented a program at the House of Pacific Relations in Balboa Park. Such programs with folk dancing, ethnic singing and exhibits of folk costumes – were frequently presented by a variety of nationalities.
In October of that year a film about the Second Vatican Council was shown by choreographer Vasyl Avramenko. Special emphasis in the film was given to Patriarch Josyf Slipyi .
By 1966 the officers of the mission had put in six years of tireless work under the leadership of Iwan Bumbar. He arranged accommodations for priests who visited to celebrate the Liturgy, collected donations for the purchase of the church building and looked for potential church sites. In January of that year a Protestant Church was offered for sale at 4014 Winona Avenue.
On March 20, 1966 a committee meeting was called with Father M. Koltutsky participating to propose purchase of the Winona Avenue Church and to select new officers. The committee was to discuss the matter in detail and to decide on what terms it would be purchased and where to seek additional funds. Iwan Bumbar reported that a neighboring building was also for sale. Following this discussion new officers were elected: Jaroslav Sysyn – president; Iwan Bumbar – vice-president; Daria Rothe – secretary; John Danylchuk – treasurer; Sofia Skop and Oleksa Zalopany – Board of Directors. From the Women’s Auxiliary of the Mission, Katherine Andrus joined the officers. The committee decided to purchase the property. His Excellency Bishop Gabro was informed of the decision.
In order to receive a loan from the Providence Association of Ukrainian Catholics in America, a branch of that organization had to be started in San Diego. It became Branch 139, consisting of 14 members and dedicated to the patronage of St. Andrew. Bishop Gabro helped in securing the loan, and the purchase of a church became a reality on November 15, 1966. The purchase price was $21,000.00, of which $18,000.00 was paid by the Providence Association on a loan payable over a 15- year period. Major efforts in the purchase of the new church were exerted by Jaroslav Sysyn and Iwan Bumbar.
The church was dedicated by Father Koltutsky, representing Bishop Jaroslaw Gabro, who was unable to attend. He was accompanied by the church choir of Los Angeles conducted by Volodymyr Bozhyk. The church was named Our Lady of Perpetual Help Ukrainian Catholic Church.
On the afternoon of the dedication a parish dinner prepared by the women of the parish was held. It was decided there would be two Divine Liturgies offered each month and Rev. Sylvester Salamon would commute from Los Angeles to celebrate them.
At the beginning of 1967 work was started on renovating and preparing the building for church use.
The annual meeting was called, and a new Mission Board was elected: president – John Danylchuk, vice-president – Oleksa Zalopany, secretary – Daria Rothe, treasurer – Iwan Bumbar; Board of Directors: Boris Cham, Stefan Krywonis, Sophia Skop, Katherine Andrus and Rosalia Zalopany.
During these years the number of parishioners increased very rapidly. All tried to do as much as they could to build the parish community. The church dome was reconstructed, an altar constructed, tetrapod, kneelers, confessionals were put in place.
A new plashchenytsia (shroud) was acquired, as well as black and gold vestments, and stations of the cross; tablecloths and banners were embroidered. A new carpet was laid through the aisle of the church, the church was painted, a new fence was built, the church landscaping was improved, the lawn mowed and trees trimmed. Much of the work was done by these families: Zalopany, Andrus, Bumbar, S. Krywonis, P. Lapchak and others. The exact list of contributors is not available, but all are written in God’s book, and future generations will be forever grateful.
Liturgies every Sunday and on the greater holidays were offered beginning July 30 of that year. Father Sylvester Salamon travelled 130 miles from Los Angeles, usually on Saturday, and stayed over the weekend with the family of Iwan and Maria Bumbar for almost one year.
The Ladies Auxiliary worked with dedication for the church. They organized picnics, Christmas and Easter dinners and bake sales.
At the annual meeting in 1968, the accomplishments as well as the needs of the mission were discussed and a new committee was elected. Jaroslav Sysyn – president, John Danylchuk – vice-president, Daria Rothe – secretary, Stefan Krywonis – treasurer; Board of Directors – Boris Cham, Mychajlo Kostka and Wasyl Futala.
Additional liturgical services were soon celebrated regularly: Holyday evening Liturgies, Vespers, Molebens, Vigils, Great Complines on Christmas and Epiphany, Good Friday Vespers, and Matins of Jerusalem and Resurrection. The partial usage of the English language was introduced to accommodate an increasing number of people at the services who did not understand Ukrainian.
The responsibility for transporting Father Salamon from the bus station, providing him with food, and returning him to the bus station was shared among eight families. Others helped by giving donations for that purpose. On Mother’s Day of that year two children, Wasyl and Daria Futala, received their First Holy Communion; this was a special occasion for the parish. On the same day the annual Mother’s Day breakfast was inaugurated.
On the occasion of the visit of Patriarch Cardinal Joseph Slipyj to Los Angeles, a large number of parishioners from San Diego took part in the festivities. They contributed generously to the “Gift of Love” for the Patriarch.
The women of the parish continued bakes slaes, lunches and events to obtain additional funds.
In 1969 the parish experienced rapid growth. The need arose for another Liturgy in English. Two Liturgies were added: an evening Liturgy on first Fridays and a morning Liturgy on first Saturdays of the month. Two children received their First Holy Communion on Mother’s Day of that year. Ukrainian liturgy books, books and Bibles were purchased.
The first Liturgy entirely in English was celebrated with a capacity congregation on June 1, 1969.
Catechetical lessons were conducted each Sunday, taught by Rev. S. Salamon, William Page, Barbara Fiscus and Natalie Klymkowych. Ten baptisms and one marriage were celebrated.
The capstone of happiness in the parish came with the visit of His Excellency Bishop Jaroslaw Gabro on November 16, 1969. A procession led him into church, where two of the oldest parishioners, Oleksa Zalopany and Petro Lapchak, met His Excellency at the entrance with traditional bread and salt. Accompanied by Father Koltutsky, Father William Bilinsky and Father Salamon, Bishop Gabro offered the Divine Liturgy. The responses were sung by the choir from Los Angeles, conducted by Wolodymyr Bozhyk. The epistle was read by George Motruk.
The parish council that year consisted of: Jaroslav Sysyn – president, and members – Iwan Jaworsky, Alexander Gerega, Stepan Krywonis, Iwan Kotylak, Nadja Cham, Sofia Skop, Vera Jaworsky; Olha Gerega represented the Women’s Auxiliary.
That same month Father Salamon moved to San Diego to continue his work in the parish.
The years from 1970 through August 1972 were marked by the parishioners’ efforts to pay off the loan, decorate the church and acquire new members. During these years the parish officers were: Bohdan Klymkowych, John Danylchuk, Iwan Jaworsky, Ariadna Reshetylo, Boris Cham, Lidia Motruk, Iwan Bumbar and Petro Bumbar.
On August 1, 1972, with the recommendation of Bishop Gabro, the Mission of Our Lady of Perpetual Help became a parish. The first pastor was Rev. Mychajlo Kurylo. He continued in this capacity until his retirement on February 13, 1983.
Aware of the important function that women play in the life of the Church, Father Kurylo called a meeting of women parishioners on August 21 of that year and organized the Women’s Guild.
At the second general meeting of the parish, held on October 16, 1972, a decision was made to purchase the property and building at 4920 University Avenue, adjacent to the Church.
Through the energetic efforts of Bohdan Klymkowych the property was acquired on October 20, 1972 for $32,842.42. The loan was obtained from the Providence Association. From the time of purchase till the sale of the property the space was rented to a Mexican restaurant and was a source of revenue for the parish.
On February 17, 1973 it was decided to build a parish hall. A Building Committee was elected: president – Jaroslav Sysyn, vice-president – Wolodymyr Siyak, secretaries – Alexander Gerega and Petro Bumbar, treasurer – Stefan Kryvonis; Bohdan Klymkowych and Iwan Jaworsky – members.
The hall was erected at a cost of $45,002.68.
Much technical help in the development of the parish was offered by Wolodymyra Melnyk, secretary of the parish office during Father Kurylo’s tenure.
Now that the parish had a church hall, the Women’s Guild served coffee and pastries following Sunday Liturgies. Catechetical classes were also held in the hall.
Programs were presented in honor of Patriarch Josyf Slipyj, Mother’s Day, Taras Shevchenko, Ukrainian Independence Day, Ukrainian dissidents and the Harvard Ukrainian Studies Project. Films, slide shows, dances, New Year’s celebrations were held. There were parish dinners to mark the feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the parish patroness, blessings of the Easter “paska”, and lessons in making pysanky.
Occasionally the Ukrainian Orthodox community utilized the hall for their parish dinner.
The parish hall was rented for six years (1975- 1981) to the Holy Innocents School. This school was founded by parents of the Latin Rite in September 1971.
Two parish missions were held – the first October 16 through November 3, 1976 was conducted by Rev. Mychajlo Hrynchyshyn, a Redemptorist from Canada; the second February 25-28, 1982 was conducted by Rev. Josyf Denischuk, a Redemptorist from Washington, D.C.
A new chalice, blessed by Patriarch Slipyj in Rome, was acquired, as well as church vestments, candlesticks and altar cloths. Father Kurylo called a meeting to organize a special committee which would work on the renovation of the church interior. Wolodymyr Siyak, Jaroslav Sysyn, Alexander Gerega, Roman Oleksyshyn, Kost Michalyk and Petro Bumbar joined that committee.
The renovation began in April of 1981. A room was added on the south side of the church, the floor under the altar was redone, new lights were added.a new confessional was built, carpet was laid in the entire church, new kneelers were installed, the walls and ceiling were repainted.
Plans for an iconostas were prepared by Roman Oleksyshyn and Jaroslav Sysyn; the overall design, however, and the placing of particular icons was determined by Father Kurylo. The construction and installation of the iconostas was done by Myron Kochan of Oakland, California.
A central heating and air-conditioning system was installed. A new tetrapod and new leather covered kneelers were made. The renovation work was completed in December 1981.
During his first canonical visitation of the parish, Bishop Innocent Lotocky, OSBM, dedicated the newly installed iconostas.
Roman Oleksyshyn was in charge of preparing a new tabernacle for the altar. It was designed to resemble the Church of St. Sophia in Rome, which was built by Patriarch Josyf. The tabernacle was blessed on October 31, 1982.
Until this time, Father Kurylo lived in his own home not far from the church. However, due to ill health and age he was forced to think of retiring. Father Kurylo did not want to leave the parish unprepared for future growth. A rectory was needed for the new pastor who would replace Father Kurylo, and the search for such a place was begun. Surprisingly, a house in the same block as the church was put up for sale. Because the church had sufficient funds, the house at 4061 Winona was purchased for $65,600.00.
The house was remodeled immediately after purchase. New furniture was obtained, much of it donated by parishioners.
With the new residence remodeled and furnished, the new administrator, Rev. Paul Greskiw moved in on December 1, 1982. Rev. Mychajlo Kurylo, pastor of our parish in San Diego for so many years, retired February 13, 1983. He left the parish in excellent condition.
Reverend Paul Greskiw took over administration of the parish February 13, 1983, having moved into the new residence earlier. No substantial changes occurred during his tenure. The morning Liturgy was celebrated in English at 8:00 a.m., the Ukrainian sung Liturgy at 9:15 a.m., and a third Liturgy in English at 11 :00 a.m. On major holy days the Divine Liturgy was celebrated at 7:00 p.m.
On May 15, 1983 a Panachyda service presided over by Father Greskiw and three other priests was said in Greenwood Memorial Chapel for the millions of victims of the Stalin-made famine in Ukraine during 1932-33.
Father Greskiw visited the sick every Monday and Tuesday at Sharp Memorial Hospital. On these days there was no morning Liturgy.
In October 1983 a meeting of the clergy of the St. Nicholas Eparchy was held in San Diego. A Divine Liturgy was concelebrated at the parish church by His Excellency Bishop Innocent Lotocky, OSBM together with 19 priests. The Women’s Auxiliary prepared a breakfast and luncheon for the visiting clergy.
On December 2, 1984 the Women’s Auxiliary under the direction of Helen Kenney prepared a dinner in honor of Father Greskiw on the occasion of the 42nd anniversary of his priesthood. It was attended by Msgr. Peter Leskiw from Los Angeles, as well as many parishioners.
The parish was visited by His Excellency Bishop Innocent Lotocky, OSBM on November 17, 1985. His Excellency’s sermon during the Liturgy left a lasting impression in the hearts of the faithful.
Reverend Paul Greskiw celebrated his last Divine Liturgy in the church on December 8, 1985. Very Rev. Canon Andrew Mykyta took over the parish administration and said his first Divine Liturgy there on December 15, 1985.
So that the picture of our parish be more complete, it is necessary to take special note of the self-sacrificing work of the women of our parish united in the Women’s Auxiliary of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. The Women’s Auxiliary was organized by Rev. Kurylo. This does not mean that the women did not work prior to this, in the days when we were still a mission. They did much work; however, documents are not available on which a chronology can be based.
Father Kurylo asked the parish women to organize themselves. The first meeting was called August 21, 1972 at 7:00 p.m. in the church. The following officers were elected at that time: Vera Jaworsky – president; Katherine Magoski – vice president; Natalie Klymkowych – secretary; Katherine Andrus – treasurer; Board of Directors – Olha Gerega, Marta Oleksyshyn and Maria Sysyn. At that time the official name – St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Women’s Guild was adopted.
Perhaps the most time-consuming work the women do is the sharing of efforts in the kitchen every Sunday. They bake pastries at home, bring them to church, make the coffee and serve the parishioners who come to the hall following the three Sunday Liturgies. It was hard work, but it brought huge success. They collected $10,000.00 for the parish hall, they bought vestments, donated to the Ukrainian Veterans’ Invalid organization, and contributed a “Gift of Love” to the Patriarch. But their work was even more successful on another level. They created a friendly atmosphere among the parishioners. People enjoyed meeting after the Liturgy to visit and make plans. People looked forward to the new year’s celebrations, sending birday cards or greetings for other occasions.
In November 1978 the Women’s Guild organized an exhibit of Ukrainian folk costumes, under the artistic supervision of Irena Siyak.
Some of the presidents of the Women’s Guild were: Rosalia Zalopany – 1974-1975; Nadja Cham – 1976-1977; Maria Sysyn – 1978; Mary Kitt – 1979-1980; Katherine Magoski – 1981-1984; Helen Kenney – 1985. Olha Gerega was secretary from 1975 to 1985. Katherine Andrus was treasurer from 1972 to 1985.
The officers elected for 1986 were: Katherine Magoski – president; Elizabeth Bachynsky – vice president; Maria Sysyn – secretary; Olha Gerega – treasurer; Rosalie Zalopany and Anna Wowk Board of Directors.
During the fourteen years of its existence the Women’s Guild has donated $21,000.00 for building, purchasing, donations, financial aid to ethnic and educational causes.
There also existed a Patriarchal Committee in San Diego, one of the first founded in the U.S. It petitioned Rome and the Holy See to appoint Cardinal Josyf Slipyj Patriarch of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Between 1978-1985 a sum of $7,550 was collected and sent to aid in this cause. In 1982 Dr. Oleh Snylyk, the representative of the California Patriarchal Committee, met with our parishioners. He called for new members and 24 parishioners joined the committee. The San Diego Committee elected Wolodymyr Siyak as president, Alexander Gerega – secretary, and Iwan Jaworsky – treasurer. The amount of annual dues was decided upon at this meeting.
Every year there are collections for this fund, as well as special events to commemorate the memory of Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, who struggled for the Ukrainian Church and its people.
On January 12, 1986 following the third Liturgy, a luncheon was held in the parish hall to welcome and introduce Very Rev. Canon Andrew Mykyta to the faithful. The welcome and introduction were made by Jaroslav Sysyn and Mary Scott. Greetings were also expressed by former pastor Rev. M. Kurylo and Rev. Nestor Hodovany-Stone, pastor of the local Ukrainian Orthodox Church. During the luncheon Canon Mykyta told the audience of his background. Very Rev. Andrew Mykyta is a native of Peremyshl, Ukraine, and attended theological studies there. He continued his studies at the St. Josaphat Seminary in Rome, earning master and doctorate degrees at the Pontificium Athenaeum Urbanianum De Propaganda Fide. He also earned a master’s degree in Oriental Theology from the Pontificium Institutum Orientalium Studiorum. He was ordained a priest on January 1, 1948. On May 23, 1950 Rev. Mykyta was assigned to work among Ukrainians in the United States. Canon Mykyta was assigned to San Francisco in 1957 to establish and build a parish. In San Francisco Canon Mykyta served for 27 years, and in Phoenix, Arizona for two years before coming to San Diego.
Father Mykyta began his work by organizing the parish office – purchasing the necessary equipment and organizing the parishioners to clean the parish grounds. With the help of his nephew Stephen Kaczmar and his wife Debra, Father has accomplished much.
In addition to celebrating three Divine Liturgies on Sundays, Father Mykyta published a church bulletin, which contains much information about the Ukrainian Church, theological philosophical articles, parish news, financial statements, and general news about Christian life throughout the world. Father has also acquired bilingual liturgical books for the pews.
Father Mykyta restored the proper tradition of congregational singing during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
A section of the rectory was remodeled into a classroom where religion was taught following the first Liturgy every Sunday. Remodeling was done by parishioners and friends.
Father Mykyta organized a parish council consisting of the following members: William Barnett, Nadja Cham, Iwan Jaworsky, Joe Kuss, Nancy Kuss, Kost Michalyk, Joe Nimesgern, Ruby Nimesgern, Mychajlo Pomniak, Mary Scott and Jaroslav Sysyn.
Father Mykyta and the parish council celebrated the parish’s 25th anniversary in 1985.
His Excellency Bishop Innocent Lotocky arrived Friday, October 24, 1986. The Holy Liturgies were served Friday and Saturday during which His Excellency delivered missionary sermons, and was also available to hear confessions. Sunday morning the parishioners and guests gathered outside the parish residence to commence the procession. The cross-bearer, Frank Mears, led the procession to the parish hall. Near the entrance to the hall two parishioners, Alexander Gerega and William Barnett met His Excellency with bread and salt, and Rachel Wolanyk welcomed him with a bouquet of roses.
The Divine Liturgy was offered by Bishop Lotocky in the parish hall which could accommodate more people. Before commencement of the Liturgy Father Michael Kurylo was elevated to the position of Very Reverend Canon by His Excellency Bishop Innocent Lotocky, OSBM. During the Liturgy His Excellency was assisted by Very Rev. M. Koltutsky, Very Rev. A. Mykyta, Very Rev. M. Kurylo, Rev. J. Trostianecky and Rev. Deacon J. Chopil.
Following the Divine Liturgy an Anniversary luncheon was held at the Mariner Officers’ Club. During the luncheon His Excellency received a bouquet of flowers presented by Rachel Wolanyk and was welcomed by Very Rev. Canon Andrew Mykyta and M.C. Jaroslav Sysyn. At the end of the program a surprise birthday cake was brought to His Excellency and the traditional song of “Mnohaya Lita” (many years) and happy birthday were sung.
One of our last celebrations held at the church on 4014 Winona Ave. was the 90th Birthday of Rev. Michael Kurylo and the 65th anniversary of his priesthood.
A New Home for the Parish
1999 was the year when our Parish made a pivotal choice to search for a new location for our Church. The Parish realized that its survival and continued life and future development was at stake. It resulted in a serious realization, evaluation, and action by the entire parish. This action was propelled by the impact of a Leadership Conference sponsored by the St. Nicholas Eparchy.
Members of our Parish attended the St. Nicholas Eparchial Conference on Oct. 7-10, 1999. in Los Angeles. A series of conferences were held in Los Angeles, Calif. Chicago, Ill, and Phoenix, Arizona. They were created by Bishop Michael (Wiwchar) as part of building a relationship with other Eparchial Parishes, developing leadership as a Christian while working for God.
Parish members who attended the Eparchial events were, Maria Kuss (1998 Conf.), Volodymyr Bachynsky, Myroslawa Heltsley, Natalie and Bohdan Klymkowych, Luke and Olga Miller. They presented reports on their experience to the parish. An energized Committee was ready to promote and develop the suggested recommendations made by the Leadership Workshop.
The Eparchial Conference had a profound impact on our representatives. The Theme was: “Even a drop of water makes a ripple” A Committee was created to implement the vision and mission of our church. As they evaluated its strengths and needs, it became evident that our current location could not provide the needed services, expansion, and safety it needed to recruit new parishioners. The location was no longer a comfortable neighborhood.
Mr. Bohdan Klymkowych, used his talent as a Realtor and located two potential properties for a new parish site. Extensive presentations were made before the entire parish. Each site was visited and discussed extensively. The primary concern was the lack of funds and who was going to do all the physical work?
The Parish was preparing to vote on the issue of moving and purchasing a new church site, when Father Myron Mykyta announced that an anonymous donor will donate Five Hundred Thousand dollars ($500,000) to purchase a new church site if the Parish votes to buy it. The church was to be renamed St. John the Baptizer in honor of the anonymous donor. A stunned and amazed silence could be felt in the church. Many stated that this was a gift from God. “How could we refuse his gift sent to us by an angel?”
Father Mykyta asked the Stewardship Council, Sephan Hojsan, Nadja Cham, Joseph Kuss, and Marshall Le Tourneau to design the rules and procedure of the voting process. Only actual certified members of the parish could vote. The parish majority voted YES!
Bishop Michael visited both sites and chose the 4400 Palm Avenue, La Mesa, California as the site for our new church. This site was once used as a Wedding Chapel and later it was converted to a Rehabilitation Center. The complex required a new design, extensive demolition, and new construction. The most original aspect to the site was the fact that the church (behind the altar area) was build into a solid rock area with a small trickling stream on the side. The new church was built on the solid rock!
An Architect was hired to present the plans to the City of La Mesa. Mr. Boris Cham, an engineer, made additional revisions to the construction as new obstacles were discovered in creating the altar area. Myroslawa Heltsley discovered that St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Escondido, Calif. was undergoing similar expansion and construction challenges. She was able to meet with the engineers and take pictures of the support structures that held up the altar area. These pictures assisted Mr. Cham in confirming his own engineering design. This resulted in massive removal and excavation of the wall and rock area. Marshall Le Tourneau with assistance of other volunteers performed most of this excavation. This enabled us to push the alter area further back and provided the needed room to have a larger size church. The architectural plans were accepted with a required landscaping plan that met Xeriscape Design. Olga Cattolico and Myroslawa Heltsley created and submitted the landscaping design. It was accepted and landscaping volunteers planted according to this plan.
Once the shock wore off, parish members became excited, energized, and committed to donate their time and talents towards the demolishing and remodeling the future new church complex. At first, many elderly parishioners questioned their ability to assist in the construction. Later, Mr. Alexander Gerega, in his mid 80’s, was seen cutting trees down, climbing to the second story to get rid of a wasp’s nests, and perform other heavy chores, was asked why he worked so hard. “I want to serve God” This typified most parishioners and their elevated emotional and spiritual elation.
Volunteers were registered for insurance, and medical needs, and young adults required adult permission. Soon, our new site was filled with volunteers on a daily basis for 2 years. Heavy constructions tasks were supervised by Bohdan Klymkowych and Ken Smith. No volunteer complained about being tired or how hard they worked. Women’s Guild volunteers improvised meals on outdoor grills and microwaves. Each meal was just great!
An Architectural Committee met with the parish to choose color schemes and furnishings with a vote. They also met with the Architect regarding the kitchen design. Excited women spent hours visiting restaurant suppliers.
On our final moving day from Winona on March 24, and 25, 2001 volunteers packed their personal cars with items and then drove them to the new site. Marshall Le Tourneau supervised the final move by trailer of the Tetropod, St. Nicholas Shrine, and tabernacle, which was designed to resemble the Church of St. Sophia in Rome. This was perfomed with great reverence and great emotion by the participants: Joe Kuss, Stephen Hojsan, Marshall La Tourneau, Darrell Fugere, Adrian and Askold Haywas, and John Heltsley II. Father Myron Mykyta later held a short service.
The cross which had graced the dome of the church from the 1960s was removed from the old church and first stored in the rectory. As part of the 50th Anniversary, this cross was installed in the courtyard the new church.
Olga Gerega, the Women’s Guild Food Coordinator provided our first meal at our new parish home. These work days, with wonderful lunches, created a bond between volunteers. After Dedication Day, Don Fugere asked if they could have additional work days because he missed the camaraderie. The parishioners who attended the 8am liturgy and the 10am liturgies got to know each other. A smiling Don was seen hauling very heavy loads of wood and concrete despite his leg injury. The spirit of God was among us.
In November 2001, Bishop Michael (Wiwchar) advised that he will be in San Diego on Dec. 1, 2001 to bless the new Church. The final stages of construction were pushed to a faster pace. Michael Cattolico, who donated some materials and designed our beautiful tile floors, asked his employees to work through the Thanksgiving Holiday in order complete the floors. During this time, San Diego had strong rains. When Bishop Michael arrived the day before the Blessing, the area was filled with lumber, construction materials, and lots of mud and rain inside and outside the church, hall, and courtyard.
On Dec. 1, 2001, parishioners were amazed to see the area clean and dry. There were no signs of the mud, rain, or building materials. The entire complex looked beautiful. We asked Bohdan Klymkowych how he cleaned up the site. He spoke of how he and his assistant Ken Smith had worked for the past 24 hrs. They were so tired by 2 a.m. when they heard a knock on the door. A man with only one arm, in a leather coat asked if he could help. Bohdan and Ken were apprehensive but the man said that he was driving by and saw in the window that they were working. He was insistent and began to tell them what to do and where to place things. In a very short time, the man was gone and the place was clean. They no longer felt tired and they realized that no one could see into the windows from the street. Bohdan is convinced that it was an angel that came to help them in their hour of need.
That morning, the Hierarchical Blessing was held for the new Ukrainian Catholic Church, parish Center, and Shrine of the Miraculous Healing Myron (Oil) of St. Nicholas by the Most Reverend Michael (Wiwchar) from the Chicago Eparchy. This spiritual and exciting day was the highlight and culmination of a long process. We were in God’s home!
Soon, Parish activities expanded again. Father Myron created a new Pastoral Council. Volodymyr Bachynsky was the First Pastoral Council President. He created the Guidelines for the establishment of Council/Committees and the Pastoral Council Norms, Finance Council Norms, and Stewardship Committee Norms. This provided the foundation and a guideline for all parish members. Pastoral Meetings were held monthly. Volodymyr Bachynsky sponsored student volunteers from St. Augustine High School (where he teaches) for Community Service Projects at our site. They continue to assist our parish as needed.
Based on this, the second Pastoral Council President, Myroslawa Heltsley created additional committees and an organizational chart as our parish grew and volunteers wanted to identify with areas of their expertise or interest.
The Social Committee, created by Volodymyr Bachynsky, met monthly. They created a welcoming committee which welcomed visitors every Sunday. Parish events were coordinated and visiting events or persons were assisted. Church ushers were organized and provided an important welcome to visitors.
The Outreach Fellowship Committee, created by Volodymyr. Bachynsky, identified the needy or worthy organizations that needed help. They held food drives, visited the homebound, and assisted with the Kolyada (Caroling) for the homebound.
The Maintenance Committee identified problem area that needed attention and coordinated repairs.
The Landscaping Committee continued to maintain the ever changing needs for plants and updating a water system.
The Women’s Guild continues to be a strong force. The sale of Ukrainian food, artifacts, and holding fundraising food events for holidays provided the funds to purchase appliances for the kitchen and continues to assist other needed areas within the parish.
The Stewardship Council held a training session on Fundraising. A parish directory and a calling tree were established.
A vibrant parish made another major decision and addition to its parish complex. John and Myroslawa Heltsley were under contract to purchase the abutting property which was a business center. The Heltsley’s determined that it was not conducive to creating a Residential Care Center for the Elderly at that time. The Parish met and voted to take over the Purchase Agreement and purchase the Business Center.
It was viewed as a source of income for the parish and an enlargement of property for a larger future church.
On October 9, 2005, the parish met and welcomed the Most Reverend Richard Stephen Seminack as he celebrated a Hierarchical Devine Liturgy for the celebration of the 45th Anniversary of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish. This gave the parish an opportunity to meet the new Bishop.
After a long rainy winter, in 2005-06, the roof of the Parish Hall and the Business Center leaked and caused major damage. The visual impact and destruction of what parishioners built made a deep emotional impact. Many were older and could not begin to physically work again. Thanks to Dr. Alexander Berest’s and Dr. Jaroslaw Pickolyky’s substantial donation of funds and private labor resources, the roof, ceilings, walls, flooring, and etc. were restored in both buildings after many long months.
Katherine Andrus funded the purchase of a concert grade piano/organ. The Kuss Family provided the parish with a challenge. They would match funds with donations made to paint the exterior of the complex.
The Parish hosted or held Ukrainian Commemorative events, concerts, and musical performances. Ukrainian Cultural and Craft Festivals, Annual Church Picnics, Annual Church Pokrova, Sviachene, St. Nicholas, traditional Malanka, Pancake Breakfasts were held.
Workshops were held for making Pysanky, Paska and Pyrohy. After a massive fire in San Diego County in which 1200 homes were lost, a Disaster Preparedness Training session was held to provide a safety guide for parishioners.
A New Pastor
Fr. James Bankston was assigned to the parish in February of 2008. Fr. James is a native of Colorado Springs, Colorado. He met his future wife Olena Odezynskyj in 1990 in Balboa Park during the Labor Day festivities at House of Ukraine. They were married in 1992 at the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception in San Fracisco. In 1999, he, Olena and their 18 month old daughter Sofia moved to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada where he began Seminary formation at Holy Spirit Ukrainian Catholic Seminary. Two months after their arrival in Ottawa, they were blessed with the birth of their second daughter Christia. Fr. James’ academic formation was at the Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies. He was ordained to the priesthood at St. Nicholas Cathedral on December 6, 2004 by the laying on of hands of His Grace Bishop Richard (Seminack). Prior to his assignment in La Mesa, Fr. James served as Parochial Vicar at the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Chicago. He arrived in La Mesa in the middle of the Great Fast. His family arrived later after summer vacation.
Upon his arrival during the Great Fast, Fr. James began a series of Lenten talks each Friday following the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts. These talks are well-received and have become an important part of the Lenten catechetical program of the parish.
On December 14, 2008 – The Feast of Holy Ancestors of Christ the parish was honored with a pastoral vist by our bishop Richard. Since it was the feast of the Holy Ancestors, there was a special blessing of grandparents at the end of the Liturgy. The bishop also blessed the new cross on the facade of the Church. Then we all enjoyed a banquet in his honor served in the church hall. Fr. Robert Pipta of Holy Angels Byzantine Catholic Church and Fr. Myron Mychayluyk of St. Mary Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Church attended the luncheon.
In the nearly three years since Fr. James’ arrival, the venerable tradition of Kolyada has been revived. It has been well received by the parishioners though the distances involved pose logistic challenges for scheduling and car-pooling. Beginning in 2009, the parish held Mother’s Day and Father’s Day luncheons. These luncheons havegiven rise to a friendly competition between the men and the women.
It was decided to sell the old Rectory on Winona. The parish rallied around repairing and preparing the property for sale. The effort put forth by the parish community was awe inspiring! The property sold in June, 2009.
November of 2009 was a difficult time for the parish following a series of break-ins and vandalism. Most of the supply of pyrohy being prepared for a parish festival were ruined and all of the sausage was stolen. More disturbing though, was the desecration of the Holy Place by the vandals. Due to the desecration, the Church was re-blessed by Fr. James at the direction of Bishop Richard. This was necessary before any further liturgical services could be held in the church.Through the generosity of the Knights of Columbus Frances Cabrini Council 8879 at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Curch, and the donation of time and talent by Mr. Walter Collins, a Knight of the same council, a new security system was installed. The monthly fee is covered by the generosity of an anonymous parishioner.
Two successful rummage sales and a Parish Festival in 2009 kept many hands very busy.
In November of 2009, the name of the parish was officially changed to “St. John the Baptizer.” However we haven’t forgotten our previous name of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help.” The church hall remains dedicated to Her honor and we still celebrate the feast of Pokrov with a parish dinner.
Whole parish catechesis is an important part of parish life. The parish now uses the “Generations of Faith” model for multi-generational catechesis. Sessions of GOF examine the church year, iconography, the various fasting seasons and many other topics.
As part of the 50th anniversary celebration, icons were commissioned for the iconostas. Michael Kapeluk, an iconographer in Pittsburgh, was chosen and 10 icons commissioned. Michael finished the work in a remarkably short time and the new icons were installed at the end of July, 2010. They were officially blessed by Bishop Richard during the 50th anniversary celebration held November 20 and 21, 2010.
On October 29th and 30th, 2010, Bishop Nicholas (Samra) of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church gave a two day series of reflections as part of the spiritual preparation for the Jubilee celebration. He emphasized the evangelical and mission character of the church and our call as Christians to “Go teach all nations…”
Frank Avant was blessed as a reader for the church during the liturgical celebration on November 21, 2010. Frank is currently in the diaconal formation program and attends courses at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
Our community has worked to futher our cordial relations with the Orthodox community of San Diego. There have been numerous joint events, most notably the Panachyda service in 2008 to commemorate Holodomor sung both at Our Lady of the Angels Roman Catholic Cathedral in Los Angeles and at Holy Cross Cemetery in San Diego.
Fr. James has created of an online presence for the parish. The web site is stjohnthebaptizer.org. Since its creation in 2008, the site has had over 5200 visits from over 17 countries.
Our Miracle Church – An Epilogue
One parishioner often refers to Our Lady of Perpetual Help / St John the Baptizer as a miracle church.
In 1999, a few parishioners attended the Eparchial Conference that inspired them into a commitment to rescue a church that was located in an unsafe area. The only obstacle was the lack of funds.
On the Feast of Theophany, Father Myron Mykyta advised the parish that an anonymous donor was willing to give $500,000.00 toward the purchase of a new church site. The donor wished that the church be named St. John the Baptizer, i.e. his patron saint.
The parish said this was a gift from God, so how could they refuse? They accepted the offer and with the approval of Bishop Richard (Seminack) the parish was able to move to its new site.
Years later, with the approval of the Executor of the Estate, Sister Marie Arendes, the actual miracle story can now be more fully revealed. The humble Sister Marie felt that anonymity was true to her Order of Missionary Sisters of the Mother of God (Stamford, CT,) and to her family. Today, Sister Marie has noticed how our society has changed, how much suffering there is in our society, and how basic fundamental devotion to God escapes so many. Society appears lost. By revealing the donor and the reason for the donation, she hopes to inspire and set an example of our need to seek mercy and to “commit ourselves, and one one another and whole life to Christ our God.”
The actual donor was her brother John Arendes who passed away in 1999.
The family story is beautiful and inspirational. The Arendes ( Arendarczyk from Ukraine) family lived in Berwick PA. They worked hard and lived a thrifty life in the depression days. They had four sons and three daughters. Her parents led a devoted life of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. When the priest of Sts. Cyril and Methodius on Warren St. asked if someone would fund two paintings, one of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and one of Mary, for the rear of the church, her parents donated $25.00 for each despite the fact that they had financial hardships. Twenty five dollars at that time was a huge amount. This action by her parents set the religious and moral compass for their children.
All three daughters, Patricia, Ann, and Marie became nuns. Patricia with the Carmelite Order, Marie and Ann with the Missionary Sisters of the Mother of God. John was too poor to enter the seminary for priestly formation. At that time there were no subsidies for men who wanted to study for the priesthood.
“John always wanted to be a priest. He lead a simple life, worked hard, and saved his money. He and his sisters attended liturgy at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. They were aware of the dangerous neighborhood and how a visiting priest was assaulted when serving at the church. John wanted to leave his estate of $500,000.00 to a poor church which needed help. Our Lady of Perpetual Help was chosen as the church that needed help.”
Sister Marie believed that today John would be proud of our church and the beauty of the site. The parish did a good job, and its parishioners have an opportunity to expand and develop spiritually.
John’s gift is to be recognized as a guideline for all of us. We need to evaluate our lives, our life style, and our need to support our church