Early Beginnings – St. Andrew Mission
Our parish traces its founding to picnic in 1959 at El Monte Park in the mountainous and rugged backcountry of San Diego County. It was there that a letter from Fr. Michael Koltutsky, pastor of Nativity of the BVM parish in Los Angeles, was read urging the formation of church community in San Diego.
The following spring on March 12, 1960, twenty faithful gathered for the first Divine Liturgy celebrated in San Diego. Fr. Stephan Semchuk, a distinguished priest from Canada, served and the faithful became St. Andrew Mission, a community under our sister parish in Los Angeles. Throughout the 1960s, Fr. Semchuk continued to visit from Canada along with Frs. Koltutsky, Salamon, and Chaikovsky from Los Angeles.
A Parish Is Established – Our Lady of Perpetual Help
In 1966, the local faithful purchased a small church at 4014 Winona Ave. in City Heights. Later that year, the community and church building was dedicated under the patronage of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
The parish flourished and Fr. Salamon began serving two liturgies each Sunday in English and Ukrainian. In 1972, Fr. Michael Kurylo became the first pastor when the San Diego mission was elevated to parish status. After Fr. Kurylo’s retirement in in 1983, Fr. Paul Greskiw served the parish and a third Divine Liturgy was added to the Sunday schedule. Catechism, social events, and a robust Women’s Auxiliary were a featured hallmark of this parish in the far corner of the Chicago Eparchy. In 1985, the Very Rev. Canon Andrew Mykyta, a priest who served for thirty years throughout all of California, became pastor. After Fr. Andrew Mykyta, the parish was faithfully served by visiting priests until Fr. Myron Mykyta became pastor.
A Second Home – St. John the Baptizer
In 1999 the parish began to search for a new church facility to call home due to changes in parish demographics. In 2000, our long-time home on Winona Ave. was sold and we moved to 4400 Palm Ave. in La Mesa with the help of the Arendes family, a family with numerous vocations to the religious life, that gifted $500,000 in memory of their brother John. Thus, our parish was renamed under the patronage of St. John the Baptizer in memory of John Arendes whose love for Christ and His Church allowed our parish set course on a new path. Soon Fr. John Hritzko became pastor and daily liturgies were offered. After Fr. Hritzko was assigned to Omaha, Fr. James Bankston and his family came to San Diego from St. Nicholas Cathedral in Chicago. Shortly thereafter our parish celebrated 50 years of service to the faithful of San Diego County with a magnificent Hierarchical Divine Liturgy celebrated by Bishop Richard Seminack and Bishop Nicholas Samra. Ten new icons for the iconostasis, written by iconograpaher Michael Kapeluck for our 50th Anniversary, were blessed at the service. A festive banquet followed with parishioners from Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Tucson joining in the celebration.
In 2014, a special event in parish history took place. Bishop Richard Seminack celebrated a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy and ordained Frank Avant to the diaconate. On the Feast of the Ascension in 2015, Deacon Frank was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Richard and then began his priestly ministry in Indiana, San Diego, and then to Dallas where he serves to this day.
The Journey Towards A New Home Begins
In 2016 our parish embarked on an ambitious journey to build a new church. As our parish property was sold in the mid 2010s, we purchased land in Santee, a suburban community in San Diego County in the shadow of Cowles Mountain. Bishop Benedict Aleksiychuk visited our parish and blessed our new land on August 4, 2018. The following day Fr. Yurii Sas was appointed at parish administrator. In October of 2018, the final Divine Liturgy was served in La Mesa and since then, our community has been graciously welcomed by the Augustinians as our Sunday and Holy Week Services are now held at St. Augustine Chapel in North Park. During the onset of the pandemic, services were held virtually until we met under open sky for nearly a year in a beautiful fruit orchard of a parishioner. upon our return to St. Augustine Chapel in May of 2021, the parishioner who hosted us for weekly Liturgies donated $100,000 towards our building fund.
As of Spring of 2022, we are finishing environmental studies on the parish land as the last piece of entitlement work.
And since the renewed invasion of Ukraine by the Russian horde in February of 2022, our parish has ministered to refugees from Ukraine who have come to San Diego through Mexico– welcoming numerous women and children into our parish family.
From San Diego To Kyiv – An Epilogue
On October 31, 1982, a new tabernacle was blessed and installed for our church on Winona Avenue. This large, beautiful tabernacle served our parish for nearly 20 years. When we moved to La Mesa in 2000, a new altar was constructed and a new tabernacle was donated and installed. Our large, very heavy, but beautiful old tabernacle was then used to house relics of St. Nicholas along with some of the new martyrs of Ukraine.
When Bishop Benedict visited our parish in August of 2018, he asked if our parish would be willing to donate this tabernacle turned reliquary for use at our Cathedral in Kyiv. After conferring with the sole remaining donor, the tabernacle made its journey from San Diego, in a far corner of the Chicago Eparchy, all the way to Lviv for restoration and finally to Kyiv.
Our old tabernacle, resplendent in its restoration, was placed on the main altar of the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kyiv on Holy Saturday in 2019. There is a small plaque on the back which reads, “A gift from the Eparchy of St. Nicholas in Chicago, and especially from St. John the Baptizer Parish in San Diego. 2019 A.D.”
Present at the parish’s first Divine Liturgy, celebrated by Fr. Stephan Semchuk on March 12, 1960 were:
Iwan and Maria Bumbar; Peter and Kateryna Bumbar; Ivan, Olha, and Marianna Worona; Mychail and Edna Losyk; John Lukiw; Fedir and Anna Myrosh; Iwan and Teodosia Piskur; Daria Rothe; Boris and Nadja Cham; Harry Chymka; and Oleksander and Anna Zajac.