History of St. John the Baptist parish
The mass migration movement of Ukrainians to the Unites States began in 1870. The first immigrants came from the Zakarpattia region of Ukraine and were followed by the “Lemky”, inhabitants of the westernmost part of the country, who settled in the coal mining regions of Pennsylvania. In the 1890’s, they were followed by Ukrainians from Eastern Halychyna and Bukovyna. While immigrants from other nations arrived in America with their priests, teachers and intellectuals to help organize their religious, cultural and economic life, our first Ukrainian immigrants, arriving from primarily rural areas, lacked such leadership and assistance. But they did bring with them their deep faith in God and this was their constant source of strength. At the turn of the century, in 1899, 145 Ukrainians had settled in Newark. Newark had numerous factories and this guaranteed them a source of employment. Most of them came from such districts of Western Ukraine as Lisko, Ternopil, Zbarazh, Rohatyn, Berezhany, Pidhaytsi and Staryj Sambir. They recognized the role that the Church must play in their new lives and thus the Church became a priority in their activities.
Most of the Ukrainian immigrants settled close to the factories where they worked and attended services in neighboring cities that had already established Ukrainian parishes. In 1906, Theodore Oliynyk, with the assistance of 25 dedicated men, founded St. John the Baptist Brotherhood and asked Rev. Strutynsky, from the Ukrainian Catholic Church of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to conduct Vespers there every Sunday. With time the Jackson Street locale became too small to accommodate the parishioners and it became necessary to purchase a new building. In 1907 they purchased the First Evangelical Association at 246 Court Street for the sum of $17,500, and they named it St. John the Baptist Greek-Catholic Church of Newark, NJ. The first pastor was Fr. John Dorozynsky.
1909 saw the arrival of a talented cantor-teacher Theodosius Kaskiw who immediately organized the first male church choir (which later grew to include women). He also organized a theatrical group which put on plays. With time he organized the first parochial evening school with an enrollment of 12 children which soon grew to over 300 students. In 1914 the students had to be divided into two groups. By 1918 the student body had grown considerably and the rented facilities for the school became too small. So a building was purchased on Van Buren Street to be used as a school and as a community center. In 1925 Rev. Poniatyshyn was succeeded by Rev. Joseph Chaplinsky who immediately appealed to his parishioners to seek a larger church because of the increased membership. A new church was purchased for the sum of $50,000 on Morton Street together with two other buildings on College Place which were to serve as a school and a parish home.
St. John’s Church on Morton Street
The old church was remodeled into an auditorium and dance hall and was used for all stage presentations. However, the intent was to sell this building and purchase a new community center. The necessary money was obtained and two buildings were purchased on Morton and West Streets. In 1929 the Great Depression began and hard times befell the United States and this naturally had an effect on our Ukrainian Church and community. St. John’s had difficulty meeting debt payments and consequently people became discouraged and indifferent. In 1932 times got better and the future was more hopeful.
In 1933 Rev. Myron Danilovich was appointed as the new pastor. In addition to the existing St. John the Baptist Brotherhood, the Bohdan Khmelnytsky Society, Boyan Singing Society, Providence Association No. 2 of the Holy Trinity Brotherhood, Zaporozhian Society and the St. Nicholas Brotherhood he organized the Ladies Sodality, the Catholic Daughters and the St. John’s Catholic War Veterans but in 1939 he also established day school which was called Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytsky and St. John the Baptist School. The grammar school was under the direction of the Basilian Sisters and opened with an enrollment of 20 students which by 1946 grew to 85 students. In 1939 a building was purchased on William Street to house the long-planned Ukrainian Community Center.
The outbreak of World War II affected every parishioner; many young men and women joined the armed forces and served their country while others worked to help the war effort.
In February 1946 our church was placed under the spiritual guidance of the Redemptorist Fathers of the Byzantine Ukrainian Rite and the new pastor was Father Stephen Bachtalowsky. The newly assigned priests were able to offer more services and to devote more time and energy to the spiritual well-being of the sick in private homes and in hospitals. The social and spiritual life of the parish flourished during this era. The Redemptorist Fathers revitalized existing church organizations and fostered the formation of new ones such as The Holy Name Society, The Apostleship of Prayer, The Altar Boys’ Society, the Junior Sodality and the St. John’s School Mothers’ Club.
Fr. Stephen Bachtalowsky with the church committee
In October 1947 the parish celebrated its 40th anniversary and paid off the church mortgage. School enrollment grew and it became necessary to further expand the school facilities. A school building fund committee was created and a house-to-house campaign ensued to gather funds for a new school and a new church. In 1949 land was purchased at Sanford Avenue and Ivy Street for a new school.
During this time new immigrants, who had been held in German and Austrian refugee camps after the Second World War, were permitted to migrate to the United States. Father Vladimir Krayevsky, his assistant priests and numerous church and Ukrainian community organizations pooled their efforts to provide moral and practical assistance to many. Hundreds of people passed through the doors of the rectory seeking help. The enrollment of both the church and school increased. In July of 1952 school ground-breaking ceremonies were conducted by Rev. V. Krayevsky. The new $356,000 school building was dedicated on November 26, 1953. At this point there were about 400 pupils enrolled in our school, which was staffed by the Sisters of Saint Basil and several lay teachers. During this period other properties were purchased in the immediate area to house the Sisters and priests as well as a vacant lot for a new church.
Groundbreaking ceremony for the new school
In 1955, on the initiative of the trustees and priests, the members of the Rosary Altar Society and the Holy Name Society began Tuesday and Friday night bingo games to help liquidate the school mortgage and to ensure a firm financial basis for the construction of the new church.
In 1956, after fifty years of dedicated and devoted service to our church and to our Ukrainian community Theodosius Kaskiw resigned his post as Cantor and Director of the church choir. He was replaced by Michael Dobosh, who continued to be the new cantor, director of the church choir and a teacher of music at our school for the next thirty years.
Farewell ceremony for Theodosius Kaskiw
In 1957 by the time the parish celebrated its golden 50th anniversary the school mortgage was paid in full. In 1960 the City of Newark purchased the old Morton Street church and services were held in the basement of the new school. Construction of the new church began in June 1961. April 18, 1965, pastor Rev. Dmytro Laptuta celebrated the first Divine Liturgy in the new church. The magnificent church was the design of Julian Jastremski and the mosaics and stained glass art were designed by Peter Cholodnyj Jr.and executed by M. Baransky.
The new St. John’s Church on Sanford Avenie
Procession at the blessing of the new church
First Divine Liturgy in the new church
In 1965 St. John’s parish changed from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. In the summer of 1967 Rev. Michael Hrynchyshyn replaced Rev. Dmytro Laptuta, as pastor. The new pastor inherited a well-organized parish and an established parochial school. He provided the spark to fully involve his parishioners in church activities. Once a year there was a general meeting open to all parishioners where the welfare of the church was discussed and all reports were published. A Parish Council was elected and it held monthly meetings together with the pastor, his associate priests and representatives of all parish organizations. Church envelopes were given to parishioners and a new church bulletin was designed. The history of the church cannot be written without mentioning the dedication of numerous trustees among whom Andrew Keybida and Taras Durbak deserve special mention.
In July of 1972 artist Sviatoslav Hordynsky was commissioned to design the iconostas in our church to meet the requirements of our rite and to suit the style of our sanctuary. In 1975 a large building, an A & P supermarket adjacent to the school was purchased with plans of converting it into a gymnasium with room for a kindergarten. .
During the summer of 1977 Peter Cholodnyj, Jr. prepared mosaic stations of the cross for the walls of our church.
Royal Doors of the ikonostas by Sviatoslav Hordynsky
Stations of the Cross by Peter Cholodnyj, Jr.
In 1975 Rev. Michael Kuchmiak was assigned as pastor at St. John’s and throughout his 12-year tenure as pastor he held the role of mediator between squabbling factions in the parish. There were misunderstandings between the new immigrants and the old, there were misunderstandings between those who supported the Patriarchate and those who did not.
Fr. Demetrius Byblow, Fr. Michael Kuchmiak and Fr. Michael Peretiatko with the parish council
Preschool teacher Olenka Kolodiy with children
In August of 1987 he left a harmonious parish to Rev. Bohdan Lukie. With the help of the Ukrainian National Woman’s League of America a certified Montessori Preschool was established.
Fr. Bohdan Lukie with Newark city officials at the Ukrainian Plaza dedication ceremony
Rev. Lukie led widespread relief efforts to people in Ukraine and was a great proponent of cultural programs so the gym was often transformed into a theater, featuring a variety of performers and speakers from Ukraine. The intersection of Sanford Avenue and Ivy Street was rightfully named Ukrainian Plaza.
Bishops Michael Wiwchar, Michael Kuchmiak, Michael Hrynchyshyn and Metropolitan Stefan Sulyk at the Redemptorist 50th jubliee celebrationy
In 1985 St. John’s had the honor of hosting Mother Theresa at the ordination at St. John’s of Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, who was the first priest to be ordained for the Missions of Charity, the congregation founded by Mother Theresa.
1988 was the year of the millennium of Christianity in Ukraine and St. John’s parish besides taking part in various celebrations once again commissioned Sviatoslav Hordynsky, this time to prepare a mosaic depicting the baptism of Rus-Ukraine in 988, which was installed over the main entrance to the church.
August 24, 1991 Ukraine declared its sovereignty. During Father Michael Wiwchar’s pastorship St. John’s experienced an influx of new immigrants from Ukraine. The parish sponsored a number of families from Ukraine and embraced many others with moral support. In 1992 Father Wiwchar was instrumental in attracting a highly trained young man, Mychajlo Stashshyshyn, from Lviv to fill the position of cantor that was vacated by Michael Dobosh in 1988. The number of immigrants from Ukraine continued to grow and a special organization “The Fourth Wave” was organized as a haven and network for them.
In 1996 the parish gathered to honor the Redemptorist Fathers for their 50 years of service to St. John’s.
In 1999 Father Bohdan Lukie returned as pastor and the parish office, under the guidance of Ksenia Hapij, became a welcoming home for anyone who had arrived to the United States, often helping out with jobs, apartments, translations and even basic English lessons. At this time Rev. Lukie, the trustees and the Parish Council tried every method possible to attract new students to the school but the reality was that families continued to move out of the area and enrollment continued to drop. The financial drain on the parish was unbearable and in 2002, after 65 years of true excellence a painful decision was made to close down St. John’s School. Before Father Lukie handed over the parish to Rev. Leonid Malkov he rented the school building, which was still in good operable condition, to the state of New Jersey, which in turn rented it to the city of Newark thereby ensuring a solid income to offset the financial drain of the school which had almost bankrupted the church. In 2014 the school was leased to a charter school ensuring continued financial support for the parish. Rev. Malkov, himself an immigrant, opened wide the doors of the Church and embraced many newly arrived immigrants and so the history continues as it began. 2010 saw the birth of a new Charitable Program which helps not only parishioners, but also the homeless in Newark and many needy people in Ukraine.
From 1947 until 2007 St. John’s parish was under the spiritual guidance of the Redepmtorists, based in Yorkton, Saskatchewan in Canada. In 2007 the Redemptorists in Lviv, Ukraine took over the responsibility of caring for St. John’s and continue to send priests from Ukraine to guide and work with the parishioners of this parish.
The never-ending, dedicated work of numerous priests, brothers, sisters, Parish Councils, church and community organizations and thousands of parishioners had made possible over 100 years for a beautiful parish family in a house of prayer that has always been a beautiful haven. We bow our heads before all of the incomparable pioneers, that gave all of this its beginning and to all of those who came after them and continued their work, of which we gather fruit today. It is our sacred duty to continue their work.