Historical Notes on St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church
Elizabeth, New Jersey

From its humble beginnings in 1903, St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church of Elizabeth, New Jersey, has weathered many changes to celebrate its 100th anniversary in November 2003!

The early Ukrainian immigrants who settled in this area were deeply religious and fervently desired to perpetuate their religious rites and traditions in their native language and their own church. By the beginning of the 20th century, enough Ukrainians had put down roots in this area to make this dream a reality.

At first, this small enclave was served by Rev. Mykola Pidhorecky, pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Church in Jersey City, who traveled to Elizabeth to celebrate Divine Liturgy in the home of the Yawylak family at 11 Washington Avenue.

In 1903 a Church Building Committee was formed and a plot of land was purchased at the intersection of South Street and Grier Avenue for $1,050. Shortly afterwards, on February 6, 1904, a meeting was convened in the Yawylak home to elect Trustees so that St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church could be incorporated according to New Jersey law and statutes. All contributing supporters of the parish twenty-one years old or older elected Wasyl Yawylak, Andrew Yawylak, and Michael Sweitisch as the first Trustees.

As recorded in Book One, page 14, of Religion Societies in the County of Union, New Jersey, the following act took place – “On the 29th Day of February 1904 at 10 o’clock in the forenoon, Wasyl Yawylak, Andrew Yawylak and Michael Sweitisch, the newly-elected trustees of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church, approached the Clerk of Court, William Howard, for the express purpose to incorporate their congregation in the State of New Jersey.”

In January 1905, under the pastorship of Rev. Mykola Strutynsky, construction of the church began and was completed in 1906 at the cost of $6,050. The money was borrowed from a bank and repaid by assessments paid by individual parishioners. Residents of Elizabeth paid $15.00 per family, and those living in Elizabethport, Roselle and Cranford paid $10.00 per family. Single persons were assessed $7.50 in Elizabeth and $5.00 in the outlying districts. Monthly dues were $1.00 per family, .75 per single male and .50 per single female.

The New Church

The parish soon outgrew its first small wooden church which held about 120 worshippers. Rev. Andrew Kaminsky was asked to have plans drawn for a larger church, and in 1909 when Rev. Peter Poniatyshyn assumed pastorship, another Church Building Committee was formed to oversee the erection of a new and larger church. When Rev. Michael Lisiak arrived in 1911, work on the new church began and the first rectory at 347 Grier Avenue was purchased for $4,000. The new church, large enough for 400 parishioners, was completed on the present site at a cost of $19,500. during the time of Rev. Roman Wolynetz.

From the time that St. Vladimir Church was founded in 1903 until 1926, the frequent turnover in spiritual leadership presented problems. However, with the assignments of Rev. Maxim Kinash and later Rev. Joseph Chaplinsky came stability and the Church enjoyed continuous leadership and growth until 1940. Rev. Chaplinsky was a dynamic preacher and missionary priest of the Order of Basilian Fathers. Upon his death in June 1940, leadership was lost and the parish awaited a new pastor.

Period of Stability and Active Parish Growth

Rev. Leo Chapelsky was appointed by Metropolitan Constantine Bochachewsky to St. Vladimir Church in the fall of 1940 and served until March 1953. He guided the parish through a period of great growth brought about by World War II and the subsequent stream of displaced persons that arrived afterwards. Father Chapelsky welcomed all the new immigrants and aided them as best as he could. Church membership grew as it offered moral, spiritual, physical, and financial support.

In 1946, Father Chapelsky purchased the home at 307 Grier Avenue to serve as a convent for the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate. The Sisters Servants became a part of the parish in 1949 and taught evening classes to children and adults. This continued the work of the first Ukrainian Apostolic Congregation of women founded in western Ukraine in 1892 by Blessed Sister Josaphata Hordashewska, SSMI. This Apostolic Congregation, a teaching order, initially migrated to Canada in 1902 and gradually became active in Ukrainian parishes throughout the United States.

In 1948 Father Chapelsky retained the acclaimed Ukrainian artist, Sviatoslav Hordynsky, married to Father Chapelsky’s daughter, Myroslava, to refurbish the interior of the church. Hordynsky is responsible for the design (writings) of all the beautiful icons and stained glass windows which embellish the church.

After the death of the beloved Father Chapelsky in 1953, Rev. Walter Paska, a former parishioner of St. Vladimir, assumed spiritual leadership. Under Father Paska’s pastoral direction, a new rectory was purchased at 309 Grier Avenue.

As the parish rolls continued to grow, Metropolitan Archbishop Constantine asked Father Paska to launch an all-day parochial school. In 1954 Father Paska had the old rectory remodeled for its use as a full day school with kindergarten and first grade classes.

The following year, 1955, Rev. Roman Bodnar became the new pastor and each year an additional grade was initiated until St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic School offered classes from kindergarten through the eighth grade.

Father Bodnar worked zealously to reinforce the spiritual values of the parishioners and to maintain and to upgrade the church structure. From 1956 to 1958 much work was accomplished on both the church interior and exterior. The original wooden structure was faced with brick and new doors were added. Aluminum stained glass windows, designed by Sviatoslav Hordynsky, were installed along with new lighting and heating systems. The sacristy was enlarged and the church icons retouched. Repairs to the outer church cost $45,000 and the interior remodeling cost an additional $23,000. Additional expenses were incurred when necessary repairs were made to the rectory and church hall as well.

About two years after a New School Building Fund was organized in 1957, the Church purchased land at 437 Grier Avenue. Plans were drawn for the new school and additional land adjacent to the proposed schools was purchased in 1961. By May of 1962, school building plans were completed and construction began.

St. Vladimir Catholic School was completed in 1963 at a cost of $308,000. This cost was met by contributions of the faithful and loans of $100,000 from the Providence Association and $125,000 from the Ukrainian National Association.

The sizable mortgage on the new school as well as escalating costs for the maintenance of all church properties created a financial challenge for the parish.

After having completed more than ten years of administering to the needs of St. Vladimir, Rev. Bodnar became ill.

Parish Inspired Towards Renewal and Growth

Rev. Joseph Fedorek came to St. Vladimir in October 1965 and served this parish until his death in May 2001. His long stewardship provided continuous growth and stability sorely needed to liquidate the financial burden which strained the parish. The church members had difficulty meeting regular expenses not taking into account the interest and principal of the mortgage. There was a mortgage of over $250,000. for the school, a $46,000 Cathedral assessment, and mounting maintenance costs.

Rev. Fedorek’s membership drives in the parish organizations such as Holy Name Society, Senior Sodality, Apostleship of Prayer, and Boyan Church Choir encouraged new avenues for active participation. He ably reorganized the financial structure of the church and spirited fund raising projects to liquidate the debts. Both the pyrohy project and a Building Fund Club organized with the help of the St. Vladimir Parent Teacher Association bolstered progress towards this goal.

Following five years of steady attention to the financial needs of the parish, the school mortgage as well as the entire parish debt was paid.

In February of 1970, Father Fedorek proposed to build a much needed parish hall or auditorium next to the school. This new building campaign became an incentive for the parishioners to rally and to work together. Joining forces three days a week and Wednesday evenings, the devoted pyrohy project men and women tirelessly raised money for this goal. On May 7, 1972, a ground breaking ceremony was held for the new auditorium. Msgr. Victor Pospishil, Rev. Leo Yacykewych, Rev. Leontius, CSSR, and Rev. Fedorek, along with many parishioners participated in this event. By June of 1973, most of the auditorium was completed.

Simultaneously, the parishioners were planning a testimonial banquet to honor their pastor on the occasion of his twentieth anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood. This banquet for Father Fedorek was the first parish celebration to be held in the newly constructed auditorium. Official dedication of the hall occurred the following year on March 31, 1974. Metropolitan Archbishop Senyshyn along with many clergy and parishioners present, officiated at the dedication and blessing ceremony.

Father Fedorek introduced weekly Bingo games in the auditorium and an annual summer carnival. A commercial kitchen was installed in the school and facilitated the pyrohy project. In 1975, the small church hall was completely renovated to provide meeting space for parochial organizations.

The parishioners working diligently under Father Fedorek’s leadership and guidance accomplished much, transforming the parish from its humble beginnings into a multi-building unit consisting of the school, new auditorium, convent, newly renovated small parish hall, and new garages. The interior of the church was repainted and the church dome re-gilded.

In recognition of his long term of pastoral care and success in administering to this vibrant parish, Rev. Fedorek was elevated to the Rank of Monsignor on December 20, 1977, a great honor for him and for the parish.

Another major church project was at hand to be completed for the Diamond Jubilee celebration of St. Vladimir in 1978. The well known Ukrainian artist and iconographer Christine Dochwat was engaged to design the beautiful, hand-carved iconostas and also to paint (write) the icons on it. The carved wood framework crafted by The Matthews Company in Luzerne, Pennsylvania, was installed in June 1977. The icons were installed in June 1978.

In June of 1990 the painful and sad announcement was made by Msgr. Fedorek that St. Vladimir Catholic School was to be permanently closed as it had become an excessive financial burden on the church community. Changing demographics and the migration from the city to outlying areas by young families of the parish was reflected in decreasing enrollment. 1989-1990 was the final academic year of the parish school. Eventually, the school and grounds were sold to the Board of Education, City of Elizabeth.

While the school had been in existence, many religious and lay teachers and staff served the students with love and dedication. Along with the basic academics, the Ukrainian language and cultural studies, the religion classes promised a continuity of love of traditions, customs, and religion.

In 1960 Professor Michael Demchyshyn came to Elizabeth to serve as cantor and teacher of Ukrainian language in the school. He became an integral part and beloved person of the parish, serving and assisting Father Bodnar and Msgr. Fedorek until his death in 1991.

Along with the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate who taught and guided the students and served as administrators in the school, Mrs. Helen Fedun Cheloc worked tirelessly when she became principal. Under her leadership, the children participated in many activities to promote educational, social, and religious growth. Following her tenure, Rev. Deacon Arthur Dochych became principal until the doors of the school were shuttered. Sister Ann Sopp, SSMI, was one of the Sisters who had served in the school. After the school was closed, Sister Ann continued to serve by conducting CCD classes for children and assisting Msgr. Fedorek in many ways. Her dedication and devotion will be remembered.

Another vital part of the church were those who added much beauty to each liturgical celebration, the inspiring cantors, choir directors, and choir members. In addition to his cantoral duties, Professor Michael Yadlowsky taught Ukrainian language classes to children, directed plays and concerts to honor Ukrainian heroes and holidays. Professor Yadlowsky directed the Boyan Church Choir and served under Father Chaplinsky and Father Chapelsky.

Professor Roman J. Lewycky served as cantor in St. Vladimir for about twenty years. Under his hand, the Boyan choir grew in size and developed an extensive repertoire of liturgical and secular music. He did much to spread the knowledge and beauty of Ukrainian culture to a larger audience with his concerts of bandura music. He died in 2000.

The Boyan Church Choir is directed currently by Mr. Bohdan Kardash. Past directors include Professor John Hrabar, Professor John Zadorozny and Mrs. Nadia Pinkowsky.

Under Rev. Deacon Dochych, an English choir was formed to encourage laity participation in services conducted in English. At present this choir is conducted by Miss Joanna Lefchick, the niece of Professor Yadlowsky.

Continued Changes

In October of 1995, Monsignor Fedorek celebrated thirty years of service to St. Vladimir Church. He had administered very well. He loved his parishioners dearly and they loved him. Due to failing health, a series of assistant pastors was assigned to help Msgr. Fedorek to continue to lead his flock. Rev. Robert Hitchens was designated Parochial Vicar in 1994. Father Robert energized the parish and revived the tradition of Saint Nicholas visits for the children. Rev. Peter Semenych came in 1997 and served until 2000 when Rev. Petro Zvarych was assigned to the parish.

In addition to the pastoral care given by the labor of the above mentioned Parochial Vicars, a parishioner, Rev. Deacon Arthur Dochych, well loved and respected by the church community, became an instrumental part of the spiritual life of both the parish and school. In addition to assisting Msgr. Fedorek at Divine Liturgies, Deacon Arthur occasionally preached and directed the English choir as well as serving as cantor. Rev. Deacon Arthur passed away on December 2, 1997, leaving a lasting and loving memory.

May 26, 2001 – a fateful day in the history of St. Vladimir Church – marks the day that Msgr. Joseph Fedorek died after having served the parish faithfully, honorably, and distinguishably for thirty-six years. There was great pain and sorrow for this priest who had worked so hard for so long. Metropolitan Stefan Soroka was the main celebrant of the funeral rites which were held May 31, 2001. Rev. Patrick Paschak, OSBM, a longtime friend of Msgr. Fedorek, along with many clergy, religious, and faithful came to pay homage to this loved and respected priest. Rev. Hitchens and Rev. Semenych delivered the eulogies respectively, in English and Ukrainian. Msgr. Joseph Fedorek was laid to rest at Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington, alongside his beloved parents and brother, John.

For the following six months after Msgr. Joseph Fedorek’s passing away, there was a vacancy in the parish’s pastorship. In November 2001, Rev. Joseph Szupa was assigned to the parish and served until August 2014 when Rev. Ruslan Romanyuk was assigned as the new pastor and currently leads the flock.

As we look to the future and explore the past, parishioners have just cause to celebrate and to honor the 100 years of the existence of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church. How the Founding Fathers would be so proud to share in this great joy! May their memory always stay with us as we carry on in their valiant spirit.

Throughout its history, the parish family of St. Vladimir has united to pray and to worship together, to work and to celebrate together. This parish reflects a brilliant spirit of Christian love and charity which was first sown here one hundred years ago. We beseech Almighty God to continue to bless His faithful flock as He has done so graciously for these past one hundred years.


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