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St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church

Address: USA, Woonsocket,
GPS: 42.005786 -71.519333
Appearance date: 

When the Ukrainians began to arrive in Rhode Island in the late nineteenth century, they formed church communities, church related organizations, and benevolent societies while earning their living in mills at such localities as Woonsocket, Manville, Central Falls, Providence, Pawtucket, and Little Compton. The early years were extremely difficult, but most of the immigrants settled and adapted to their new home.

The first arrivals consisted of mostly men. They were young, eager, venturesome, and ready for new horizons. The mills employed them in the least desirable jobs and at the lowest pay and they climbed the job ladder very slowly. These pioneer immigrants to Rhode Island were from western Ukraine’s small towns and villages: Bibrka, Skalat, Brody, Zbarazh, Berezhany, Radehiv, Rusiatyn, Ternopil, Rohatyn and Yavoriv.

By 1903 the immigrants realized the need for the formation of a church, which would suit the needs and customs of the Ukrainian people. Just before Easter of that year the first Ukrainian Catholic liturgy was celebrated in Woonsocket’s Precious Blood Roman Catholic Church by Rev. Teofan Obushkevych. Shortly thereafter St. Michael’s parish was established and a hall (now St Joan of Arc Church) was rented in Cumberland Hill for religious activities. Fathers Walkaz, Ulycki, Winarski, Zaklynsky, and Lewinski came from out of state at regular intervals to minister to this embryonic parish.

By the fall of 1907 the congregation had divided into two groups. One group established a Russian Orthodox parish in Cumberland Hill, while the church in Cumberland Hill remained Ukrainian Catholic and received a permanent pastor, Rev. Michael Struminsky, in December 1908. Father Struminsky organized the parish and conducted services in Lyceum Hall. The new parish was incorporated and received its state charter on January 5, 1909.

In June of that eventful year the parishioners purchased a building at 164 West School Street, Woonsocket, which they remodeled into a church. They also constructed a rectory in the rear of the church.

In 1910 a new pastor, Rev. Vladimir Dowhovych, arrived and organized Branch No. 206 of the Ukrainian National Association. The branch was named Zaporozska Sicz after the famous Cossack fortress. A third pastor, Rev. Basil Turula, came in 1911. Three years later a cemetery was purchased for $1,500.00 and the church debt was paid in full. At his time the parish was growing rapidly with the arrival of many new immigrants. Families were reunited and birth boomed. The number of Ukrainian children baptized in 1914 is recorded as 1,290; the number of families totaled 600. A parish choir was organized that year under the direction of the composer Michaylo Hayworonski. Such growth prompted Father Turula to acquire a property on Blackstone Street in Woonsocket for a larger church. This new acquisition, which cost $7,750.00 included a building that could be converted to use as a rectory.

In 1917 another parish, St. Stephen’s (Ukrainian Catholic) Church, was organized in Manville. Father Turula ministered to both the Woonsocket and Manville parishes. Between 1920 and 1922 the Woonsocket congretation was served by the Reverends Michael Kuzmak, Volodymyr Kozoriz, Antin Lotovych, Volodymyr Obushkevych, Myron Zalitach, Yuri Krupa and Roman Volynec.

Construction of the new church in Woonsocket began in 1923 and the old church was sold in 1924. At this juncture Rev. Onufri Kovalska came to serve the congregation. The Most Reverend Constantine Bohachevskyj blessed the new church on Blackstone Street on September 24, 1924. In 1925 Rev. Hlib Verchoswky arrived as pastor.

The 1920’s were a period of turmoil in many Ukrainian-American church communities. Dissatisfaction with the clergy and many other religious and cultural issues divided church members. In 1926 the Woonsocket Catholic congregation divided into two groups; the larger one became independent and later joined Ukrainian Autocefalic Orthodox Church, while the other remained Ukrainian Catholic and maintained union with Rome. A court trial involving rights to the church building lasted 12 years, costing both sides a total of $15,000.00. Father Verchowsky held Catholic services for approximately 40 families at Trinity Hall during the dispute because the Orthodox group had gained control of the church property.

In 1929 the pastor of the Ukrainian Catholic parish in Fall River, Massachusetts, conducted services in Woonsocket. In January 1932 Bishop Bohachevskyj conducted a three-day mission, and in February he sent a newly ordained priest, Rev. Basil Tremba, to serve the troubled parish. Father Tremba reinstated the charter of old St. Michael’s corporation. Court proceedings continued and an appeal followed. On January 25, 1938, six years after Father Tremba’s arrival in Woonsocket, the Blackstone Street church was reconsecrated as a Catholic Church, with George Malanczyn, Michael Rybak, and Andrew Basan the new trustees. Soon thereafter the interior of the church was redecorated and renovated.

St Michael’s celebrated a native son’s first liturgy in 1940. Father Nestor Romanovych, the parish’s first ordained priest attended school in Pawtucket, and later in Stamford, Connecticut. He continued his studies at St. Josphat’s Pontifical Seminary in Rome, where he was ordained on May 13, 1940.

In 1941 Father Tremba purchased picnic grounds in Blackstone, Massachusetts, and three years later he acquired a house on Blackstone Street to allow for expansion of the church’s facilities. After serving the parish for seventeen years, Father Tremba left in 1949, replaced by Rev. Joseph Galysh.

The postwar years brought a new wave of Ukrainian immigrants from Europe and new activity to the parish. By 1953 parishioners had paid the mortgage, and a church renovation fund was started. In 1958 the church underwent major interior renovation. The traditional iconostasis (or icon screen) was erected, the walls painted, and stain-glass windows and a new tabernacle were installed. The work was executed by two well known artists, iconographer Sviatoslav Hordynsky and sculptor Serhiy Lytwynenko. A golden jubilee celebration took place on November 23, 1958 with Bishop Ambrose Senyshyn, O.S.B.M.,DD, of the Ukrainian Catholic Exarchy of Stamford, and the Most Reverend Russell J McVinnery, bishop of Providence, presiding. The parish published a book and held a banquet at the Dario Plaza Hotel to commemorate the occasion.

In 1967 Father Galysh died suddenly of a heart attack and Rev. Ivan Mak became pastor. During his stay the sixtieth anniversary of the parish was commemorated, with a visit by Bishop Joseph Shmondiuk of Stamford, and another Jubilee banquet. A new pastor, Rev. Paul Szuflat, arrived in 1969. Between 1973 and 1978 three priests served the parish, the Reverends John Mucharsky, Petro Lisowsky, and George Spolitakevych. The right Reverend Mitrat John Mowatt arrived in 1979.

In commemoration of the millennium of Christianity in Ukraine, the parish held a three-phase celebration over a three-year period. The first part of the celebration took place on June 18, 1986, with the blessing of the parish shrine to St Michael the Archangel by the patriarch of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church, His Beatitude Maximos V. The Second observance was held on December 6, 1987 with His Grade, the Most Reverend Basil Losten, the Ukrainian Catholic bishop of Stamford, placing two crowns on the Holy Icon of Our Lady of Pochayiv. The crowns were previously blessed by His Holiness Pope John Paul II and His Holiness Patriarch Demetrios I. The third commemoration took place on June 19, 1988, when Bishop Losten blessed and dedicated the Millennium Monument of the parish. This monument consists of a fourteen-foot Byzantine crucifix, an altar, and two icon stands, all made of polished Barre granite. The millennium celebrations culminated with the blessing by the Rt. Rev. Mitrate John Mowatt of a four-foot bronze plaque depicting St. Volodymyr and the baptism of his people in Kiev, Ukraine, in 988. Above the door of the church is a beautiful and colorful mosaic icon of Our Lady of Kazan, donated by Fr. Mitrat John Mowatt.

Additional renovation to our church included a rug installed in the main aisle of the church as well as in the Vestibule. Other rugs were installed in the sanctuary, on the ambon and in the church proper. A new roof was installed on the church. A new shrine dedicated to our Lady Pochayiv, the gift of the late John and Anna Pristawa was set up in the church. A baptismal shrine, for the blessing of the Holy Water, was donated by Miss Marie Z. Gawrada in memory of the Szczur and Gawrada families. The late Mrs. Ida Rapko donated another shrine, dedicated to our Lady of Perpetual Help (Our Lady of the Passion, in Byzantine tradition).

A large Golgotha Crucifix, gift of Mr. Francis Gaughan, Mr. Michael Makar and Mitrat John J. Mowatt, graces the front of the church. Other additions have been made, including a large commercial-type electric stove for the kitchen, give of the late Mrs. Luba Lewicki. The entire exterior of the church was painted and gold-leafed; the Jubilee gift to the parish amounted to $12,225.00.

In 1988 Fr. Mitrat John Mosatt had planned to host the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima in May 1989. Although he was unable to attend, it was decided to adhere to these plans. For that one evening the Pilgrim Virgin Statue attracted a "Standing-room only" attendance of more than 200 worshippers from the city surrounding the area. A small reception was tendered in the lower hall after the devotional program which included a Moleben to the Mother of God, the Holy rosary, and hymns by the choir of the Holy Family Church, Woonsocket. It was a very memorable event in the life of our parish.

On January 29, 1989, a serious fire destroyed the parish rectory. Fortunately, Rev. Mitrat Mowatt survived the disaster but had to recuperate, for many months, from severe burns. His Excellency, Bishop Basil Losten assigned temporarily Fr. Stephen Shubiak to serve in our parish in 1989.

Rev. Ivan Kaszczak was appointed new administrator in September of 1989, and supervised the contruction of the new rectory. After the new rectory was completed, it was blessed by Bishop Basil Losten on August 19, 1990. After his complete project, Rev. Ivan Kaszczak turned to a new project, which was the rennovation of the interior of the church.

In September 1991, Rev. Zbigniew J. Brzezicki was the new administrator. During his administration, a new retaining wall was built in our cemetery. The Church’s Cupolas were repaired and painted.

In August 1997, Monsignor John Squiller succeeded Father Zbigniew Brzezicki, and on November 4,1997, Rev. Msgr. Roman Golemba, the present pastor, succeeded Monsignor John Squiller.

History compiled by Right Rev. Mitrat John Mowatt

Updated by Rev. Msgr. Roman Golemba.

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