St Michael’s in Chicago Celebrates 100 Years

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Wikipedia says “‘Homecoming’ is the tradition of welcoming back former students and members and celebrating an organization's existence. It is a tradition in many high schools, colleges, and churches in the United States and Canada.”

Homecoming is exactly what St Michael Church in Chicago had in mind as the congregation celebrated its centennial on November 19—just days before the patronal feast, and a few more days before Thanksgiving

It was an occasion to celebrate its togetherness as a faith community that had (and has) come together for many of the moments that touch the lives of its membership: from birth to marriages, to joys and sorrow, to death and funerals—and beyond.

The first part of the celebration centered around the pivotal rationale for a parish in the first place: to pray. His Grace, Bishop Benedict (Alexiychuk) joined us for prayer, and in prayer, celebrating a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. Just before the appointed time, he approached the front doors of the church, to be greeted and welcomed by representatives of the parish community.

Enabling those gathered in the first rows of pews to hear, the entourage moved to a point mid-aisle as Walter Zaokopny and Nancy Grod presented the traditional signs of hospitality—bread and salt, and a bouquet of flowers, along with words of welcome. Then Fr John Lucas, who serves the parish, presented His Grace with a blessing cross.

Concluding the greeting, concelebrating clergy accompanied our bishop to the ambo where the public vesting took place. With the assistance of subdeacom Petro Rudka, His Grace was clothed in the episcopal garments—accompanied by the prayers and petitions of Deacon Ihor Khomytsky of the cathedral parish; and Very Rev Bohdan Nalysnyk, rector of St Nicholas Cathedral and Rev Yaroslav Mendyuk, associate at Immaculate Conception parish in Palatine.

Having completed the preliminary preparations, the prayers before the iconostas were recited—the royal doors were opened, and the familiar cadence of the Liturgy commenced.

Responses were sung by the congregation, as they are every Sunday, augmented by a steadily increasing number of parishioners past and present, visitors and friends from far and near, after locating a place to park on the streets around the church.

In his homily, Bishop Benedict referred to the Gospel lesson, and offered words of instruction and encouragement to everyone anxious to apply the tenets of faith to their daily lives, and to partake in the Eucharistic thanksgiving.

Since the day was dedicated to the observance of a century of service to the people of God, there was a Panakhyda  for the faithful—people and the priests who served them—at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy. Here the plea was heard for the Eternal Memory of the forebears of the present congregation, which has changed over the course of ten decades.

There was a group photo taken—although there seemed to be some camera-shy people amongst those present, and all proceeded to the parish hall for the next step in the festivities.

Memento cards noting the date and place of the celebration were distributed with a prayer to our patron, Michael the Archangel, accompanied with an icon of the leader of the armies of angels—and all the bodiless powers.

After gathering downstairs, a brief recap of the history of the parish was presented by Walter Zaokopny—a native son of the parish, representing the descendants of early founders of the parish. He noted that in the course of time, many members of early families moved to suburbs, and found parishes closer to their new homes. Yet, St Micheal’s continued, its population swelled by members of a neighboring small parish, St Basil’s, which had closed some forty years ago. St Michael’s became the new home to a new group of faithful.

Sitting down to eat, all had a choice of a variety of foods to enjoy—BBQ entrees, sides, salads, sweets and an array of liquid refreshments: coffee, juices, and water, as well as a time to reminisce. Before anyone had a chance to rush away, several guests were called upon for remarks. Visiting “for the first time in one hundred years”, Fr Mykola Dillendorf of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Constantinople Patriarchate) spoke of the impression the hardy congregational singing made on him.

Adding sentiments of congratulations to the endurance of the parochial family who have maintained the parish throughout the years were Fr Nalysnyk, and Fr Mendyuk, whose thoughts inspired the group to reflect.

Mr Julian Hayda, representing a new development, and an influx of younger people looking for a Church, was called forward to comment on his rather recent “discovery” of the parish he praised for 100% participation in the Liturgy. Perhaps St Michael’s can again welcome a new contingent for future growth, and follow in the footsteps of the past one hundred years to be open to new developments in parish life.

Encouraged by these testimonials, several guests joined in with impromptu messages. Some were from the first group of St Michael’s who had fond memories—even though they now reside in Michigan, Indiana or in Illinois further away from West Pullman than practical for regular trips. Others were from nearby parishes who had made past visits to St Michael’s over the years, and shared nostalgic sentiments. One spoke of the impressive building that stands as a signal of faith for the world to see.

Nearing the end of the day’s events, Fr John Lucas summed up the gist of the comments, and reminded the people of the priceless gift of faith they have, and have spread to others through their attention to the needs of those who have found their way to St Michael’s Church. Several choruses of “Many Years!” were sung as a parting gesture, for the parish and for those returning to their homes upon leaving our “homecoming”.

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