Niagara Gazette

Columns

June 2, 2014

HIGGS: Parishioners pour heart into new church

Niagara Gazette — Following last week’s column of the early history of St. Mary’s Greek Catholic Church at 2715 Ferry Ave., I paid a visit to the church and its interesting and proud current pastor, the Rev. Raymond Palko.

Another local historian and friend, Michael Parsnick, joined me as he has a connection through his mother’s sister, Albina Soha, who is from Nanticoke in eastern Pennsylvania, where many of the Ukrainians settled upon arrival in the U.S. She met her future husband, Ukrainian John Grozio who also came from Nanticoke, at St. Mary’s Hall at a dance. Their union produced three children, one of whom is the Niagara County legislator for the LaSalle section of the city, Mark Grozio.

Rev. Palko invited us inside a typical home of an Eastern Christian community. Though small and not as ornate as some I seen through my travels to Russia and Greece, it symbolizes the very nature of the parish’s religious life. This is a Byzantine church, decorated with icons (images) of Old Testament prophets and saints of past ages. The Icon Screen joins the Holy Place, the altar area, to the Nave or body of the church and is adorned with images of Christ, those central to his life and his followers. We adjourned to the rectory adjacent to the church where I received many documents relating to the history or the buildings and the church members.

He told us more about the early immigrants and how they organized to establish a church. One of the documents is dated Feb. 19, 1961, written by Michael Hupajlo who referred to himself as “an old parishioner passing down a history to the year 1920 from the year 1913.” The group purchased a Protestant church for $300 which was located at Ferry and Portage where a new high school was to be built and moved it to the south side of Ferry Avenue to four lots which included a house they had purchased for $3,000. The move, foundation, hall, heat and other work cost another $1,800. Hupajlo and three others worked on columns and he “bought the house for $3,000 by mortgaging, and held the note for 18 years, and since the house was not needed I sold it to an Italian for the same amount ...” He continued, referring to honored deceased members, “Ivan Borak (who) donated much to the church, the painting behind the altar, iconostas, benches, construction of the bell tower and the choir loft, and Hataljak bought the bell.”

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