Saint Nicholas Church was founded by immigrants from both the Backa and Presov areas of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. This group first organized a lodge in the Greek Catholic Union fraternal organization and then focused their attention on organizing themselves as a church congregation. The Articles of Incorporation were signed on June 26, 1916. The congregation was dedicated on July 6, 1916 under the patronage of St. Nicholas. On September 20, 1916 , the property for their church was purchased. While the church was being built, services were held in the downtown opera house. By the spring of 1918, the parishoners moved into their newly built church, located on the corner of First St. and Lake Ave. in downtown Barberton. Reverend Peter Popovich was brought to Barberton from Cleveland. He was a widower, with one daughter.
As the new industrial city of Barberton quickly grew and prospered, so too did the church of St. Nicholas. In 1935, five and a quarter acres of land were bought in the neighboring village of Clinton as a burial place for the deceased members of the parish. This ground was consecrated on September 6, 1936.
The visionary leadership of Rev. Michael Rapach led to the purchase in 1956 of 40 acres of land in Coventry Twp. By 1958, picnic grounds were developed on the new property and a modern indoor pavilion was built. Groundbreaking for a new church took place on Sunday, May 23, 1965. On Sunday, July 31 1966, the congregation celebrated the dedication of its new church, together with the 50th anniversary of its founding. On Sunday, April 14, 1974, at the celebration of the Feast of the Resurrection, they burned the mortgage.
Much was accomplished during the pastorate of Rev. Robert Yarnovitz. In 1976, the bell tower and front drive canopy were added to the church complex. Throughout the 1970's, the interior of the church was remodeled appropriate to the design for a Byzantine church.
A fruitful, cultural renaissance took place at St. Nicholas. The liturgical choir began to learn Rusin folk songs, performing at parochial and public affairs. In addition a dance group was organized in 1979, which took the name of The "Carpathians"’ in recognition of the geographical roots of the church founders. That same year, the St. George cultural-recreation center was built. This building houses classrooms for the growing ECF program, a library, kitchen and other amenities.
Furthermore, a Christmas Velija Supper for the parish family was implemented, as well as a breakfast of the Easter foods following the Saturday late night Resurrection matins and blessing of baskets.
In 1991 the city of Barberton celebrated its centennial, and St. Nicholas celebrated its 75th anniversay. First, an open house for the public was held on June 23 in conjunction with the Barberton Centennial Tour of Historic Churches. Later in the year, the parish’s Rusin heritage was displayed at the Barberton Centennial "Something Ethnic" International Festival. A specially organized dance group, and the church choir performed. A booth of ethnic cuisine and an exhibit of cultural and religious items displayed the heritage of St. Nicholas. The formal celebration for the congregation took place on Sunday, Sept. 22.
The Rev. Michael Felock instituted programs that enabled the children to be more actively involved in the life of the parish. Most noted was Student Sunday. The ECF students, together with their teachers would enter the church in procession and sit together as a group. The highschool and college graduates were honored with a special Divine Liturgy followed by a parish breakfast. Father Felock was nearing the end of his ninth year as pastor, when he was called by God to enter into his eternal reward on May 12, 1997.
Subsequent to his passing, St. Nicholas was administered for the next 11 years by several priests ordained by the Roman church; who were then accepted into the Byzantine Rite.
A grape vineyard was planted during the administration of Rev. Alan Kapron. The parish was able hold their first auction of wine from this vineyard in the Spring of 2008. Also, the Sunday Divine Liturgy began to be televised on the local CAT public access station.
For the first time in 42 years, with the appointment of the Rev. Fr. Miron Kerul’-Kmec, St. Nicholas Church would once again have a married priest as pastor. Father Miron is a native of Slovakia and has been in the United States for two years.
The past few years have proven to be difficult times for the parish family. Fr. Miron is uniquely able, as a father of his own family, to provide the confidence and stability needed by the parish of St. Nicholas; so that we may continue to perpetuate the spirit of human kindness. We will continue to strive, just as our (great-grand) parents did when they first arrived in this country, to live and honor the message of Jesus Christ, according to our beautiful Byzantine Rite.
By James Senderak
January 25, 2015 | (155)
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