FOR 100 YEARS OUR DOORS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN OPEN. ALL WELCOME
This proclamation sets the tone for the parish of Saint Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church, as it commemorates the centennial anniversary of its founding. Understanding that it is by the Grace of Almighty God that the parish has reached this milestone, we know that it is our response to the call of evangelization that will nurture us for the next century of service. In this way, we imitate our ancestors who realized this, when they brought their beautiful Byzantine faith to our corner of the world in Barberton, Ohio. Let us take a look at the beginning.
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 June 26, 1916. The congregation was dedicated July 6, 1916 under the patronage of Saint Nicholas. On Sept. 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 parishioners 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 Sept. 6, 1936.
The visionary leadership of Rev. Michael Rapach led to the purchase in 1956 of 40 acres of land in Coventry Township. 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. Sunday, July 31 1966, the congregation celebrated the dedication of its new church, together with the 50th anniversary of its founding. Less than 10 years later, at the celebration in 1974 of the Feast of the Resurrection, they burned the mortgage. The public celebration took place the following Sunday.
Much was accomplished during the pastorate of the Rev. Robert Yarnovitz. In 1976, the bell tower and front drive canopy were added to the church complex. Throughout the 1970s, 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 75thanniversay. First, an open house for the public was held 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 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 high school 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 May 12, 1997.
Subsequent to his passing, St. Nicholas was administered for the next 11 years by several priests who were ordained by the Roman church, then accepted into the Byzantine Rite.
The Rev. Bernard Danber, administrator of the nearby church of the Dormition, was the first to fill this role. It was during this time that infant communion was instituted at St. Nicholas church. This was done in fulfillment of the directive for our Eastern Catholic Churches, that the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist be reunited with the other two sacraments of initiation, Baptism and Chrismation.
It was also during this time that the Dormition church was closed, with many of the parishioners joining the parish of St. Nicholas.
During the time that the Rev. James Adkins was with us, we had the opportunity in May of 2000, to honor him as he commemorated the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.
The administration of Rev. Stephen Muth bridged the gap until the Rev. Alan Kapron was appointed as pastor of St. Nicholas.
A grape vineyard was planted during Fr. Alan’s pastorate. This vineyard would be named the Katie Seay Vineyard in memory of one of our high school students. Only weeks before her passing, she had given tirelessly of her time and talent with joyful spirit in the planting of the vineyard seedlings. The parish was able to 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, and a remodeling of the hall was accomplished. By covering over the ceramic block walls, and adding soft ambient lighting, the hall took on a more pleasant atmosphere.
With the appointment of the Rev. Bobert Stash as administrator in 2007, the time of having bi-ritual priests at St. Nicholas parish had come to an end. Father Stash was the priest at our sister church in Akron, St. Michaels. Like Fr. Danber before him, with this appointment, Fr. Stash would be ministering to two parishes in neighboring cities. With the 2012 closing of St. Michaels, most of the parishioners found a new home at St. Nicholas.
In 2008, for the first time in 42 years, with the appointment of the Rev. Miron Kerul’-Kmec, St. Nicholas Church would once again have a married priest as pastor. Father Miron is a native of Slovakia.
As the past years had proven to be difficult times for the parish family, the years to follow were full of unity and advancement. Many new and innovative changes would take place at the church.
Quickly, the parish was brought into the digital age with the development of its own web site, www.stnickbyz.com. Subsequent applications for Facebook and the smart phone followed. Also, talks and seminars given by many different speakers on matters of faith and spirituality, were recorded onto DVDs and also published on YouTube. The video equipment and church bells were changed over from analog to digital control.
The Saint Nicholas award program was instituted to coincide with the Feast day of our patron. This honor gives recognition to one or two parishioners who exemplify his spirit by their generous giving of dedicated service to the church. Rita Benya, choir director since 1961, was the first to be recognized. “Praise the Lord”, a Festival of Choirs, was initiated by Rita in 2009 and saw five musically filled years of fellowship and community; with choirs of some of our own, as well as of other neighboring Christian churches. The 2012 Festival obtained significant status due to the attendance of His Excellency Archbishop Jan Babjak, of the Arch eparchy of Presov, Slovakia. The parish was also honored to have the Archbishop, together with our bishop, His Excellency John Kudrick, Eparch of Parma, celebrate the Sunday Divine Liturgy earlier that day.
The Third Generation of Founders - St. Nicholas Fund, was inaugurated to provide the means whereby any parishioner would have the opportunity to donate to the monetary effort needed to secure fiscal stability for the church as it steps into the next century. In this way, one would be able to join in the spirit of the First generation of founders who built the original church, and also the Second generation who shouldered the responsibility of building our current home.
The “Cloud of Witnesses” are those saints whose icons we see encircling the interior of the church. Blessed on Sept. 20, 2009, the icon of St. Demetrius, donated by the Altar Society, would lead the way to seeing 19 more icons complete the circle. In this same manner, new icons of the prophets and patriarchs were added to complete the lower tier of the icon screen. Feast Day icons of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and those of the Theotokos, will finish the upper tier. In addition to the changes on the icon screen in 2015-2016, other preparations for the Diamond Jubilee had already begun in 2014. As previously mentioned, everything would be accomplished solely through the generous contributions of individuals, families, and the organizations of the church.
The parish celebration for the Feast of St. Nicholas in 2013 was blessed by the presence of not only Bishop John Kudrick, but also of His Excellency Bishop Peter Fulop Kocsis, Eparch of Hajdudorog, Hungary, and Bishop Milan Lach, SJ, auxiliary bishop for the Archeparchy of Presov, Slovakia. Giving the homily, Bishop Milan spoke of the qualities of our patron saint that we should imitate.
Four new chandeliers, imports from Vlandis Brothers of Greece, provide a dramatic effect on the atmosphere of the church. The icons around the choros contribute to the spirit of meditation, while the many lights brightly illumine the splendor of the church interior. Many other items were added, or replaced to update and enhance the beauty of the church. Among these are a new tabernacle, ripidia, candle stands and bishop’s throne with attendant rugs.
Because God has touched the hearts of so many to graciously share of their time and talent, our church is rich in fellowship. This response can be seen through those teaching in our ECF program, singing in the choir, serving at the altar, praying seasonally for indicated intentions or with the Rosary Society. In addition, the Altar Society, St. George Men’s Group, St. Ann’s Ministry and GCU Lodge positively affect the internal life of the parish, with St. Ann’s also providing the opportunity for active participation in community outreach.
The most important preparation for the celebration of the church’s centennial however, would not be in the acquisition of material items, but rather, in the spiritual growth and the deepening of faith in its members. Already, in previous years there had been yearly retreats given at the parish, as well as the formation of a prayer group. Those who volunteered were called upon during the fasting periods of the year, to intensify their daily prayer for different needs as identified.
Many events were planned for a yearlong celebration of the jubilee. For this year to produce a fruitful renewal, the parish family agreed that attention to prayer should be the first priority. On July 12, 2015, over 90 pilgrims journeyed to the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch, to pray to our Blessed Mother, and to ask for God’s blessing upon this year of our endeavors.
The call went out to all those baptized at the current location, inviting them to the Sunday Divine Liturgy on October fourth, which was followed by a fellowship breakfast. The next major event was a weekend retreat, given Jan. 22-24, on the topic of Theosis. All in attendance experienced the opportunity to learn how to strengthen and deepen their prayer life for the lifelong journey to union with God.
Always trusting in God, we look forward to the next century of spreading the Good News with the same faith and courage as our founders.