CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY

St. Michael's
Ukrainian Catholic Church

697
Florence Street
Northwest Corner of
South 7th and Florence Streets

Camden is well known for its ethnic communities. The large Polish, Italian, Irish, German, and Jewish communities played a great role in Camden's history in the 19th and first part of the 20th century, while Black and Puerto Rican communities have given the city much of its recent flavor. There are other, lesser known ethnic groups that have made up the fabric of the city's life over the years. Greeks, Armenians, and Ukrainians  grouped together in the city in Camden's growth years. More recently, Vietnamese, Jamaicans, Dominicans, Haitians, and Koreans have come to the city to live and seek the American dream. 

Early in the 20th century a number of Ukrainian families moved into Camden's Eighth Ward. There was work to be found at nearby factories such as the McAndrews & Forbes licorice factory, the Eavenson & Levering wool scouring plant, the Howland Croft & Sons textile mill, Camden Forge, and the New York Shipbuilding Corporation shipyard, among others.

The Ukrainian immigrant community pooled their resources, and like the Poles did with St. Joseph's Church at South 10th & Mechanic, organized a church to fulfill their spiritual and cultural needs. Ferry Avenue grocer Stephen Haday was one of the organizers, he would serve as the church treasurer for 40 years. St. Michael's purchased the former Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church at 697 Florence Street, which had become available when the Lutheran congregation moved to Fairview, in 1923. 

St. Michael's grew and prospered at 697 Florence Street. This building served its members well into the mid-1970s. However, as Camden began to change, with the loss of many of the industrial jobs in the Eighth Ward and elsewhere within the city, many of St. Michael's members began to move out of the city. Plans were made and land was purchased around 1970 in Cherry Hill NJ for a new church to be erected.

The new St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church was built on Cooper Landing Road in the late 1970s. The old building, which had been sold after construction began on the new church in 1976, is still in use, and has been since at least 1989 the home of St. Matthew Highway Church of Christ of the Apostolic Faith.     

Our Parish History

On September 6, 1923, a group of Ukrainian Catholics residing in Camden, New Jersey gathered to incorporate St. Michaelís Ukrainian Catholic Church. The group was under the direction of Rev. Peter Poniatishin, Administrator of the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Diocese in the United States, appointed by the Pope of Rome. St. Michaelís first pastor was Rev. John J. Dorohovic. The first trustees were Peter Plaskon and Anthony Chubik. Onofry Lazor was the first church secretary. Among other early organizers were Stephen Haday and Nicholas Lapiska.

A church building had been purchased at 7th and Florence Streets in South Camden, and renovations began to convert this former Lutheran church structure built in 1903 into St. Michaelís Ukrainian Catholic Church. The churchís stained glass windows were produced with many of them being contributed by early parishioners.

In 1924, Rev. Andrew Rudekevich served St. Michaelsí and on March 30, the first baptism took place, that of Maria Petrilka. Farther Rudekevich was the first Ukrainian pastor educated in America. Rev. Eugene Bartosh, who was also pastor of the Mission Church of St. Josaphat in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, served St. Michaelís in 1925. The first marriage, that of Michael Zawoyski and Anna Chubik, was performed on January 24, 1925. On August 12th of that year Michael Woloshin was the first parishioner to be buried from St. Michaelís. In 1936, Father Roman Krupa served as pastor, although he resided in Philadelphia, PA and served St. Michaelís on Sundays. This pattern continued as Rev. Anthony Ulanitsky served St. Michaelís from 1943 to 1946. In 1946 Rev. Leo Adamiak became St. Michaelís first resident priest and St. Michaelís was his first parish.

The decades of the 1930s and 1940s were years of hard work and many fundraising activities to build St. Michaelís parish. At first, pyrohy (pierogies) to be sold to Camden factory workers were made in parishionersí homes, and then later were made in the church basement. Dances were held with a 25-cent admission fee. There were concerts, plays, and card parties, and picnics were held on the church grounds. Bingo at St. Michaelís became a neighborhood favorite activity. Christmas in Camden was a time for St. Michaelís parishioners to carol through the streets of the city along the row houses and to neighbors and friends of the parish.

​The dawning of World War II saw many young men of St. Michaelís leave to serve their country, with several paying the supreme sacrifice. Those who returned after service were honored by their fellow parishioners most memorably with a Veteranís Banquet held in the church hall in September 1947. Post-World War II life brought two important developments to St. Michaelís. The new pastor, Rev. Isidore Nahayevsky served as a dynamic leader for the parish. His wife, ďPania Imosh,Ē took a very active part in parish life and led the choir as well as taught music to the children. It was under her direction that a youth orchestra was formed and many more plays and pageants were produced at the parish.

​The second important development was the arrival of many families and individuals from the Displaced Persons camps of Europe. These individuals had been victims of both Nazi and Communist persecution. Father Nahayevsky had also suffered imprisonment for his loyalty to the Catholic Church. This new pastoral leadership along with the influx of many new parishioners invigorated the parish and increased parish activities.

​The 1950s saw several important developments due to the growth of the parish. In 1954 the parish purchased the ground next to the church at 7th and Florence Streets. This small lot provided extra space for outdoor activities Ė picnics, parties and games and parking for cars. A shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary was created as a focal point for devotions. During that year Father Nahayevsky, with the assistance of others, carved the iconostas and decorated the rear wall of the sanctuary. A parishioner, Michael Vakula, an accomplished artist, painted the various panels of the iconostas.

As the parish grew more space was needed for social and parish use. In 1958 a school hall was built at a cost of $60,000. The building was located across the street and down the block from the church. The hall became the center for many activities with Saturday catechism classes and Ukrainian language classes in the classroom areas and many dinners, banquets and weddings in the hallís social areas on the first and second floors. Into the early 1960s the parish continued to thrive with many new activities including a parish basketball team for young men. Through a variety of social and fundraising activities and rentals, the mortgage to the new school hall building was paid off within three years.

​In 1964, Father Nahayevsky was transferred and Rev. Basil Losten arrived as administrator. Under his direction, major refurbishing and decorating projects were undertaken for the church and school hall. Father Augustine Molodowitz was pastor in 1965, followed by rev. Michael Poloway and Rev. Myron Plekan. In the late 1960s, the city of Camden began its rapid downward economic spiral and it was apparent that the parish would need to relocate. In 1969, Rev. Myron Kozmoski became pastor of St. Michael's and was charged with moving the church to a new location. Two and a half acres of ground along Cooper Landing Road were purchased in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, as the future site of St. Michaels.

When Father Michael Rewtiuk arrived at St. Michaelís in the early 1970s, the tempo of building plans increased. Architects and planners were engaged and worked with Fr. Rewtiuk and many parishioners on the design of the new building. Steps were taken to vacate both of the properties at 7th and Florence Streets.

Sunday, May 16, 1976, was an important date in the history of St. Michaelís. Led by former pastor (now Bishop) Basil Losten, the congregation of St. Michaelís held ground breaking ceremonies at the site on Cooper Landing Road. Shortly thereafter, actual construction began. The school, church, and rectory in Camden were sold and Divine Liturgies were temporarily celebrated in the Chapel of Camden Catholic High School during construction of the new church.

By the latter part of 1977, the exterior of the new church was completed as well as the basement hall area. Liturgies were transferred to the new building and initially held in the hall until the upstairs interior was completed. Father John Wysochansky, who succeeded Father Rewtiuk, celebrated the first Divine Liturgy in the hall of the new church. 

Father Wysochansky was succeeded by Father Gregory Maslak in the late 1970s. Under Father Maslakís direction, and through the great generosity of parishioner Emil Gontowski, the upstairs interior of the church was completed. The original iconostas from the old church was dismantled and stored in the Ukrainian Cathedral in Philadelphia during the move and construction of the new church. It has since been refurbished and now graces the sanctuary of St. Michaelís in Cherry Hill.

In November 1980, the cornerstone for the new St. Michaelís church on Cooper Landing Road was blessed and laid during a ceremony celebrated by Bishop Basil Losten, who was joined by concelebrants Rev. Michael Rewtiuk, Rev. John Wysochansky and Rev. Gregory Maslak. The first marriage at the newly finished church was that of Michael Chuba and Pamela Miller on November 22, 1981.

In 1984, Rev. Maslak was transferred from the parish followed by Monsignor Walter Paska, who tended to the parish for approximately the next decade. Monsignor Paska continued to lead the parish in active fundraising activities to pay off the mortgage on the new church, and in 1990 he presided over the symbolic burning of the mortgage papers during a banquet held at the now demolished Cherry Hill Inn.

Upon Monsignor Paskaís appointment as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archeparchy of Philadelphia, Father Joseph Martyniuk was assigned to St. Michaelís and led the parish for approximately three years. In October 1997, Father John Ciurpita was appointed pastor and began instructing St. Michaelís parishioners in their faith by beginning Adult Religious Education classes. Fr. Ciurpita left St. Michaelís at the end of Aug 2004 and was replaced by Rev Monsignor Martin A. Canavan, Sep 2004 Ė Aug 2005; Rev. Petro Semenych, Sep 2005 Ė Aug 2009; Rev. Ruslan Romanyuk, Oct 2009 Ė Aug 2011; Rev. Paul J. Makar, present pastor.

St. Michaelís parish faces the challenges of many parishes in the twenty-first century Ė how to continue to grow and keep our faith and traditions alive in the new millennium. We ask for Godís guidance and blessings on our parish community.

St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church - Fall of 2003

2003 - St. Michael's is now St. Matthew Highway


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