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(The below article is taken from the Archangel Michael Church Fiftieth Year Anniversary Commemorative Album, which was distributed on November 13, 2005).
by Fr. Steve Denas, third & current pastor
To many an immigrant desiring to come to America to make a new and better life, in the early 1900’s, Youngstown meant opportunity. With abundant steel mills, there were jobs to be had and money to be made. Workers were in the midst of the Industrial Revolution in this country, which began in the 1870’s. Many Greek immigrants from Asia Minor, Turkey, were in the first throes of deportation. Turkey wanted to be rid of the Greeks, and finally the tragedy of the Asia Minor holocaust took place in 1922. The late Bishop George of Komanon describes the situation in his book The Odyssey of Hellenism in America (p. 233): “The year 1900 marks the beginning of accelerated growth both in the number of Greek people and in their churches in the United States. The Greeks were arriving in America by tens of thousands. Most of them being unskilled, they accepted any kind of work that enabled them to earn a living. They were very industrious people but in many instances were discriminated against and even hated by their co-workers of other nationalities because of their industrious zeal. In their hardships they found relief and consolation in their church. They were prepared to make all kinds of sacrifice to build a church, or to organize a community . . . By 1906 there were 29 churches [Greek churches in the US]; by 1916 there were 59, and by 1926 there were 153.”
To the Greek immigrants coming to America, life in America had to be better than where they were coming from. Those coming to Youngstown and its environs in the early 1900’s were nearly all single men; some were bachelors, others had left their families in the old country expecting to bring them over too, in due time.
There was a desire to form a Greek Orthodox community in Youngstown from the early 1900’s. Sunday, December 5, 1915, is the date identified when certain persons met to organize what was to be known as St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Church, the first Greek Orthodox church in Youngstown. Shortly thereafter, and due to the turbulent government politics in Greece at the time, certain persons organized what was to be known as St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, located on Walnut Street in Youngstown. Greek politics identified two rival parties: the Royalists (those supporting the King of Greece) and the Venizelists (so named after liberal politician, Eleftherios Venizelos). So, two churches beginning approximately during the same time were able to satisfy those who might support one party or another. These two churches served the Greek community in Youngstown during these early decades.
With many Greeks settling in the Youngstown area in general, and many people from the Aegean islands of Simi and Kalymnos settling in Campbell in particular, it seemed right to want to build a future church in Campbell that could help them maintain the religious and spiritual traditions they grew up with. In fact, the Kalymnians had built their social hall on Twelfth Street in the 1920’s, and the Simians had their hall on Wilson Avenue in an auditorium on the second floor of a building. Other large groups came from the island of Cyprus, and from Asia Minor. Smaller family groups were from various other cities and islands in Greece.
Campbell is called the “City of Churches.” Even for its small population size of now under nine thousand residents, it boasts of several different churches. Florence Galida, in her book entitled “Fascinating History of the City of Campbell” (published in 1976), gives the list of these churches and their year of organization: Marion Heights United Methodist Church (1835), First Baptist Church (1908), St. John the Baptist Slovak Roman Catholic Church (1916), St. John the Baptist Eastern Orthodox Church (1917), St. Joseph the Provider Roman Catholic Church (1919), St. Elizabeth Roman Catholic Church (1922), St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church (1922), Gospel Temple Baptist Church (1923), St. Lucy Roman Catholic Church (1937), Greater Liberty Baptist Church (1946), Assembly of God Pentecostal Church (1947), Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church (1955), Bible Baptist Temple (1957), Spanish Seventh Day Adventist Church (1962), Full Gospel Church of God (1968), and Kingdom Hall / Jehovah’s Witnesses (1970). There is a good probability that, since this book was published some thirty years ago, there are more churches now than the sixteen listed by Galida.
But there is more. According to the parish history, entitled, “This Is Our Story,” written by Dr. George N. Spirtos, which appeared in the Consecration Album of Archangel Michael Church in 1956, the Greek people of Campbell congregated as a church in an empty auditorium on Wilson Avenue. Yet due to certain factors, this gathering on Wilson Avenue did not develop into the creation of a parish church at this time. And so many of the Campbell Greeks identified St. Nicholas Church as their house of worship. Still the idea persisted that the Greek Orthodox of Campbell should have their own church in which to worship.
Dr. Spirtos continues: “On August 6, 1937, a group of women headed by Mrs. Mary Spirtos started on a strange crusade to collect $.25 from 165 women each month until they somehow could build a church. Many scoffed and laughed at this seemingly ridiculous effort – use quarters to raise thousands in years when the smallest structure costs many thousands? BUT in 1953, these astounding women turned over to us $2,300 and a lot of land they purchased for over $1,500!” Galida also gives more detail here by writing that “in 1937, the wives of Nicholas Spirtos, Thomas Kapsulis, Steve Tsarnas and Gus Valantasis, began collecting money for a Greek Orthodox Church in Campbell. The funds were deposited in the Dollar Bank of Campbell for future use in establishing a church. The years passed and the balance increased. In 1953, the first step toward a church was made with the purchase of a plot of ground at Porter Avenue and Twelfth Street. A committee headed by Dr. George Spirtos, Dr. John Thanos, Attorney Gus Kavouklis and Mr. George Nicola, bought the land and laid the plans for the building of the church. A committee asked for a charter from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and it was granted in 1954. A priest had been petitioned for and Rev. George T. Pappas arrived to offer the first liturgy that November (of 1955).” Fr. Pappas arrived on November 5, 1955.
Archangel Michael Church had received its name prior to the arrival of Fr. Pappas. The Kalymnians preferred the name St. John the Baptist, “O Prodromos.” But the Youngstown church was already so named. The Simians preferred the name of Archangel Michael “O Panormitis,” after the famous monastery church on Simi. These two groups of people finally agreed on selecting the patron saint of Archangel Michael, for no one could object to the Archangel. And so the naming of the church proved to be the unifying force for this Campbell community.
Dr. George Spirtos, who became the first Parish Council President of Archangel Michael, was only 32 years old in 1953 when the push to get a Greek Orthodox church built in Campbell began. He writes: “In 1953, after much persuasion from my mother (Mary Spirtos), Dr. John Thanos, Sister Kay Thanos, Tula Spirtos, Mr. and Mrs. Kapsulis and a few other friends, we put our shoulders to the wheel and started our climb up the mountain. Resistance – this we had! It was one step forward and ten backward. Still we kept taking that one step forward . . . We started out with 26,000 dollars to build a 59,000 dollar church. . . This poor community of Island Hellenes, of ordinary means – started its drive in October 1953, started to build in October 1954 (groundbreaking on October 26th), entered its beautiful church on (Sunday,) November 13, 1955 (door opening and first Divine Liturgy), and is dedicating (consecrating) its church on (Sunday,) November 11, 1956 – its mortgage paid and free of debt. . . In 1956 we raised approximately 89,000 dollars. To do this we sponsored dances, picnics, presented patriotic plays, had a 7-day bazaar, had a food tent at the Canfield Fair, raffled a car, put out this dedication day book. Need I say anything of how hard we worked – men, women and children?” Such was the dedication and zeal of those who took on the responsibility for building the church from 1953-56. And all were very grateful for the energy of their first Parish Council President, Dr. George N. Spirtos, only 34 years old in 1955!
According to Galida, when Archangel Michael Church celebrated its door-opening (thyranexia) service and first Divine Liturgy, “one third of the congregation of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Youngstown removed their membership to the Campbell church. This portion of St. Nicholas Church was comprised of one hundred thirty five family members who made their home in Campbell but had no church of the Greek Orthodox faith nearby to attend. It was the climax of almost twenty years of saving toward this goal, and the beginning of an established parish within the limits of the city.”
The Vindicator, the popular Youngstown newspaper, covered the door-opening ceremony and liturgy of Sunday, November 13, 1955, on the following day. The article was entitled, “800 Help Dedicate New Greek Church,” and included two large photographs taken on Sunday. The top photograph showed the front view of the outside of the church with many people surrounding the front entrance during the ceremony. The bottom photograph pictured the clergy in their vestments (the Most Reverend Germanos Liamanos, bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church; and Reverend Fathers John Papadopoulos of St. John’s in Youngstown, George Hadjis of St. Nicholas in Youngstown, and George Pappas, pastor of Archangel Michael) together with three laymen who had the honor of opening the church, Nicholas M. Spirtos, Dr. George N. Spirtos (his son), and Dr. John N. Thanos (his son-in-law).
The Vindicator article mentioned that the new edifice was valued at 175,000 dollars, was measured at 40 by 100 feet, and was constructed out of gray brick trimmed with Indiana limestone. Members of the church did most of the general labor and a large share of the skilled work, resulting in a saving of more than 30,000 dollars on the building. Dr. Spirtos headed a church committee, which handled the general contract work, including purchase of materials and subcontracting.
On that Sunday, November 13th, a parade took place in the morning before church services. It began down at the Simian Hall on Wilson Avenue and proceeded up Twelfth Street, passing in front of the Kalymnian Hall where Bishop Liamanos joined the procession (he was unable to walk up the big hill) with visiting priests, parishioners and various Greek organizations marching. The Campbell Memorial High School band played. At the front steps of the new church, Bishop Liamanos (who was the former pastor of St. John’s Greek Orthodox Church in Youngstown, just prior to Fr. Papadopoulos) conveyed the blessing of Archbishop Michael in New York. Bishop Liamanos presented two scrolled gold keys for the opening of the church door to Dr. George Spirtos and Dr. John Thanos, who in return presented the keys to Nicholas Spirtos who opened the door.
Assisting Bishop Liamanos at the Divine Liturgy were the Rev. Fr. George Pappas of Astoria, Long Island, NY (pastor of the new church), Fr. John Kovulchuk (pastor of St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Church - Youngstown), Fr. John Papadopoulos (pastor of St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Church – Youngstown), Fr. George Hadjis (pastor of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church – Youngstown), and Fr. Constantine Raptis (pastor of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church – Tarpon Springs, FL) formerly of Campbell, who attended Campbell Memorial High School.
The Vindicator reported that the combined choirs of the three churches were in attendance and that many children were dressed in Greek costumes. After the liturgy, six hundred persons attended the banquet held in the downstairs church auditorium with Attorney Konstantine J. Kavoklis as toastmaster. Talks were given by Mayor Michael J. Kovach, Bishop Liamanos, Dr. Spirtos, visiting priests and others. After the banquet there was dancing, followed by a display of fireworks. Dr. Spirtos reported that 15,000 dollars was collected in cash and in pledges on the church grounds and at the banquet.
One year later, on Sunday, November 11, 1956, Archangel Michael Church was consecrated (“engenia”) by Bishop Polyefctos Finfinis, Bishop of the Sixth Archdiocesan District (Pittsburgh). Assisting the bishop were Frs. Pappas, Papadopoulos and Hadjis. Relics of three saints were interred in the Holy Altar table: St. Panteleimon, St. Paraskevi, and St. Irene the Great Martyr. And the mortgage was burned, thanks to the hard working parishioners!
Much thanks and credit for the expansion of Archangel Michael Church are due to the fine and sustained leadership of its dedicated first pastor, Fr. George T. Pappas. Under his guidance many milestones were accomplished with God’s help. His tenure lasted forty-two years (1955-1997).
Interestingly enough, Fr. George had received several elevations of church offices over his long tenure. Bishop Polyefctos bestowed upon him the titles of ‘pnevmatikos,’ ‘sakellarios,’ and ‘economos.’ Bishop Theodosios bestowed upon him the title of ‘protopresvyteros of the Sixth Archdiocesan District.’ Metropolitan Maximos bestowed upon him the title of ‘protopresvyteros of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.’ Archbishop Iakovos bestowed upon him the title of ‘protopresvyteros of the Archdiocese.’ And Patriarch Demetrios bestowed upon him the title of ‘protopresvyteros of the Ecumenical Throne.’
In May of 1997, Fr. Pappas retired from his active ministry in the church and moved to Fort Meyers, FL, where he continues to serve the Church.
In August of 1997, Fr. Alexander Goussetis was assigned to be Archangel Michael’s second pastor. Previously he had served the Greek Orthodox Church in Weston, MA. Under his fine leadership, the parish of Archangel Michael continued to grow. He established The Messenger, the parish’s bi-monthly newsletter. He also created a Sunday bulletin for each Sunday liturgy and initiated our parish’s bookstore for spiritual growth. Fr. Alex held as well an Orthodox Study Group and promoted a Women’s Group. During his seven-year tenure, Archangel Michael Church developed the new cemetery property nearby the old cemetery and also built and furnished a brand new Byzantine styled Orthodox chapel. In 2003, Mr. George Condoleon was hired as our parish’s Youth Director. In 2004, Archangel Michael’s membership had reached 585 families. On July 11, 2004, Fr. Alex relocated to Lancaster, PA, to accept his new assignment as pastor of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church.
On Sunday, August 15, 2004, Fr. Steve Denas was assigned to be Archangel Michael’s third pastor. Previously he had served the Greek Orthodox Church in East Pittsburgh, PA, and Richmond, VA. Fr. Steve’s first liturgy at Archangel Michael was actually on the preceding Sunday, prior to moving to Campbell on August 11th. Having completed his first year at Archangel Michael, a parish highlight was the expansion and renovation of the Parish Community Center. This much needed project was undertaken by our Ladies Philoptochos Society. The newly renovated Center is simply beautiful. Before too long the parish is committed to expanding the church building itself. As evidence of this, all of the proceeds from Archangel Michael Church’s Fiftieth Golden Anniversary will go this expansion project.
As an extra blessing from our Lord, our Archangel Michael Church has witnessed the ordinations into the clergy of the following servants of God: George Costan, George Vaporis, Stephen Callos, Michael Gulgas, Constantine Valantasis, and finally Paul Pappas (Easter 2003). Other young men of Campbell also distinguished themselves in the priesthood, prior to the founding of Archangel Michael Church and include Fr. Constantine Raptis, and the late Fr. Nomikos Michael Vaporis.
The Orthodox spiritual tradition is strong at Archangel Michael Church as evidenced by the fact that two of our young women have taken monastic vows and are nuns at The Nativity of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Monastery in Saxonburg, PA: Sisters Chrysovalanta and Serafima.
Finally we humbly ask the Lord Jesus Christ, through the intercessions of the Panagia and Archangel Michael, to always bless our effort to serve Him in ways that will always glorify His Holy Name.