History of St. Michael's the Archangel ~ 1988 to present
Following a pastorate of almost 25 years, Msgr. Durisin took leave of St. Michael's in August 1988, to assume new responsibilities as Director of Formation and subsequently, Vice-Rector at our Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Sts. Cyril & Methodius in Pittsburg, PA.
His immediate successor as Shepard of souls at St. Michael's was the Rev. Eugene Fulton. Fr. Fulton dutifully guided St. Michael's faithful until an unexpected illness hastened his departure.
Following Fr. Fulton was the Rev. Nicholas Alishofski, a former Assistant at St. Michael's who now was to return as Pastor. While the parish welcomed the return of a well-loved familiar face and rejoiced with him as he was elevated to the Monsignor, their joy was destined to be only short lived. Fr. Alishofski was soon to be weakened by a painful illness that would not only force him into early retirement, but also rob him of his life. He passed away in April 1989, only weeks after taking leave of St. Michael's.
In February 1989, the Pastor's Staff was passed for the FOURTH time in less than SIX months to the Rev. Marcel Szabo, a spirited priest from Bridgeport, Connecticut who brought with him not only his beloved “best friend”, his dog, Teddy, but also a fresh approach to ministry and a hope filled vision for St. Michael's.
Upon his arrival, the primary responsibility falling upon Fr. Szabo was to prepare the parish both spiritually and physically for its upcoming Centennial Anniversary . The faithful were somewhat dispirited by the rapid succession of Pastors and it was evident that the parish properties in Passaic, in particular the Cathedral and the Rectory, were in dire need of repair. Preparation for the Parish Anniversary would prove to be a monumental task, especially since the anniversary date was a little more than a year away.
The process of renewal and renovation in anticipation of the Centennial Anniversary began concretely in August of 1989, on the eve of the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. On this date, St. Michael's Cathedral Parish as well as the ENTIRE city of Passaic was entrusted to the custody of the Blessed Mother. Bishop Michael Dudick, Bishop of Passaic, presented his Cathedral Parish with an icon entitled “Our Lady of Passaic” which was carried in procession around the church, through the neighborhood, and on the streets for all to see. As the Bishop, clergy and faithful parishioners proceeded down the middle of the street singing hymns to the Mother of God, some parish women were on hand to distribute blessed flowers to the curious neighborhood residents and onlookers who dotted the procession route. So moved were some of them by this gesture that they even followed the procession into the Cathedral and attended the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. As a direct result of this procession, now an annual event, the relationship between the Cathedral Parish and its Hispanic neighbors has greatly improved. Not only has the occasional of graffiti and vandalism decreased, but there has also surfaced a crew of Hispanic gentlemen who do not hesitate to volunteer their services to St. Michael's even if only at a moments notice.
In 1989, the month of August not only saw the First Annual Dormition Procession, but also the beginning of the massive and much needed renovation of the Cathedral and Rectory.
From August of 1989 to the summer of 1990, Father Marcel Szabo and Father James Hayer, Associate Pastor, lived through (and even assisted) the daily barrage of various contractors who would prepare the Cathedral rectory for the Centennial Celebration. It was during these long months that the Rectory was outfitted with central air conditioning, and new furnace and baseboard heating. Also, all the windows and doors were replaced, new lighting fixtures and electrical outlets were installed, and the existing original plumbing was replaced. Subsequently, all five bathrooms as well as the kitchen and breakfast room were remodeled and modernized. This having been completed, the Rectory was then ready for the “finishing touches” of a coat of paint, carpeting and furniture.
Even in the midst of Rectory renovation project, Fr. Szabo saw to it that other parish responsibilities continued to be met as well: an Iconostas was installed at the Chapel Facility in West Paterson; the former parochial school building vacant since 1985 was stripped, cleaned and leased to the Passaic School Board for use as a public elementary school; the Parish CCD program, renamed “Eastern Christian Formation Program” was relocated to the classroom facilities in West Paterson. The Sisters of Saint Basil the Great who staff our Convent received a much needed new car; and new vestments, Gospel Books and Altar appointments which were purchased for both the Cathedral and Chapel.
During this time the generosity of the Cathedral parishioners was exceeded only by their kindness and support. The parish Ladies Guild, for instance, offered a donation of $25,000.00 for replacement of the rectory windows. For the first time ever, St. Michael's parishioners exceeded their assigned goal of $24,000.00 for the Diocesan Development Appeal by almost 100%; and individual parishioners offered acts of kindness by volunteering to clean up the Parish grounds, vacuum the plaster-dust filled rectory, and provide the priests with some meals during the months when the rectory was without a kitchen.
In 1989, on the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel (November 8) the Cathedral Parish formally inaugurated it's Centennial Celebration with a “Triduum” – three days of prayer, conducted by Rev. Anthony Skurla, O.F.M.. From November 8, 1989 to October 21, 1990 the Parish Centennial Committee chaired by Fr. Szabo, Fr. Hayer, and Mr. John Paulich, together with a number of dedicated parishioners, envisioned a variety of events that were to be scheduled throughout the entire year of the Cathedral's Anniversary.
There was, to begin, a “ Homecoming Dinner Dance ” intended to rekindle the fond memories of the graduates of St. Michael's School and CCD programs ; there was a “ Slavic Music Festival ” featuring a troop of ethnic dancers and musicians; there was a “ Centennial Picnic ” on the grounds of the Chapel Facility in West Paterson which was attended by almost 1,000 people. There were also programs for the parish children such as “ Breakfast with Santa ”, Pysanky (egg decorating) classes and the Easter Egg Hunt . Of course, even from the initial planning stages, the anticipated climax of the Centennial Celebration was to be the Concelebrated Pontifical Divine Liturgy on October 21, 1990, followed by the Centennial Banquet at the Sheraton Meadowlands in East Rutherford. This blessed event was designated to rank with the most significant of events in the history of the Byzantine Catholic Church in America. The anticipations of the Centennial Committee were proved correct when the Centennial Pontifical Liturgy was concelebrated by eighteen bishops before a Cathedral overflowing with parishioners, guests, and clergy.
In the meantime, however, tempering the anticipated Centennial Jubilee climax on October 21, 1990, was the reality that the Cathedral itself, water damaged over the past decade, was in serious need of major repair, both inside and out, and time was running out.
Therefore, beginning on April of 1990, the Cathedral was given some well deserved attention. Throughout the warm summer months of 1990 the exterior of the Cathedral was waterproofed and repointed. Portions of the original slate roof were replaced and/or repaired. Much of the exposed bare wood was covered and the beautiful stained glass windows were protected by new acrylic storm windows.
Come late summer, through early fall, and up to only days before the Centennial Anniversary scaffolds were erected inside the Cathedral to initiate the interior repair and renovation. Not only was the Cathedral refreshed with a coat of paint, but the water damaged plaster walls were repaired; the ceiling paintings were retouched, cleaned and restored to their original beauty; the canopy above the altar was re gilded and it's columns “marble-zed”; the Sanctuary wall was re-stenciled and graced with the installation of a new image, the icon of “ Christ the Pantocrator ”. The pews were resurfaced, kneelers were repaired and repadded, a new sound system was installed, and finally new carpeting was installed over the entire floor area to enhance and bring out the beauty of the exquisite stained glass windows.
During this time also, the Cathedral Sacristy received new cabinetry, tripling storage capacity. One of the most memorable occasions of the Centennial renovations was the electrification of the five magnificent bells which were rung in unison for the first time in many, many years on January 28, 1990. Noteworthy is the fact that a representative of The Mc Shane Bell Foundry , the company that cast and installed the bells some 100 years ago, commented that it is both unique and unusual that any particular church to be equipped with FIVE bells. Most, he explained, have only three bells, some, on occasion, are found to have four, but St. Michael's is blessed with five, the largest being almost six feet in diameter and weighing almost as much as two cars.
Even though it was understood that Church Bells are, by tradition, both blessed and named, it was still somewhat of a revelation to learn the “names” of our five bells. It was learned, for example, that the largest bell (isolated in the right tower), which for many years was referred to as “ Big Mike ” was actually cast with the name “Andrew”. His siblings, located in the left tower, include “ Nicholas ” (2,000 pounds and 46” in diameter); " Michael ” (1200 pounds and 38 ½ “in diameter); “ Nicephor ” (600 pounds and 31” in diameter) and the smallest bell, “ Daniel ” at 24 ½” in diameter.
As these five magnificent bells rang out in unison for the first time in January 28, 1990, and later on October 21, 1990, on our 100 th Anniversary, they gave voice to the dreams, desires and devotion of those Eastern European immigrant ancestors who dared to dream 100 years ago!
Although we've been blessed to inherit the fruits of their labors, we know that their faith and love of God is our most cherished legacy.
May their love of God and expressions of their faith forever live on in our hearts and in the hearts of generations to come – for only in this way may we be enriched from our past and inspired for our future.
S'Nami Boh – may God truly be with us as we journey into Century Two!
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