July 20, 2024

History of Sts Peter & Paul Byzantine Catholic Church

Byzantine Catholics first emigrated from Central and Eastern Europe (from Ruthenia, Galicia, Slovakia, Russia, Romania, and other areas) to the Lake Erie area around 1885. Having no church of their own, they first affiliated with the Holy Family Church of the Latin Rite, located on Erie’s lower east side at 9th and Fulton Streets and still open today.

On March 19, 1912 Father John Danolivich traveled from Sharon, Pennsylvania (65 miles to the south) and officially organized the first ByzantineRite Catholic parish in Erie. The original membership consisted of 21 families and 15 single parishioners. Having received permission to use the facilities of Holy Family Church, Father Nestor Volensky of St. Michael’s Church in Sheffield, PA (75 miles east of Erie) began to visit the congregation regularly to provide the faithful with services according to the Byzantine Rite.

Desiring a church of their own, the parishioners sought and were granted a charter by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the name of SS Peter & Paul Greek Catholic Slavish Church. The charter was granted on May 20, 1912 and officially recorded on June 1, 1912. It was signed by the first church officers: John Matlock, President; Peter Plavcan, Secretary; John Yus, Treasurer; John Mikula, Trustee; Stephen Krivonak, Trustee; John Pavlovchick, Trustee. Soon after, a total of $4,700 was borrowed from various parishioners and on June 17, 1912 the congregation purchased the abandoned Emmanuel Evangelical Congregational Church near East 23rd and German Streets. Parish records reveal the average weekly collection at this time was between $3.00 and $4.00.

The church was remodeled and dedicated as SS. Peter & Paul Greek Catholic Church on Thanksgiving Day, November 18, 1912. Celebrating the first Divine Liturgy was Father Emil Burik from Bradenville, Pennsylvania.SS Peter & Paul received the status of a “Mission Parish” in 1914 and for the next four years Father Nicholas Szabo of Sheffield, PA visited the congregation once a month to celebrate Divine Liturgy, solemnize weddings, baptize the young, and visit the sick. On week-ends when a priest was not available, the congregation assembled on Saturday and Sunday and under the direction of the parish cantor celebrated the traditional vesper and matin (vecurnja and utrenja) devotions.

Members of the church were drawn from all over the city of Erie and suburbs and the communities of North East, PA and Ripley. N.Y. to the East, Union City and Corry to the SouthEast, Crossingville and Springboro to the South, and Fairview, Girard, and Platea to the West.

With the growth of the parish and the increase of immigrant Byzantine Rite priests from Europe, Father Theofil Zsatkovic was assigned as the first resident pastor in 1918. A house at 2301 German Street was purchased as a rectory.Despite continued growth, dissension and schism which had erupted in the United States in the 1920’s and 1930’s also resulted in unrest in the SS Peter & Paul family. Tensions between Latin and Byzantine Rite churches over the issue of married clergy and other matters resulted in a separation of the congregation in 1938 and the establishment of the independenty St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Easterm Rite Church located at East Avenue and 11th Street. That church today is St. Nicholas Orthodox Church.Recovering from these events, the remaining SS Peter & Paul parishioners under the leadership of Father John Pipik extended the original church. The following year (1939) Father Pipik established a small Mission Church at Francis Corners for the convenience of the Byzantine Rite faithful living in the nearby Girard and Fairview areas. Divine Liturgy was celebrated at the Mission Parish every Sunday.

During the summer of 1950, under the guidance of Father Andrew Dzmura, the Mother SS Peter & Paul Church was remodeled and the exterior was improved by a perma-stone finish. On July 8, 1951, Father Paul Dano and parishioners received the first episcopal visit when His Excellency, the Most Reverend Bishop Daniel Ivancho arrived to bless and rededicate the church interior.

As the membership of the Mission Parish at Francis Corners increased, plans were made, under the direction of Father Dano, to construct a permanent church for the fast growing mission. Our sister church, SS Cyril & Methodius Church, Girard, PA, was completed and solemnly dedicated June 26, 1955.During construction of SS Cyril & Methodius, Father Paul Tigyer was assigned as the first Assistant Pastor to SS Peter & Paul. At this same time, plans were formulated for the construction of a new church in Erie and property was gradually acquired in SouthEast Erie for the new parish plant

.A Building Fund Appeal was initiated in the summer of 1957 under the inspiration of Father John Onesko and directed by McCarthy Brothers and Associates. By July 1957 a total of $81,745 had been pledged toward the new church. As the liquidation of the real estate assets on 23rd street got under way a city block totaling 29 lots were purchased at East 34th and Wallace Streets for $18,500 and a contract for $263,299.12 was awarded for the construction of the new church and rectory.

In November, 1958 His Excellency Metropolitan Stephen J. Kocisko presided at Ground Breaking ceremonies. His Excellency, Bishop Nicholas T. Elko officiated at the Corner Stone Blessing in August 1959 and returned Sunday, May 1, 1960 for the Solemn Dedication of the completed church. With further expansion in mind, an additional city block at East 35th and Wallace Streets was acquired in July of 1960 for $25,000.

A Parish Center was built in 1969 under the direction of Father Andrew Resetar. In 1973 the parish family welcomed Father Julius Kubinyi, who distinguished himself as the church’s longest serving pastor (1973-2003) and oversaw the final retirement of the church and Parish Center mortgages.

In the fall of 2006 the church, under the leadership of Father Andrew J. Deskevich, began a major renovation of the interior and exterior. The project was completed in June 2009 and included installation of five domes above the church, an Iconostasis, a new Holy Table, and many beautiful icons and symbols within the church interior. In a celebration on June 20, 2009 the Holy Table was consecrated by Metropolitan Basil M. Schott and the relics of the Holy Hiero-Martyr Bishop Theodore Romzha were interred within. The following day, Archbishop Basil, along with Bishop John M. Kudrick, Eparch of Parma, and many Byzantine, Latin, and Orthodox clergy celebrated the rededication of the church and the blessing of the iconostasis.

Renovations to the church continued with the installation of a magnificent main chandelier and several smaller ones in December, 2009. 

2010 began a new chapter in our church’s history with the transfer of Fr. Deskevich to a new assignment in Warren, Ohio and the arrival of our new pastor and leader, Fr. Robert Karl. On June 10, 2012, we celebrated our 100th Anniversary with a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy celebrated by His Eminence, Metropolitan William C. Skurla.