Details on the original Ukrainian vacationers to the west coast of Florida are sketchy. Most of them survived in the memories of the living members of the community. One of the original parishioners, Omelan Hrab, long time deserved, Trustee of the parish, poured through the records of the parish and wrote the first parish history, for the 20th Anniversary Celebration held in 2004 and then in 2009 for the 25th anniversary.
The warm climate of Florida has always beckoned tourists from northern climates to its warm and sunny shores of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Immigrants of Ukrainian descent are no exception. For many years these immigrants would come not only from the United States but Canada, as well. On the southwest coast of Florida they were attracted by the curative mineral waters of Warm Mineral Springs, near a then sleepy, not very well known town of North Port. While partaking of the waters they began getting acquainted then bonded by their common Ukrainian backgrounds and interests. They began gathering on special occasions.
As friends told friends, the word spread among Ukrainians in the north and soon more and more snow-birds started vacationing together. As they aged, many of these retirees started settling in the North Port area. Soon a small community developed. Ukrainian history and heritage are deeply ingrained with the histories of their churches and their religion. For Ukrainians, the most meaningful and important aspect of their life is their faith In Ukraine most social activities revolved around their church.
Originally, families worshipped at local churches in the area. Since most of these people were Ukrainian Catholics or Ukrainian Orthodox they were used to traditional Ukrainian church services, celebrated in the Eastern rite and in their native Ukrainian language. Around 1975, the idea to found a Ukrainian community in the area was conceived. Discussions began about formally organizing and worshipping together as a Ukrainian social unit. A decision was reached to establish an “ecumenical church based the principles of Christian brotherhood”.
As a result of the efforts of this group of united Ukrainians of southwest Florida, “The Ukrainian Religious and Cultural Center” under the patronage of St. Andriy, was founded. In time, a building was constructed with a large hall, kitchen and housing for visiting priests. On December 13, 1979 the building was consecrated by both catholic and orthodox clergy. This building was called the “Oseredok” or center. Since the community was extremely small, Sunday masses were conducted, interchangeably by catholic and orthodox priests on alternating Sundays.
As more retirees settled in the area, and as the community grew, many of the newcomers of the Ukrainian Catholic faith could not come to terms with the practical solution offered by the Oseredok. They knew that their religion should be administered by a church authority rather than be governed by the people. As members of the Ukrainian Catholic faith became convinced that there was a true spiritual need for a church of their own, a committee for this purpose was established.
The community split into two factions; on the one side were those who wished to start a Ukrainian catholic parish and on the other side those who wanted to retain the status quo. The impetus to build a Ukrainian Catholic house of worship was further strengthened by a letter Wasyl Chubatyj received, from Vatican City, dated March 21, 1980, written by his fellow countryman, the late Patriarch Josyf Cardinal Slipyj, with words of encouragement and guidance for the creation of a Ukrainian Catholic parish in North Port, Florida. Mr. Chubatyj immediately acted upon his friend’s wishes and organized a committee for the raising of funds to build a Ukrainian Catholic Church. There were long and arduous debates among some of the members, as to the ability of this small community to support two Ukrainian churches. Some members went as far as to write to the then Metropolitan Stefan Sulyk requesting him not to establish a Ukrainian Catholic parish in North Port, since the community had already created a unified Ukrainian church irrespective of any church guidance or authority. To these people the Metropolitan responded with a letter written on January 12, 1982, “I cannot and dare not condone the terms and conditions which exist today in North Port. As you well realize, it is my duty to establish a Ukrainian catholic parish in North Port.” Still, the small Ukrainian Catholic membership was concerned that it could not finance such an expensive project. Led by a very strong belief in God, in their faith and in themselves they nevertheless decided to undertake such a project. A Founding task force was formed to begin the process of creating a Ukrainian Catholic parish. The first act of this task force was to pay a visit to Metropolitan Sulyk during which the founding of a Ukrainian Catholic Mission was discussed. To take care of the spiritual needs of the Ukrainian Catholic faithful a permanently assigned priest for this mission was requested.
The Metropolitan acceded to their request and assigned the Rev. Innokentiy Rychkun as the first resident priest to serve the faithful of the newly formed mission in North Port, Florida. At the very onset, Rev. Innokentiy Rychkun met with the directors of the Oseredok and asked for permission to use the center for Sunday services for the Ukrainian Catholic faithful. The decision of the directors was to rent the hall to the Ukrainian Catholic faithful for $75.00 a month. For this reason there were two collections during the service, one for the Mission and the other for the Oseredok.
On March 31, and April 1, 1984 the Mission was honored with the Canonical Visitation of His Excellency, The Most Rev. Bishop Robert Moskal, from the recently established Eparchy of St. Josephat in Parma, Ohio. From meetings with the members of the Mission he learned about the status of the Mission and needs of the faithful. After several meetings with the members of the Mission and the Board of Directors of the Oseredok, the parish of “The Presentation of the Most Holy Mother of God in the Temple Ukrainian Catholic Church” was established by Bishop Moskal. (This parish is now affectionately and more familiarly referred to as St. Mary’s by parishioners and the local community).
A fund-raising committee spear-headed by Rev. Rychkun raised $45,000.00 in 18 months. This was enough money for the purchase of a 4 1/2 acre plot of land on which a church could be built. Great efforts were put forth by parishioners Wasyl and Tetiana Chubatyj in raising funds. They generously donated $2000.00 and two plots of land which earned the parish, $15, 749.00. Upon their death, they willed their home to the church which earned the church $25,000.00.
On January 1, 1985 Rev. Rychkun was replaced as pastor, by Mitred Archpriest Rev. Dr. Isidore Nahayevsky. He goal was to complete the work started by his predecessor. He successfully coordinated the selection of the architectural style and size of the future church. The proposed plans of the architectural firm of William Osborn were selected. The plans for the church were humble. They included a simple, practical building with a 250 person capacity hall, sanctuary, kitchen and public rest rooms. It also included an attached, but separate housing with a car port for a priest. The building was to be topped with a gold colored dome and cross.
On November 20, 1985, at 10:00 A.M. the ground on which the church was to be built was formally blessed and consecrated. The celebration began with a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at the memorial cross. Concelebrating the mass and participating in the official ceremony and banquet which followed was the Most Rev. Robert Moskal, Pastor Mitred Archpriest Rev. Dr. Isidore Nahayevsky. Attending the festivities were members from North Port City Council, the architect, head contractor and reporters from the local newspapers along with the 80 members of the church. With these observances the city of North Port welcomed a new church into their religious community: The Presentation of the Most Holy Mother of God (St. Mary’s) Ukrainian Catholic Church.
For the next six months the parishioners were very busy overseeing the construction of their new church and the continued effort of raising funds. The parishioners as well as Ukrainian donors from North America and Canada contributed generously. With a loan of $46,000.00, from the Providence Association of Ukrainian Catholics of America, the church became a reality.
The first Khrystos Voskres (Christ is Risen) joyfully resounded in the newly built church on Easter Sunday May 4, 1986.
Shortly, thereafter, due to poor health pastor Rev. Dr. Isidore Nahayevsky was replaced by Rev. Pavlo Greskiw. On February 15, 1987 the church was dedicated by Bishop Robert Moskal of Parma,Ohio accompanied by Bishop Basil Losten, pastor Pavlo Greskiw and the clergy from surrounding areas. Rev. Omelian Nakonechny, and Mitred Archpriest Rev. Matthew Berko followed as pastors, They along with the enthusiastic financial support of parishioners and well wishers, were instrumental in the completion of the building of the church and paying off the mortgage.
In the following years the number of parishioners continued to grow fairly rapidly; beyond expectations. It soon became evident that a new church was needed to accommodate the increasing number of people. It also became apparent that the new church structure should conform to the motifs and styles found in Ukrainian Church architecture. Without any appeals, generous donations began pouring in for a church that was representative of the Ukrainian community in North Port, Florida. For that purpose, neighboring lots were purchased. The goal and timetable was set.
On February 6, 1990 pastor Rev. Berko left and was replaced by Rev. Dr. Iwan Tylawsky. His first priority became the construction of the new church. From then on, Rev. Dr. Tylawsky energetically and tirelessly worked to overcome any obstacles in order to achieve that goal. As usual, the most difficult obstacle was the question of how to raise enough money for such a monumental project for this small parish. Divine providence intervened. Mykola and Kateryna Swiaty joined the parish. They were a modest and deeply religious people. They decided to donate their life savings of $354,573.00 for the building of the new church. A full and detailed list of contributors for the new building is not available, but surely is engraved in God’s book. To them and the Swiaty family for their munificent gift, the past, present and future parishioners of the Presentation of the Most Holy Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church will be forever grateful.
On March 17, 1991 after the conclusion of the Lenten Mission and Divine Liturgy, formal ceremonies were held on the grounds where the new church building would be constructed. The rituals included, blessing of the ground, laying of the four cornerstones and placing of a cross at the site of the altar in the future sanctuary. Due to the most generous donation of the Swiaty family, this took place two years sooner than the set timetable.
Just about a year and a half later, upon the completion of the new church, on Sunday, July 19, 1992 parishioners gathered at the old church then commenced a procession to the new Sobor (cathedral) for an informal blessing, which was officiated by Pastor Rev. Mitred Archpriest Dr. Iwan Tylawsky and former pastor Rev. Mitred Archpriest Mattey Berko, who had launched the fundraising for the new church, concelebrated the Solemn Divine Liturgy which was concluded by singing a hymn of thanks and supplication “O spomahai nas Divo Mariye (O assist us, Blessed Virgin Mary) by the faithful.
Six months later, on Saturday, January 30, 1993, the Hierarchical Blessing was held for the new Ukrainian Catholic Church. The solemn consecration was performed by Metropolitan Archbishop Stephan Sulyk of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Concelebrating with the Metropolitan were; Bishops Robert Moskal of Parma, Ohio, Basil Losten of Stamford, Connecticut and Innokentiy Lotocky of Chicago, Illinois. Also participating in the official rituals were His excellency John Nevins, Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Venice, Florida, Rev. Mitred Archpriest Dr. Iwan Telawsky, pastor and numerous clergy. Among the large attendance of parishioners and visitors, in attendance were representatives of the City Council among other prominent and distinguished guests. On this auspicious occasion the Hramota (charter) was embedded in a cornerstone of the church. To all who had put in all their time, effort, energy, labor and financial support, to build a beautiful house of God, this spiritual and exciting day was the culmination of a long arduous process. They had participated in building an extraordinary Ukrainian landmark in North Port, Florida, referred to as the church with the golden domes.
Having faithfully and diligently served his parishioners and the Ukrainian community as a whole, due to his advancing age and failing health, on August 30, 1998, Rev. Mitred Archpriest Dr. Iwan Tylawsky retired as pastor. Rev. Wolodymyr Woloszczuk was assigned pastor by Bishop Robert Moskal.
Before being named pastor, Rev. Woloszczuk and his wife Maria lived in Venice, Florida, thus they did not live in the priest’s quarters. Being a member of the Ukrainian Catholic community he was familiar with the needs of the parish. Under his guidance and leadership supported by generous financial contributions of the parishioners, the painting of murals and icons by artist Ivan Denysenko, begun by his predecessor was completed. He arranged for repairs to the leaking roof of the church and parish hall. With the Blessing of Bishop Robert Rev. Woloszczuk published Daily, Sunday and Holy Day bilingual church missals, which were dedicated to his parents. The missals found in the pews, are used by the faithful to follow and participate in the liturgy. For his contributions to the parish Bishop Robert Moskal elevated Rev. Woloszczuk, conferring on him the title of Mitred Archpriest. On Sunday February 23, 2003, before the beginning of the liturgy Rev. Mitred Archpriest Wolodymyr Woloszczuk announced that due to his age and state of health he had asked Bishop Robert Moskal to relieve him of is active pastoral duties. In a letter dated February 17, 2003, Bishop Moskal acknowledged and accepted his resignation.
By the authority of Bishop Robert Moskal, on March 1, 2003, Rev. Dr. Severyn Kovalyshin celebrated his first liturgy as newly assigned pastor of the Presentation of the Most Mother of God parish. The young pastor, a native of Lviv, Ukraine, greeted his new parishioners and introduced himself, his wife Yimost Halyna and two year old daughter Matteja. The parishioners quickly recognized and appreciated the pastor’s devotion to his pastoral duties, his caring and respectful attitude toward his parishioners. From the very beginning, Rev. Dr. Kovalyshin and Pani Yimost Halyna visited the elderly, bringing them dinners from the parish kitchen on Fridays. The pastor became well known for his loyalty and patriotism for his country of birth, Ukraine, and his ecumenical attitude toward other religions. He developed a working and cooperative relationship with the Latin Rite community in the area.
The first order of business for the newly appointed administrator was the task of familiarizing himself with the parishioners, the history and management of the parish, the present needs and the future development of the parish.
Having done this Rev. Dr. Kovalyshin devoted his energies to education of the very young parishioners. He organized catechetical classes, Italian and Ukrainian language and culture classes, sewing, embroidery and writing of pysanky courses.
Rev. Dr. Severyn researched and found that there were many people in the area that were of Ukrainian descent, who did not understand or speak Ukrainian, but wanted to worship in the traditional Ukrainian Rite. For these parishioners additional liturgical services in English were instituted to be celebrated on Saturday evening.
In recognition of the important contribution and aware of the important role women play in the life of the church, Rev. Dr. Kovalyshin resurrected the parish sisterhood ( women’s league). It was to be called “Zhinochyi Chas (Woman’s Time). The first meeting took place on June 20, 2003, chaired by Yimost Halyna. Under the direction of Yimost Halyna and a petition from the sisterhood a parish library was established. In order to promote and foster the Ukrainian culture and Catholic religion, Rev. Dr. Severyn formed the Ukrainian Catholic Religious and Cultural Center.
Under his leadership of Rev. Dr. Kovalyshin, plans were approved and renovations were completed to a room behind the garage of the priest’s quarters (labor donated by. Also, the parish hall received a facelift, and now boasts a new façade for the stage with the latest in lighting and sound systems, a Memorial Garden was planted on the side of the church, and a beautiful marble floor installed in the sanctuary and podium area. New icons were added to the vestibule.
While the parish was growing so was the pastor’s family. In due course, Matteja was blessed with two sisters, Xenia and Anastasia. The parishioners realized that priest’s quarters were much too tight for a family of five. Thus, a decision by the parish council was reached to build a new residence for the priest, with a rectory and a small apartment befitting visiting church hierarchy and dignitaries. Once again the primary concern was the need of funds. Advisory building and fund raising committees were formed. It was estimated that the total cost of this project would be around $366,000.00. The committee members recommended that some church property should be sold to start the building fund. Then, letters of appeal were sent to parishioners and other Ukrainian parishes, for donations. And, once again the parishioners responded generously. It so happened that at this time, parish members Ihor Hron and Lou Luzniak, owned Trident Development Group, LLC, Custom Quality Home Builders. They offered to build the rectory without a profit margin. Bishop Robert Moskal approved and gave his blessing for the sale of properties and the building plans. The sale of the parish lots raised nearly $200,000.00. This was enough to begin construction. Upon completion, the remaining balance was paid from collected donations and a small loan was incurred with a low mortgage rate from Self Reliance of Michigan.
On October 1, 2006 pastor Rev. Dr. Severyn Kovalyshin, with the participation of former pastor Rev. Mitred Archpriest Wolodymyr Woloszczuk, officiated in an informal blessing with holy water of the newly built rectory and an “Open House” was held for parishioners. The formal blessing by Bishop Robert Moskal was held on December 3, 2006 followed by a banquet attended by His Excellency, the Most Rev. Robert Moskal, Bishop of theUkrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Josephat in Parma, Ohio, His Excellency, the Most Rev. Frank Dewane, Bishop of the VCatholic Diocese in Venice, Florida, Monsignior Mitred Toma Sayuk, Chancellor of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Josephat in Parma, Ohio, Dr. Volodymyr Smeryk, Chancellor of the Catholic Diocese in Venice, Florida, Monsignior Mitred John Stevensky,Dean of Glorida and Georgia and pastor of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in St. Petersburg, Florida, Rt. Rev. emeritus Monsignior Mitred Mattey Berko of St. Petersburg, Florida, Rt. Rev. emeritus Mitred Archpriest Wolodymyr Woloszczuk and Pani Yimost Maria of North Port, Florida, Monsignior Mitred Martin Canavan, pastor of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Miami, Florida, The Most Reverend Mitred Archpriest Mykhaylo Borysenko and Pani Dobrodiyka, The Most Reverend Archpriest Ivan Fatenko and Pani Dobrodiyka Anastasia, the Very Reverend Father Patrick Organ, pastor of San Pedro Roman Catholic Church, Very Reverend Father Ivan Kubishyn, pastor of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Apopka, Florida, Very Reverend Father Michael Kuts, pastor of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, in Brooksville and Springhill, Florida, Rev. Deacon Richard Wilhelm, Deacon Jerry Ikalovych of Pennsylvania. In attendance were also the presidents of local Ukrainian organizations, dignataries and loyal parishioners.
Also in 2006, the sacrament of matrimony was conferred on Nadia Sava and Volodymyr Veremchuk. Rev. Dr. Severyn Kovalyshin was invited and partook in the Hierarchal Liturgy and Ordination Ceremonies of His Excellency Bishop Frank Dewane, Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of Venice Florida. He, also, at the invitation of the City Council led the invocation a North Port City Hall. Construction began in May on the new Ukrainian Mausoleum at Venice Memorial Gardens cemetery. A group of young people from San Pedro Roman Catholic parish in North Port visited our parish in order to learn about the beautiful traditions and history of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
The year 2007 was most eventful for our parish. Bishop Moskal established a Ukrainian Catholic Mission in Naples, Florida. He assigned Rev. Dr. Kovalyshin with Rev. Andriy Marko as assistant to serve the spiritual needs of Ukrainian Catholic faithful in that area. Adam Henderson, Natalia Honcharuk, Matteja Kovalyshin, Jeffrey Thompson and Kalynna Thompson made their First Holy Confession and received First Solemn Communion. A new book with supplicatory services(moleben’), requiem services (panakhyda), and other church services and special masses during the year, was compiled by Rev. Dr. Severyn Kovalyshin and added to the pews for the use of the faithful. On February 20, with great joy our parish greeted and warmly welcomed with “Gifts of love” His Beatitude Patriarch of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Lubomyr Husar. Much needed landscaping of the premises around the church was beautifully executed. The church and church hall were brought up to the new Fire and Electrical city and county codes.
In 2008, the sacrament of Baptism was conferred on Patrick Harasymiak Miller. By special invitation of pastor, John Ledder, Rev. Dr. S. Kovalyshin took part in the blessing of a new church in Port Charlotte. Bishop Frank Dewane officiated at the dedicational ceremony of the new St. Charles Borromeo Church. The former priest’s apartment next to the library was renovated by Roman Marusyn, Ostap Berchuk, and Don Lawruk with technical assistance provided by Levko Klos.
From time to time this history will be updated and continued……………