History of SS. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church
1909 – 2009
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female, He created them. Then God blessed them. (Genesis 1:1, 27, 28)
So, it was in the beginning that God blessed the people who were the Founders of our Church with faith, hope, and love to establish SS. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. It is with great pride that we look at what has been achieved.
The Founders of our Church were immigrants who arrived throughout Wyoming Valley. Most of them immigrated from Lemkivshehyna, Carpatho-Ukraine, Galicia, and other Western parts of Ukraine; areas which are now called Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. Traditionally, their families were farmers, who were accustomed to providing for themselves and their loved ones, and their closeness to nature kept them close to God; their faith was strong.
Ukrainians began arriving in the Wilkes-Barre area in the late 1880’s. Having no established Church, they attended a Church in Kingston, established by Rev. John Wolensky. Rev. Wolensky departed for Europe and the Ukrainians decided to plan a Church of their own. Until the Church was built, services were held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Zawoiski, in Plains, Pennsylvania.
In 1909, Bishop Soter Ortynsky sent Rev. Elias Kuziw to Wilkes-Barre. Rev. Kuziw prepared the By-Laws of the Church organization, which were approved and accepted by the parishioners at a meeting on April 13, 1909. On May 1, 1909, a petition was prepared and signed and presented to the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County for a Charter for the Congregation under the name of St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church of Galician Ruthenians of Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.
The Charter for the Church was procured on June 1, 1909. On June 19, 1909, Rev. Elias Kuziw and the Church Committee made and signed an agreement with A.M. Hildebrand of Wilkes-Barre, to build the parish Church at a cost of $6,900. The Church property on the corner of N. River and W. Chestnut Streets was purchased from Samuel E. Chase for the sum of $1,950. The Church was unable to pay their expense and forced to issue a bond for $12,000 from the Wyoming Valley Trust Company and to receive a mortgage for that amount.
On March 1, 1910, land for a cemetery was purchased for $1,600 on Blanchard Street, Plains, Pennsylvania. The first burial took place on June 20, 1910, a 22-year-old, Ksenia Borys. That year there were 13 other burials, 9 of which were infants.
The Committee transferred the title of the Church to Bishop Ortynsky on November 29, 1910.
On June 11, 1911, one brother was switched for another as Rev. Michael Kuziw became the new Pastor. It was during his tenure in August 1912, that the Church was completed. On Labor Day, 1912, Bishop Ortynsky blessed the edifice.
In June 1913, the next priest arrived, Rev. Volodymyr Spolitakevycz, who signed a contract with George Seifert of Scranton, Pa, on May 18, 1914, to paint and decorate the interior of the church for the sum of $850.
After the death of Bishop Ortynsky in March 1916, Rev. Peter Poniatyshyn became the administrator of the Eparchy.
On March 17, 1917, the parish purchased the adjacent property from William Richards for $1,750.
In July 1917 the church received a new pastor, Rev. Michael Lysiak of Auburn, New York. In this decade, the church celebrated:
235 Burials (61 of which were from the Flu)
In June 1919, Rev. Michael Oleksiw was assigned to replace Rev. Lysiak. On April 18, 1921, the name of the charter was legally changed to Saint Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Congregation of Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, Pa.
Rev. Michael Pazdry arrived in June 1922. On March 31, 1923, the parish purchased the lot and house of George and Anna Cverko at 137 W. Chestnut Street for $7,000. That unit was first and last used as rental property for parishioners. At one time the property housed a Convent for the Sisters that taught in our school.
Also, on July 9, 1923, a lot was purchased at N. Sherman Street from Harry Levy for the sum of $1.00. It was later sold by the Church Committee . That property now houses the Ukrainian Literary Association.
In August 1930, Rev. John Kutsky came to Wilkes-Barre and served our Congregation for 14 years.
During his tenure the Apostleship of Prayer was created. This group began and continues to host the annual Easter Dinner or “Sviachenne,” and also hosted many fund raising and social activities. The Apostleship of Prayer supports all functions of the Church.
In 1938 the construction for the school hall began. Funding was difficult and the Bishop approved taking a $12,000 mortgage. The building cost over $20,000 and was ready for classes September 1939. Initially, the school only housed grades 1-5, but later increased to include classes through grade 8. Many new adventures began during this time as the Sisters began a Sodality, and a Junior Holy Name Society.
The May Crowning began during this time and continues today. The first graduating class was in 1943.
During World War II, many of our men were called to serve our country. After the war, many settled in different States and the number of souls lessened. Rev. Kutsky died in 1944 and was Rev. Michael Oleksiw was again assigned to serve the parish. During the five years he served, the mortgage was paid and improvements were made in the cemetery. A new boiler was installed to heat the church and rectory, and the rectory was renovated at that time.
Rev. Oleksiw left in July 1949 and was succeeded by Rev. Andrew Chlystun. Rev. Chlystun assessed the needs of the parish and began by visiting each family and prepared a directory. New seats were provided for the school. That year was the first time a Holy Mission was held. The next year a stoker was installed for proper heating and proper rest rooms were also installed in the school.
Rev. Chlystun collected $5,000 to purchase a school bus to bring the children to school; however, since the teachers had lessened to two and their superior had pulled them, the school had to close in 1952.
During Rev. Chlystun’s tenure the cemetery was mapped with the help of Nicholas Yarish, a former caretaker of the cemetery. At this time personal care was stopped and a person was hired to take care of the cemetery. A granite cross was installed and the property was fenced.
When the school closed, seeing that the front steps of the church needed repair, he purchased granite and stone for the new steps for $5,000. Much of the work was done by young parishioners without pay.
During subsequent years, Rev. Chlystun continued maintenance and renovation of the church complex. In all projects, parishioners actively assisted. More clubs were formed to include the Mothers’ Club, the Sewing Circle, and the Ukrainian Catholic Youth League. Our parishioners, together with those of other Ukrainian parishes worked together to sponsor dances, bazaars, pioneered broadcasts of the Liturgy, Christmas Carols, and other social functions.
Rev. Chlystun successfully obtained an Assistant Pastor, Rev. Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky who served in 1948 for a number of months. In 1995, Rev. Lubachivsky would become Cardinal Lubachivsky.
Parishioners continued to work with Rev. Chlystun and the property was maintained well until his transfer to serve at the Orphanage in Philadelphia in 1972. Upon his transfer, Rev. Andrew Baunchalk became our new pastor. Rev. Baunchalk continued to have the church complex maintained and formed a chapter of the Holy Name Society. Like his predecessor, he visited each and every parish home to meet all parishioners. He was instrumental in encouraging the youth to work for their parish. He formed the Altar Boy Society, re-vitalized the Apostleship of Prayer to include entire families and added fund-raising activities.
Rev. Baunchalk not only encouraged fund-raising, but brought parishioners together for social activities and fostered a “family atmosphere” in our church. Rev. Baunchalk was transferred to Berwick in February 1976. Rev. Alex Burak was assigned as administrator of Saints Peter and Paul as he continued to serve Saint Vladimir, in Edwardsville. During this time plans were begun for the renovation of the church.
Rev. Frank Patrylak was then assigned to our parish in December 1977. Rev. Patrylak formed a chanting choir. Our church had been without a formal choir for decades. In 1979, Barry Bennington, Sr. renovated the interior of the church and the re-dedication was held that summer. The Catechetical Program was re-started during his tenure. Rev. Patrylak was transferred to St. Clair in January 1980 and was replaced by Rev. John Beckage.
Rev. Beckage assisted in reinstating the Summer Festival, Catechetical Classes were extended to include parishes from Plymouth, Nanticoke, Hanover, Glen Lyon, Edwardsville, and Wilkes-Barre. Rev. Beckage continued maintenance on the church complex; the main renovation had taken place in the rectory. Rev. Beckage was transferred in 1982 to Berwick.
Very Rev. Archpriest Alex Burak returned for another stint at our parish serving as Administrator. When he arrived in August, he immediately began reviewing renovation plans to continue upkeep of the church complex. In September 1982, he became the Director of the Cross Valley Ukrainian CCD Program which was housed in our school. He had realized plans put into place by his predecessor. Children from age 3 to 18 were taught by volunteers from all supporting parishes. The program began with more than 100 students who provided holiday performances, participated in ethnic festivities and cultural happenings.
In September 1982 the chanting choir was reorganized into a choir that could sing both in Slavonic and English. The choir rehearsed as one unit, but split into two so that each Liturgy would be sung. The tradition of singing both Sunday Liturgies continues today.
Also during Rev. Burak’s tenure, front entry was renovated, air conditioning was installed in the church, the churches stained glass windows were weatherized. In addition the convent building was demolished to provide parking for church functions. Later, replacement windows were installed in the school building and roofs through out the church complex were replaced.
After serving as Deacon to Rev. Burak, Rev. Peter Zvarych was ordained in our church.
Late in Rev. Burak’s tenure an Activities Committee was formed for the purpose of coordinating social and fund-raising events. Very Rev. Archpriest Burak retired December 2002.
Rev. Volodymyr Klanichka arrived in December 2002 and assumed duties shortly thereafter. Rev. Klanichka was assigned to St. Vladimir Parish in Edwardsville as well. He was the first priest to reside in our rectory since 1982. He and his wife Natalka worked with parishioners for all events. The parish office was moved back to Wilkes-Barre. He was transferred to Holy Transfiguration Church in Hanover in July 2003.
At that time we were graced with Rev. John Seniw who resided in Scranton, at St. Vladimir rectory but served as our Administrator. Rev. Seniw began renovating the interior of the church. Under his guidance, we began using the new version of the Liturgy as approved by the dioceses (in Slavonic and English).
Rev. Seniw was transferred to Berwick in August 2004 and was succeeded by Rev. Thaddeus Krawchuk. Rev. Krawchuk had various items used in the church services re-gilded. Rev. Krawchuk worked with parishioners in their activities. He resided in Edwardsville and was Administrator of Wilkes-Barre. He was transferred August 2006.
Rev. Andriy Dudkevych arrived in August 2006. He and his family resided in Edwardsville and he served as Administrator at Wilkes-Barre. During his tenure, major electrical renovation was completed in the school. In August 2007, he was transferred to New Jersey and was succeeded by Rev. Orest Kunderevych.
Rev. Kunderevych currently serves as our Pastor. He resides in Wilkes-Barre with his wife and two children. He also serves as Administrator of St. Vladimir’s in Edwardsville. To date, under Rev. Kunderevych’s guidance, the rectory has been renovated; the church has been completed as far as painting. Barry Bennington, Jr., was instrumental in completing the church renovations upstairs, and the basement was painted by parishioners. Rev. Kunderevych was transferred in August of 2012 and was succeeded by the Very Rev. Paul Wolensky.
Rev. Wolensky was assigned as Pastor of both Saints Peter and Paul in Wilkes-Barre and of Saint Vladimir in Edwardsville (his home parish). In the years of Rev. Wolensky’s tenure parish population continued to decline. With dwindling collections and considerable expenses also came dwindling reserves. In November of 2019 the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sent a letter to the parish, warning of the dire financial situation that we were presented with and that we were in danger of closing or consolidating if we were unable to change the downward course. Steps were undertaken redouble fund raising efforts by the Parish’s Activities Committee. However in March of 2020 the world-wide COVID-19 Pandemic forced the closure of our churches to public celebration of the liturgy and limited fundraising opportunities.
Services continued, attended only by the priest and cantor and were recorded and posted online for the faithful. This condition continued until Pentecost Sunday, May 30-31, 2020 when public services were reinstated. Mask wearing and social distancing became the norm for liturgies and communion was distributed with individual spoons that were collected and later burned. Attendance remained down and the dispensation for attendance at the Sunday Liturgy remained. Parishioners worked to fund raise as much as they were able to safely, with dinners and food sales handled as drive-thru pick-ups in the parish parking lot. These events were thankfully well received by the local community.
In November of 2020 Rev. Wolensky suffered complications from an ongoing medical condition that resulted in his need to take medical leave. Liturgical services in his absence continued with assistance from the Archdiocese. In December of 2020 Rev. Archpriest Michael Hutsko was named Senior Administrator for Financial Matters. Liturgical services during the next 16 months were covered by assortment of clergy arranged by the Archdiocese. This was a trying time for our parish. Expenses needed to be reviewed and fundraising efforts needed to be continued and expanded. Without a full-time assigned pastor things were difficult. Many in the church stepped up and answered the call participating in fundraisers 10 of the 12 months in the year.
In March of 2022, the Archdiocese, assigned Rev. Myron Myronyuk, the Pastor of Saint Vladimir’s Parish in Scranton administrator of Our Parish. Saint Vladimir’s parish in Edwardsville was closed and parishioners were invited to join Saints Peter and Paul, Plymouth (where their Parish Cemetery and Records would be administered). Some elected to join the parish here in Wilkes-Barre, where they were warmly welcomed.
Effort continue to maintain, restore and grow the parish through the efforts of its Clergy and Parishioners…