History Page 1

History of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (Page 2)


As early as 1910, it became apparent to Church officials both in Rome and Ukraine, that the Ukrainian population of the Lehigh Valley was increasing rapidly. Ukrainian parishes had been started in Allentown, and Northampton, but they were a great distance (remember automobiles were scarce in 1910) from the Bethlehem faithful. Between 1910 and 1913, the Bethlehem Ukrainians began sending letters to their bishop in Ukraine requesting some­thing be done for the spiritual welfare of their community. Early in 1914, arrangements were made between the founders and forefathers of the present St. Josaphat Church and the Roman Catholic pastor, to rent a chapel in the still existing Holy Infancy Latin Catholic Church on Fourth Street. A visiting priest from Northampton, Father Michael Kuziw, provided services at the Holy Infancy site from 1914 to 1916. Since the congregation had no church or property, the Bethlehem area was desig­nated as mission territory dependent on the Holy Ghost Church in West Easton. The new congregation used this chapel until 1918.

During these early formative years the Congrega­tion of St. Josaphat (as yet unnamed) and the Trans-Carpathian Congregation of SS. Peter and Paul (as yet unnamed) were united in worship services. Something occurred in 1916-17 which caused the two communities to form separate parishes in Bethlehem. Parish and chancery archives give no hint as to what caused the two communities to form two separate parishes.

Fast outgrowing the chapel, the parish founders, with the help of a visiting priest, Father Antin Lotowych located and purchased a Protestant church situated at the corner of Third and Carbon Streets in South Bethlehem. At the time there were fifty families and about thirty single persons registered. On April 21, 1918, the decision was reached to expend $10,000.00 for the Carbon Street property. They immediately decided on the patron name of St. Josaphat, a seventeenth century Ukrainian bishop, who struggled and finally lost his life in the cause of church unity. It is interesting to note that these far from theologically trained faithful chose St. Josaphat from the list of saints to be their patron. They knew that America is a pluralistic society with a church of different denomination on almost every corner. By selecting St. Josaphat as their patron, they not only inferred their Ukrainian Catholic roots and culture, but they also proclaimed to the Bethlehem community at large the desire of Our Lord Jesus Christ ‘‘that they all might be one.” (cf. Gospel of John)

The little church at Third and Carbon Streets was immediately renovated and appointed in the style suitable for Byzantine worship. The members did much of the work themselves and provided for much of the church fur­nishings and litur­gical items with their own money Their incomes were meager, but their generosity and faith are re­membered to this day by God. One year later, 1919, the founders were able to construct a social hall adjacent to the church. The hall was constructed by members of the parish under the supervision of Wasyl Zagwosky.lo This social hall soon became the gathering place for Ukrainians and it became the home of numerous social and fund raising activities. It was also the place where the church choir met, organized by Mr. Pypyuk, a visiting cantor from Allentown, to practice and prepare the music used in the church to praise and give thanks to the Lord. Throughout this period and into the 1920’s the parish was served by Father Michael Koltutsky of West Easton and his cantors Mr. Romankiw and Mr. Hrabar


Throughout the period of the 1920’s, the congregation continued to grow. It was during these years that many of the present day group leaders, program organizers, workers, and staff were born. Despite the fact that the congregation was growing, and they had a church of their own, the parish retained its mission status. This was not the fault of St. Josaphat’s parishioners but rather problems which were taking place in the diocese at this time. The history of the Ukrainian Philadelphia Archdiocese is not part of our discussion, so it is sufficient to say that throughout this period of growth in Bethlehem, priests were sent to serve the community at irregular intervals. The majority of these traveling priests were assigned to Bethlehem from West Easton, while others were Monk-priests, from monasteries in Europe, who served the community to the best of their ability. The Great Depression of 1929 also added to the delay in St. Josaphat achieving parish status.


The Catholic Church makes a distinction between “Parish” and “Mission.” Simply put, a “mission” is a congregation of believers that is without a permanent pastor or chief shepherd. A “mission” is dependent upon some other “parish.” A “parish” is a congregation of believers having a duly appointed priest or shepherd to lead them in their spiritual lives. The parish priest or pastor is responsible only to the Bishop, who in the Eastern Tradi­tion is the representative of Christ.  Until 1931, St. Josaphat Church in Bethlehem, was “dependent” on the Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic Church in West Easton. It was from Holy Ghost that priests would be sent to serve the spiri­tual needs of the Bethlehem congregation.

In 1931, the then Ukrainian Catholic Exarchate of Phila­delphia named the Pastor of Holy Ghost Church in West Easton, Reverend Michael Koltutsky as Pastor of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Bethlehem. Fr. Koltutsky remained as Pastor of Holy Ghost as well. With this appointment, St. Josaphat Church was elevated to the status of full parish. No longer would the community in Bethlehem be considered a mission, but a full fledged Church of the Exarchate of Philadelphia, and entitled to the same consider­ations as any Ukrainian Catholic Church in the world.

Dividing his time between West Easton and Bethlehem, Fr. Koltutsky made it a point to see to the spiritual needs of the Bethlehem community. He served as pastor until 1949. With the second generation coming to adulthood, and the first gen­eration beginning their journey to Our Heavenly.

Father, Fr. Koltutsky was responsible for the pur­chase, in 1938, of St. Josaphat Cemetery in Lower Saucon Township. The property was purchased from the Bethlehem Steel Company for the sum of $1,200.00. By 1945, a stone cross had been erected and a paved driveway installed.

It must also be mentioned that the official name of the parish was “St. Josaphat Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church. On November 5, 1938, a parish meeting was held and with the consent of the Bishop, the name of the Church was changed to “St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church.16

As the Great Depression ground down and the world began to prepare for the conflict that was about to come, life at St. Josaphat’s began moving smoothly. Mr. Onufry Hrynkiw was the parish cantor and, in those days, was not only responsible for serving at the various liturgical rites, but was also in charge of teaching the children of the early immi­grants. It was through Mr. Hrynkiw that the beautifulSamoilka Ukrainian melodies, unique to the Ukrainian Church, were passed from the first generation to the next. But he not only taught the children how to sing, and gave religious instructions, he also taught Ukrainian culture and language.

As mentioned earlier, the church has always been central to the life of the Ukrainian. With the building now established on Third and Carbon Streets, the faithful soon began to settle within walking distance. Not only was this to their advantage, but the men were able to find employment at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. The location of the church building and social hall was ideal for everyone. It remained the center of focus for the faithful. The church community continued to grow as word spread throughout the Lehigh Valley of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Bethlehem.

History Page 3                                                                                                                                                         Home Page