History Page 2

History of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (Page 3)


With most of the physical work of the church completed, the 1940’s saw the parishioners of St. Josaphat begin in earnest the living of their Ukrai­nian/Byzantine Catholic Faith. Parish membership continued to grow and many spiritually rewarding activities were conducted during this period. When the parish had a social activity, when any improve­ment or renovation was necessary, all the members of the parish cooperated. This is attested to by the meticulous planning papers still on file in the ar­chives at the parish house. Throughout the terrible years of World War II, the parish kept faith and prayed for all the young men and women in service to keep them free. Many young men and women from St. Josaphat Church answered the call of their country and served in the Armed Forces.


With the end of the Second World War, St. Josaphat Church witnessed a dynamic resurgence in commu­nity life. The returning service men and women soon began to marry and begin families of their own. The parish was growing again, and by 1951 little known to the congregation, the size of the parish would be almost doubled.


The years 1949 to 1953 marks the period in which a new wave of immigration from Ukraine began arriving on American shores. Displaced because of the strife of World War II and the forcible occupa­tion of their homeland by the godless communists, these new immigrants began to arrive in Bethlehem. Those first and second generation American/Ukrai­nians immediately began to implement the corporal works of mercy, and made every effort to help the newcomers get established in their new homeland. With the arrival of the new immigration, St. Josaphat Church witnessed a renewed vitality and spirit. The returning service men and women came back to regular church attendance and together with the new immigrants, many of whom were denied the opportunity to practice their faith in Ukraine; were only too anxious to attend church services, to pray, and participate in the various social activities.


Recognizing the quick growth and spiritual resur­gence in the parish, the Diocese assigned a resident full time pastor. The Reverend Eugene Cehelsky assumed the duties as Pastor of St. Josaphat’s in 1949. Fr. Koltutsky was assigned to full time duties at Holy Ghost in West Easton and no longer had to divide his pastoral duties.

Father Cehelsky, needed a cantor, who next to the pastor, is the most important person in the function­ing of the parish. He knew that he would be able to find the “cream of the crop” by placing ads in the Ukrainian Catholic Newspapers which were pub­lished in Philadelphia and New Jersey and read all over the United States. Answering the  ad in the newspaper was a new immigrant who packed up his family and moved to Bethlehem. Professor Hnat Balaziuk responded not only to an ad in a newspaper, but also to a call from God. Not only did Professor Balaziuk bring his family to Bethlehem, he also brought with him a wealth of knowledge and experience in the customs and culture of the Ukrainian people. He was well versed in the church services and had a certain gentleness about him that encouraged rather than discouraged the prayer life of the community.

With unbridled enthusiasm he quickly formed a new church choir that soon became the envy of the Lehigh Valley. He began “church school” for the children and took up the task of educating the youth where Mr. Hyrnkiw had left off.

As mentioned above, the men and women returning from the service found jobs in the Lehigh Valley, married and settled in the area. The new immigrants followed and nearly all of them settled around the church with the Third and Carbon Street intersec­tion becoming the hub of their spiritual and cultural lives. It was at this time that the parish began to sponsor Ukrainian Day in the now defunct Central Park. Mr. Balaziuk and helpers saw to it that dances, movies, plays, and cultural events became part of parish life.

Under the direction of Fr. Cehelsky, the ladies of the parish began the Apostleship of Prayer. They assumed the very beautiful task of constantly praying for those in need, parish members as well as non-members. Together with their husbands, some of whom were now retired, they began makingpyrohy for sale in the church hall. The tons of flour and potatoes carried and mixed by these men and women is known but to God.

It became clear that if St. Josaphat’s was going to have a full time pastor, it would be necessary to find housing for him and his family. The parishioners purchased a house adjacent to the church grounds and hall. Cost of this venture was entirely from the generosity of the parish community and donations from the efforts of the “pyrohy ladies” mentioned above.

During the tenure of Fr. Cehelsky the parish had grown to such an extent that two Divine Services were required each Sunday. Fr. Cehelsky managed his duties well, being helped by the capable Fr. Iwan Mychaljiw.

It looked as if the congregation would soon out­grow the church building. The community began to think about either enlarging the present structure or looking for a site to build a new church. With couples beginning to move to other parts of Bethlehem, thinking on this subject began to lean towards a new site. It was now early 1957 and Fr. Cehelsky retired from active priestly duties.

With the retirement of Fr. Cehelsky, the curate at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church, Northampton, PA was named pastor of St. Josaphat.  Fr. John Bobyock arrived in Bethlehem and this genial, charismatic servant of God soon infected all the parishioners of St. Josaphat’s with his spirit of love of God and Church. Fr. Bobyock was young and energetic. During his pastorate many new parish programs were instituted. He infused the community with a vigor and vitality that had never been equaled in the Ukrainian Diocese. His sincerity soon befriended both the young and the old. It was through Fr. Bobyock that the “seeds of continued cooperation” and the idea for a new church were planted.

Fr. Bobyock immediately realized that it would be necessary for him to reach the youth of the parish. He did this by re-organizing the parish religious education program, and with the help of Mr. Balaziuk brought it up to the standards of the pre-Vatican II church. He also realized that in order to get the younger people involved, it would be necessary to organize them into a functioning church organization. Hence the Young Ladies Auxiliary was born. The Young Ladies Auxiliary, which remains in existence to this day, albeit renamed the “Ladies Auxiliary” have lived up to their title in every respect. The English word “auxiliary” is directly derived from the Latin word "auxilium” which means ‘‘helper’’ or “giver of aid.” And since its inception, St. Josaphat’s Ladies Auxiliary has never stopped being a “giver of aid” to the spiritual and financial need of the parish community. They remain a strong force in the spirit of Christian Community, and are called upon by the present pastor to perform various tasks or conduct various fund raising activities for the good of all.

Fr. Bobyock also began an organization for men, the Holy Name Society. This world-wide organization, with roots in the tradition of the western rites of the Catholic Church, did for the men of the parish what the Young Ladies Auxiliary did for the women. Following the example of the Apostleship of prayer, founded by Fr. Cehelsky, the Society plunged into activities for the spiritual and financial well being of the parish community. The need for a new church building was apparent and the Holy Name Men together with the Young Ladies Auxiliary, rolled up their sleeves and plunged into all sorts of activities with one goal in mind, to build a new house of worship for the community known as St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church. A few of the ac­tivities that these satellite organiza­tions promoted: bingo, raffles, fashion shows, various dinners, civic endeavors, namely the Bethlehem birthday celebration that was held in July of each year. Fr. Bobyock had indeed brought the spirit of love, Christ, and cooperation to the parish family. In addition to these church organizations there re­mains in existence a civic organization with a branch attached to St. Josaphat Church, the "Soyuz Ukrainok.” Over the years the ladies of the Soyuz have dedicated themselves to many humanitarian efforts throughout the world. They remain active, not only in their humanitarian efforts, but also in helping to preserve Ukrainian culture among the people.

Mr. Balaziuk led the church choir each Christmas season to the homes of the house bound with parish members singing Christmas Carols and bringing the good news of the birth of our Savior to all.

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