Our Beginnings in Apopka, Florida

May 27th, 2010 by admin

The first Ukrainian family to settle in Apopka (Kowalchuk) arrived in June of 1972. At that time, probably very few people in this area had heard of Ukrainians or Ukraine. Stephen Kowalchuk was a real estate broker with his own firm, who published notices about Apopka in Ukrainian newspapers (e.g., Svoboda). Thus, with time, more Ukrainians settled in the Apopka area.

After much discussion, three partners – Stephen Kowalczuk, Walter (Volodymyr) Demianczuk and “Joe” (who eventually left) – incorporated “Lake McCoy Oaks, Inc.” Thanks to their hard work, a non-profit corporation under the name “Ukrainian Unity of St. Wladymir, Inc.” (Volodymyr) was registered on September 15, 1977.

The Unity was cultural-educational, religious, societal-humanitarian, and not political. Its purpose was to foster among its members a spirit of national-community unity, tolerance and true democracy. The Unity was intended to hold concerts and theatrical performances, establish a library or reading room, teach various courses and educate others about Ukraine. It conducted meetings to help members and needy Ukrainians, as well as for cultural, humanitarian and related goals.

The dream of the founders was to create a “Ukrainian Village”. As this goal became partially realized, there naturally developed a need for a building in which the members could meet and further the goals of the association. Therefore, land for the building was purchased and blessed on March 5, 1978. The land had been donated by the three founders: Demianczuk, Kowalchuk and Joe. The participants in the dedication included Mr. Land, the mayor of Apopka, members of the community, and Ukrainians who had built homes or who planned to settle in the area. Father Reilly from the local Roman Catholic parish presided over the dedication. After much hard work and dedication by Volodymyr Demianczuk and the entire community, which contributed significant money and effort, the building was completed on July 22, 1978.

The first Divine Liturgy in the building was celebrated on December 10, 1978, when Bishop Basil Losten gave his permission and blessing to Rev. Andrij Nazarevych to relocate from Willimantic, Connecticut to Apopka. The dedication of the building took place on January 7, 1979, with the participation of Rev. Andrij Nazarevych, Rev. Robert Slezinskyj, Rev. Arthur Butler, and Messrs. Kowalchuk and Demianczuk.

For some time, alongside the Unity of St. Volodymyr there existed a Ladies Association that held its formational meeting on August 28, 1979.

Officially, Metropolitan Myroslav Liubachivsky nominated Rev. Andrij Nazarevych as administrator of the Apopka mission on January 2, 1980. During that time, the Divine Liturgies were celebrated in the building of the Unity of St. Volodymyr. As of then, the eparchy had not yet been formed in Parma, and the church was under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan in Philadelphia.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church of St. Mary (Protectress) was registered on October 20, 1983. Two months later, the new Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Josaphat based in Parma, Ohio was formed. The Most Rev. Robert Michael Moskal became bishop of that eparchy, and his jurisdiction included the churches and missions in Florida. The bishop was formally installed on February 29, 1984.

On April 12, 1988, the Unity of St. Volodymyr transferred the church and land in Apopka to the Eparchy of St. Josaphat in Parma, Ohio. The address of the church is 245 Lake McCoy Drive, Apopka, Florida.

Much has been accomplished from those humble beginnings. For many years, Apopka’s Mayor Land proclaimed January 22nd as Ukrainian Day. The blue and yellow Ukrainian flag flew from the city’s tower. Many concerts occurred, including those commemorating January 22nd, November 1st, Taras Shevchenko, and many other events.

The Ukrainian community took part in exhibits in the parks, in Christmas parades where they won several first prizes, and in the International Festival in Orlando during 1985 and 1986. Parishioners also displayed a traditional Ukrainian Christmas Tree at Leu Gardens Botanical Park. Each year we celebrated the Feast Day of St. Mary (Protectress), Christmas Eve, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and many others. Our parish prepared for, and celebrated, the 1000-year anniversary of Christianity in Ukraine.

Our community suffered a terrible loss when the Almighty called to Him the dearly beloved Rev. Andrij Nazarevych, and also many other members of this parish. Each person who has departed has been a significant loss to our community. May they rest in peace with God, and may we remember them with “a good quiet word”.

From its beginning until today, our parish has been served by 20 priests. Some lived here in Apopka in the rectory, while others traveled here to celebrate the Divine Liturgy on Sunday.

There are many people to thank, particularly Messrs. Stephen Kowalchuk and Walter Demianczuk, without whom we would not have a church, nor our Divine Liturgies, nor our meeting place. Also, Father Matthew Berko did not spare any effort when there was a need, and was always ready to travel to us.

During the past seven years, our pastor, Father Ivan Kubishyn, tirelessly ministered to us not only spiritually, but also physically in maintaining our church and rectory.

A large debt of gratitude is also owed to our Bishop Robert Moskal for his care of our parish, and for his visits to us.

St. Mary Protectress Ukrainian Catholic Church – 30th Anniversary of Our Parish pamphlet and CD are available for purchase at the Church

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