Monessen Church Shows Nearly 100 Years of Community Service

Article excerpt

The Rt. Rev. Bishop Basil, leader of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Wichita and Mid-America, has more than a passing interest in the history of St. Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church in Monessen. He's very much a part of the heritage there.

The church's history was emphasized recently when Bishop Basil, born William Essey, e-mailed a copy of the Jan. 15, 1915, front page of The Daily Independent (a forerunner of The Valley Independent) to his cousin, George Essey, of Monessen. The newspaper information had been sent to the Bishop and he forwarded it to his cousin.

A lead story in that edition of the newspaper carried this headline: The New Syrian Orthodox Church Dedicated Sunday.

"It was a very pleasant surprise," George Essey said of the e- mail material. "There had been some confusion about the actual beginning of our church, but Bishop Basil clarified that when he became one of the Hierarchies in the Antiochian Orthodox Church Dioceses. The newspaper article from 1915 is very helpful, however."

The Daily Independent story noted that the new Syrian Greek Orthodox church on Ninth Street in Monessen was "formally opened and dedicated" on Jan. 3, 1915. Special services were held in the morning and evening.

A good attendance of members and friends of the congregation was noted, and services were of "more than ordinary interest to the Assyrian (as printed in the newspaper) people, of whom there are quite a large number in and about Monessen," the story said. The dedicatory service was in charge of the Rev. George Michael, by authority of Bishop Raphael of New York City.

The Sunday collection, the story continued, was "$127.78, which was considered exceptionally good and which is highly appreciated by the church and financial committee."

The new bell at the church was rung to announce services for the first time on Sunday morning. The bell was donated by the Russian church on Second Street and was gratefully recognized by the new church members as "quite a fitting acquisition."

The church home was of frame and was built by W.W. Smallwood, a local contractor who completed his work just two days before the building was dedicated. The seats, furniture and other necessities were completed at a cost of $6,250.

The Daily Independent account of the ceremonies pointed out that the ground on which the church was erected was donated by Michael Joseph, a member and "earnest worker" in the church. Joseph also paid Smallwood in full for his work in constructing the church. Thus, the paper said, the church was completely paid for. Whatever amount the congregation "may have been short in the transaction was made up by Mr. Joseph."

"The Syrian Greek Orthodox people of Monessen now have as neat appearing and comfortable a church home as is to be found among that people along the Monongahela Valley," the newspaper story concluded.

While the dedication and opening took place in 1915, research by Bishop Basil several years ago revealed that the congregation actually was founded and authorized by Bishop Raphael in 1913. Ground was broken for construction of the new church in 1914. The Rev. Father Goerge Michael Nakd was the first pastor.

George Essey, the parish's archivist, notes in the history of the church that the new building in 1915 was 60 feet long by 35 feet wide. A house formerly occupied by Michael Joseph on that property was moved to a back lot to make room for the new church. That transition cost $800 and was taken care of by Joseph.

"He (Joseph) also signed papers securing a loan from the bank for funds for the new church building," Essey said. "Members of St. Michael Church raised $539 for a down payment on the building."

The church history also notes that His Grace, Bishop Raphael (Hawaweeny), Bishop of Brooklyn of the Syrian-Greek Orthodox Mission, "gave his blessings for this venture. …