St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral - Part I


St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in the Ukrainian Village has served as a bulwark against the loss of Ukrainian religious and cultural identity for over a century.During the early twentieth century Ukrainian immigrants faced significant threats to faith and freedom in their homeland and the US, so they decided to found a church to celebrate their religion and culture. St. Nicholas has since grown into a major center for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Chicago and for the Western part of the United States.

Ukrainian immigrants founded the Parish of St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker in 1905. Ukrainian Village historian George Matwyshyn explains that Jakiw Olenec, a young Ukrainian man, wanted his son to be baptized in the Eastern Catholic tradition. Olenec and other immigrants established a church to fill the spiritual and cultural vacuum that existed in Chicago at the time.


Front exterior at 2238 W. Rice St.

Many immigrants to Chicago came from western Ukraine and practiced in the Eastern Catholic tradition. While the Eastern Catholics acted in full communion with the Pope in Rome, many of its traditions were similar to those of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Icons were as revered as the written word, priests could marry before taking orders, and liturgy was held in Church Slavonic. Due to these differences, cultural clashes occurred between newly arrived Eastern Catholic priests and Americanized Roman Catholic bishops. These clashes resulted in a dearth of places for Ukrainian Catholics to worship in their own tradition. The cultural similarities shared by the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches led to many Ukrainian Catholics to attend Eastern Orthodox services. However, many Ukrainian Catholics looked to found their own church to serve their spiritual needs, following Rome.


A southeast view of the structure

Out of this cultural confusion and spiritual need, the parish of St. Nicholas was born. The first site was at the Trinity Lutheran Danish Church bought in 1906. After a few years, the parish decided to buy land at Rice and Oakley (its current location) in 1913. Architect John G. Steinbach, of Worthmann & Steinbach who planned other churches such as St. Stanislaus and St. Mary of Angels, designed the church, modeling it after St. Sophia in Kiev. The church held its first liturgy on Christmas day in 1915.

As the Communist Party came to power in Russia, and more immigrants decided to stay in the US, the parish of St. Nicholas began to grow. The small school housed in the basement of the church received new permanent lodging in 1935 and later expanded into a second building in 1955. Eventually, the parish grew large enough that the Catholic Church established the Eparchy of St. Nicholas in Chicago in 1961. St. Nicholas Church became St. Nicholas Cathedral. Most Reverend Jaroslav Gabro, a native son of Chicago, was established the Bishop of this new Eparchy, stretching from Ohio to Hawaii.


Closeup view of the Cathedral's doors

The unity of the burgeoning Ukrainian Cathedral was disrupte, however, by a dispute over the calendar system. In the 1960s, the majority of parishioners agreed to change to the Gregorian calendar system but a group of parishioners preferred the Julian calendar. This group split from St. Nicholas in 1968 and founded Sts. Vladimir and Olha at Chicago and Oakley.

In 2006, St. Nicholas celebrated its 100th anniversary. During that century, St. Nicholas had over 10,000 baptisms, 4,000 marriages and 5,000 funerals. Today. St. Nicholas continues to be a pillar of the Ukrainian community in Chicago.

The church is at 835 N. Oakley Blvd. and the rectory is at 2238 W. Rice St.

Part II will look at the architecture and spiritualism of the church itself.

For more information: Part II ; Part III



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