St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church parishioners, clergy celebrate final liturgy

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Photo Gallery | Final mass at St. John The Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church

PITTSFIELD — St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church celebrated its last liturgical service Sunday afternoon, ending a century of spiritual and cultural unity that embodied the city's eastern European heritage.

About 30 current and former parishioners gathered in the small house of worship on Greylock Terrace overlooking Wahconah Street to pray one final time and afterwards reminisce about the once large, vibrant religious community that had dwindle to about 20, mostly older members.

Sisters Patricia Silen and Nancy Mckenzie made their First Communion at Saint John the Baptist, Mckenzie later marrying in the church to her husband of 36 years, Anthony.

"We were brought up with all the traditions, our childhood was very special here," recalled Silen.

"Back in the 60s and before, there used to be a big Ukranian picnic in the city," noted church member, Jim Arpante.

Bishop Paul Patrick Chomnycky of the Eparchy of Stamford, Conn, — similar to a diocese in the Roman Catholic Church — conducted the final liturgy and deconsecration. Chomnycky noted the service occurring on the Feast of the Ascension, when Jesus returned to heaven to be at the right hand of God 40 days after rising from the dead on Easter Sunday.

"Ascension is a going home," he said. "This parish of Saint John the Baptist is going home just as Jesus did. It has completed its life's journey."

The church will likely be sold, but it's unclear if the remaining members will be able to still worship elsewhere in Berkshire County with its visiting pastor, Rev. Janush Jedrychowski or find another Eastern Rite Catholic Church to attend — the closest in Massachusetts being in Ludlow.

Saint John the Baptist was built in 1921, five years after dozens of local Ukrainian immigrant families formed a parish. In 1944, a rectory was erected for the pastor and in 1988, the church was redecorated and renovated in hopes of a bright future that began to dim 25 years ago.

Saint John the Baptist, just as its counterparts in the Roman Catholic Church in Pittsfield, has succumbed to the county's declining and aging population, loss of factory jobs and change in attitudes towards one's ethnicity.

"It's a sad event for people here today," Arpante said. "It's much sadder for some as this is the only church they've known."

George Gela, a Polish immigrant, and his Canadian born wife, Joanne, came to Pittsfield in 1990, not wanting to leave despite the economic and population ups and downs of the past quarter century.

The church closing won't chase them away.

"We're very strong in our faith and our culture," Joanne Gela said. "We'll go wherever we can find a church."

Bishop Chomnycky thanked Saint Joseph Catholic Church for being supportive of the Ukrainian church through the years and appreciated Saint Joseph's pastor, Monsignor Michael Shershanovich and Most Rev. Timothy McDonnell, resident retired bishop of the Roman Catholic Dicoese of Springfield for participating in Sunday's final liturgy at Saint John the Baptist.

With a backdrop of an ornate altar and stained glass windows, the clergy and lay people gathered for several iPhone photographs — 21st century technology capturing the descendants of another vanishing ethnic church in Pittsfield.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233.


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