The Rapidian

Ukrainian Catholic community struggles to stay afloat

Grand Rapids' west side parish of Saint Michael the Archangel has been around for over fifty years, but as of recently the tiny parish is struggling to stay afloat.
Underwriting support from:

St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church

Divine Liturgy

Every Sunday 
at 10:00 a.m.

 
Matins

Every Sunday
at 9:15 a.m.

 

154 Gold Ave NW

(616) 742-0874

Rev. Michael Bliszcz delivers his homily to Sunday congregants.

Rev. Michael Bliszcz delivers his homily to Sunday congregants. /Eric Tank

/Eric Tank

Upon entering the parish nave of St. Michael The Archangel, one’s senses are immediately inebriated with the colorful iconography and flowery incense. Hymns are chanted by the cantor and the censure bells rattle as the priest blesses the congregation. It is an ancient ritual, dating back to the turn of the 5th century; a rite that the Ukrainian Catholic Church has preserved to this day. But dwindling numbers and financial hardship at this Grand Rapids parish has slowed its growth and this small faith community may not be around for much longer.

This small parish community currently gathers for worship on the corner of Gold Avenue at Sibley Street on Grand Rapids' west side ever since the building was purchased in 1951. Before that the small faith community either gathered in the basement of St. James Roman Catholic church or in the kitchen of the adjacent convent, both located on Bridge Street. This small ethnic community was born of immigrants from Ukraine. They were few in numbers and by the time of the purchase of the current building, the numbers were at their height. Relatively small compared to many of the local Roman catholic parishes, St. Michael’s was a vibrant church with its own distinct customs. 

The aesthetic of the church interior may appear “Greek” or “Russian” Orthodox. These terms are often used carelessly. St. Michael’s is neither Greek (ethnically), nor Russian. The Ukrainian Catholic Church is one of twenty-one autonomous Catholic churches along with the Roman Catholic church that are in communion with the bishop of Rome, i.e., the Pope.

Most of St. Michael’s founding fathers had been displaced from Ukraine following World War II, a time when the Church in Ukraine was forced underground under Soviet rule. Eugene Hanka, current caretaker of St. Michael’s, was the parish’s first altar boy in 1957. He taught successive ranks of acolytes and continues to lead his own grandsons at the altar today.

Over the years St. Michael’s slowly accumulated various liturgical items and religious furnishings. Today, it is an eclectic mix of various Catholic and Orthodox aesthetics. It is what makes St. Michael’s unique even compared to other, more financially fortunate Ukrainian churches. Today there is hardly enough revenue to afford basic needs. Much of what keeps the bills paid is fund money from the many successful community events organized and operated throughout the 1950’s and 60’s by the founding members.

St. Michael’s celebrates Divine Liturgy every Sunday at 10 a.m. The congregation welcomes anyone to attend liturgy. You will be greeted with warmth and kindness, and if you’re lucky, depending on the occasion, following the liturgy you’ll be invited downstairs for some of the best Ukrainian and Polish food in Grand Rapids.

For anyone interested in the study of religion and culture, or particularly the history and practices of Eastern Catholicism and Orthodoxy, St. Michael’s is a Grand Rapid’s treasure.

 

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