History of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church
Around beginning of the twentieth century, the first Ukrainian immigrants came to Reading from Western Ukraine and from the Southwestern part of the Carpathian mountain region, mainly from Lemko region.
Deeply religious and closely attached to their Church, the Ukrainian immigrants were reluctant to live without religious services and a church in their own Rite. The sorrow for their native church continuously had given them no peace of mind. Financially being unable to build their own church, at first they went to a Roman Catholic Church, or often, traveled for miles to distant places to visit a church of their own Rite. At first, they attended St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church, and later St. Mary’s Catholic Polish Catholic Church. With the approval of the pastor, Rev. Maluszewski of St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church, visiting priest of the Ukrainian Rite were permitted to offer sacrifices and other services.
The parish was constantly growing in number, thanks to the zealous efforts of the pioneers. The resident pioneers invited their friends from the homeland to seek their fortune here. Due to their efforts the parish in 1906 already comprised 16 families.
In 1906, the parishioners elected the first parochial committee whose duty it was to seek ways and means to establish a permanent chapel. This was within the realm of the financial reach of the members.
As relates Mr. Joseph Sokol, Mr. T. Melnyk and Mr. Ilko Zatvracz, the first committee was comprised of the following names: Theodore Terefenko, Andrew Rabowski, Joseph Hanczarek, Atanas Sech, Stefan Baran, Wasyl Shelak Stephen Philipczak, Simeon Grudza, Stephen Banik, Thoma Baran, Theodore Kitelejiw, Joseph Sokol, Wasyl Futrick, Ilko Zatyracz, Hryhorij Zatyracz, Michael Stawrowsky, John Major, Stephen Luksaj, Stephen Woytko, John Tarnawskyj, Wasyl Terefenko, Luka Terefenko, Mr. Barna, Jurij Potajecki, Nick Bindasz, John Pisanick, Michael Hrabowski.
After months of planning and generous contributions, the first step was made April 19, 1905, when a home was purchased at 632 Laurel St., for the price of 1,800 dollars. These zealous souls immediately began to convert the house carefully and soundly to a small and beautiful chapel. Late in the year of 1906, the parish was dedicated under the patronage of St. Mary's Church. The celebrant of the first Mass in the chapel was Rev. Pelenski. The chapel had a seating capacity for 100 people.
First Church, 632 Laurel St., Reading, PA
Sign in Front of Old Chapel.
In 1913, the first church choir was established. In 1914, under his guidance of Rev. Petro Popowycz, the parish mortgage was paid off. The year 1937 was noteworthy in the annals of the parish for that year, under the able and energetic leadership of the zealous pastor Father Vladimir Dobuszowsky, a rectory had been purchased at 502 South 7th Street. This fact is more important since this was the first major step in the growth of the parish.
Interior of our old Chapel, 632 Laurel St., Reading, PA.
With the influx of new souls to the locality it was self-evident a new church building was necessary to accommodate the increased congregation. So it was felt the time was ripe to commence with plans for the erection of a new building. To accomplish this aim the neighboring properties bordering the chapel were purchased by Rev. Vladimir Obushkevych.
The Blessed Virgin Mary painting from above main alter of the old chapel.
On Sunday, January 12, 1941, at the duly announced yearly meeting a resolution was passed unanimously to purchase the properties of Mr. T. Ratajack’s situated at 628 and 630 Laurel Street. The official settlement was made in the month of April of the same year. Due to the charity and good will of Mr. T. Ratajack the property was purchased for the insignificant sum of 2,100 dollars. This sum indicates only a partial value of the property.
For nearly a half century, the need for a new church was constantly felt. On January 18, 1942, Rev. Paul Procko, was appointed pastor. Rapidly in his sermons he called upon parishioners to raise funds for a new church. Rev. P. Procko, assisted by his church committee, arranged a huge picnic and the deposit of 300 dollars was earmarked to the exclusive fund for a new church.
Rev. Paul Procko. Pastor in the years 1942-1949.
In 1949, Rev. Paul Procko organized a women’s organization “Ladies Auxiliary,” whose aim was to arrange dinners each and every Friday. They volunteered to make “pierogis” by occupying space at the Reading Fairs and markets. The profit from sales were donated entirely toward the church fund. In June of 1949 such women as Julia Senishen, Sophie Wloczewska, Anna Kiceluk, Mary Yedynak, Xenia Jurasinski and Anna Tacyn had called up the first meeting inviting several other active women of our parish. The number of these zealous and devoted women soon grew to 36 members. The infinitely small group of 36 members had contributed to the pierogi sales an astounding sum of $15,000.
God’s call shortened the career and life of Rev. Father Procko, hence his dream of the erection of a new church had not been realized. He departed to his eternal rest February 20, 1949. The parish was cared for a period of four weeks by Rev. Nicholas Baranetsky.
On March 13, 1949, the duties of the parish were assumed by the self-sacrificing and beloved pastor Rev. Roman Krupa. This zealous priest had expanded a great effort toward the growth of the parish. With his extensive building experience, he immediately cast himself into the laborious and difficult task of the erection of a beautiful home of God in Reading. He visited home after home, parishioner after parishioner, sent letters and literature to his and to others, urging cooperation for the building of the church.
Rev. Roman Krupa was born on January 6, 1887 in Nowe Selo — West Ukraine. Ordained in Peremyshl by His Excellency Most Rev. Constantine Czechowycz on September 4, 1910. First came to Canada in May of 1913 to perform missionary work there. In Canada Rev. Roman Krupa was the pastor of the beautiful SS. Vladimir and Olga church in Winnipeg. He was also a pastor in such Provinces as: Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. Rev. Roman Krupa came to the United States in 1928. At first he was pastor at Rossford, Ohio, and later for 13 years in Frankford, PA. He also served for two years as a secretary to our Archbishop His Excellency Most Reverend Constantine Bohachevsky, D.D., later he was pastor in Ansonia, CT, and in 1949 came to Reading, PA.
At the end of the fiscal year of 1949 with the excellent cooperation of the congregation a sum of $12,186.25 was realized. By the end of October of the same year the fund had risen to an unbelievable sum of $86,882.29. Although the sum is staggering in the proportion, it was insufficient to commence the erection of the building. An additional 40,000 dollars was necessary. This sum had been graciously loaned by the Ukrainian Catholic Association "The Providence."
Father Krupa and the building committee secured the services of architect, Mr. G. C. Freeman, who specialized in Catholic architecture. It was agreed that the general design was to be in accordance and harmony with the Byzantine style.
On September 2, 1953, old buildings were demolished as well as the small chapel and work commenced. While the church was under construction, the services were held in the church of SS. Cyril and Methodius, at the invitation of Rev. Michael P. Kakos.
Toward the end of 1953 the building of the new church at 630 Laurel Street was nearing its completion.
After a period of 15 months the spiral overlooking the church was completed. On December 12, 1954, more than 300 persons attended pre-dedication ceremonies in the new edifice. The main altar in the new structure was blessed, with the clergy and parishioners from Reading and vicinity marching in a procession in which the Blessed Sacrament was carried to the altar from SS. Cyril and Methodius Church, 6th and Laurel streets.
Processional from SS. Cyril and Methodius Church on December 12, 1954, 6th and Laurel Street, at which time the Blessed Sacrament was brought into the New Church. Priests to be seen are: Rev. Roman Krupa, pastor, Very Rev. J. Taptich and Rev. Nicholas Baranetsky, the guests.
Altar Blessing. Blessing of the Main Altar in the New Church at 630 Laurel Street, on December 12, 1954. The clergy participating in a service were: Very Rev. Dr. Stephen Chehansky, officiating, Rev. Roman Krupa, pastor, Very Rev. John Mickun, Rev. Nicholas Baranetsky, Rev. Thomas Barylak, Rev. Michael Kultucky, Very Rev. John Taptich, and Rev. Basil Sheremeta. More than 300 persons attended the service.
Church at at 630 Laurel Street, Reading, PA.
Members of the church societies and sodalities also helped form the procession, which was led by the Rev. Roman Krupa, and the Rev. Dr. Stephen Chehansky, Northampton, who officiated at this first service. At a banquet attended by more than 400 in the church hall, Father Krupa thanked the parishioners for their generosity in support of the new building fund.
Interior of New Church.
On October 18, 1955, after untiring and zealous work of completing the new church, plus a long illness, Rev. Roman Krupa passed away to his eternal reward in heaven. He left memories of his noble character, of his love for the Church, his people, and particularly the love for youth.
First Holy Communion Class and Rev. Wolodymyr Kowal., May 13, 1955.
School Children, Class 1933-1935, and Rev. Jacob De Bour, Pastor.
In 2004, deterioration of the neighborhood around the church at Seventh and Laurel Streets prompted the move and sale of the church property. The church already owned 104 acres on the hillside above Route 724 - also known as Philadelphia Avenue - between Route 10 and Valley Stream Drive in Cumru Township. The church rectory and cemetery were already are on the Cumru site, which church elders purchased in 1963.
In 2015, the parish, at a cost of $700,000, purchased the former St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Parish church, 504 Summit Ave., the rectory, 501 Summit Ave., and the social hall, 211 Grace St., in the Millmont section of Reading.
The church had hoped to move the church’s stained-glass windows and distinctive gold dome to the new location, but an estimated cost of $55,000 to do that and the possibility of the dome sustaining damage forced the church to reconsider.
On January 2, 2016, the parish celebrated its new home with a consecration and blessing ceremony. The church still owns about 100 acres in Cumru Township along Philadelphia Avenue, but nothing definitive is planned for the property’s use.
Altar Blessing. Blessing of the Main Altar in the New Church at 504 Summit Ave. in the Millmont section of Reading.