A Brief History of the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in the borough of Rosemount (Montreal QC)

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Ukrainians have always felt a strong connection with Jesus Christ as their Savior and God. They also turned to their Church in historic times of trouble—the center of spiritual life overseeing the salvation of their souls—whether in their cherished native land or on fateful foreign shores. Churches play an important spiritual and social role. In fact, despite difficult circumstances, Christian communities would spring up, with a parish church, a sanctuary, at its centre, a place of spiritual life, of unification with God, of limitless blessings. Ukrainians who settled in Montreal were no different, especially when their adopted city in the middle of the St.Lawrence River reminded them of their European roots.

For a long time the first Ukrainian immigrants did not have any church to call their own. Tough economic times, impossibly low-paid migrant worker salaries, and their low numbers would not allow them in having their own building. But they were often visited by pastors who came from Europe or from the neighbouring States. Their spiritual Father, the Metropolitan Servant-of-God Andrey Sheptytsky visited twice; the first time in September 1910 and the second, in September 1921. These apostles of Christ uplifted the spirit of Ukrainian settlers with their inspirational sermons, administered sacraments, celebrated liturgies in French and English churches. Such dedication was enough to cause encouragement to build their own church. And so, with God’s blessing and the cooperation of goodwill, the first Ukrainian Catholic Church of St. Michael the Archangel was built in the borough of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve in 1916. A few years later, in the 1930’s, a second church, this time in the working class neighbourhood of Pointe-St-Charles, the congregation of the Holy Ghost saw the light of day, followed by another congregation in Ville-Émard: St. Josaphat.

The end of the Second World War saw an influx of immigrants, among which were many Ukrainians. They left their native land because of the war and ended up in “displaced persons” camps in Austria, Germany and elsewhere in Western Europe. They eventually arrived in the hospitable country of Canada. Many of them settled in Montreal. Their numbers greatly increased and strengthened the existing, well-organized community. The relentless urban movement in search of better residential conditions led a large number of Ukrainians to a new city district, called Rosemont, and for the necessity to create a new parish and build a church for their spiritual needs. The church of St. Michael the Archangel was already too far for them, and it could no longer serve the needs of the growing community. Thus on November 24, 1950, the bishop for Ukrainian Catholics in Eastern Canada, His Excellency Isidore Borecky of Toronto, established by decree a new parish in Rosemont, The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Organizing and heading this parish was given into the capable hands of Fr. Michael Hawryluk, who also became its first pastor. The news was shared with the faithful by Fr. Irenaeus Nazarko OSBM during Holy Mass at St. Michael’s on Iberville Street on Sunday, December 3rd 1950, and was enthusiastically met by the community. Initially, the new parish held Worship at local French schools in Rosemont, such as Louis Hébert on 6th Avenue and Saint-Gabriel Lalemant, now called Marie-Médiatrice, on Des Écores Street. The first Divine Liturgy in the newly established parish was held on Sunday, December 10th 1950 at the Louis Hébert School.

Church Building

On December 17th, following Sunday Mass, parishioners convened their first meeting, and elected a committee to help the pastor with the parish’s affairs. The initial members were: Boris Gregoryj, Paul Dubas, Leo Ivashchuk, Wasyl Kozak, Mykhaylo Kosiuk, Alexander Lysyuk, Peter Rogal, Constantine Telishevskyi, Wasyl Shevchuk and Rudolf Schmidt. The committee elected Mr. Kostya Telishevskyi as its first president for his great organizational skills and zealous work.

The committee, together with Fr Michael Hawryluk, began fundraising among the parishioners and looking for a plot of land on which to build the church. Two properties were bought – one from private owners, and the second from the municipality. The first property was soon re-sold for a good price once it was decided that a large church building would be built on the other property. Expert builders were brought in, including master builder Mr Volodymyr Postryhach, at a meeting held on May 21st, 1954. Members of the building committee included: Postryhach Volodymyr – Chairman, Telishevskyi Kostya – Deputy Chairman, Danylevych Yaroslav – secretary, and counselors – Shmytd Rudolph, James Kaminsky and Kosiuk Vasil. They went to work right away. The committee’s Chairman took care of finding the architect, Mr Paul Émile Lapointe, who devised the building plans. Actual building of the structure was entrusted to general contractor Mr. Stephen Sura.

The land was consecrated after almost four years from the founding of the parish, on June 6, 1954, with many priests and faithful in attendance. Following the consecration rites, a dinner was held in the parish hall of St. Michael the Archangel church on Iberville with the participation of delegates – representatives from other parishes and national organizations, and faithful.

The foundations for the church were started in September 1954 and completed, but due to inclement weather in late autumn construction was postponed to the following Spring, in April 1955. Many people watched the building going up and assisted in its quick progress. The solemn consecration of the cornerstone took place on September 25th, 1955 by His Excellency Isidore Borecky with many priests, parishioners and guests on hand. With the outside completed, the entire winter season was spent finishing the interior, so that on February 26th, 1956, the opening and dedication of the church hall was held.

Three domes and shiny stainless steel crosses were added by summer 1956. Now all attention was placed in decorating the interior with all that is needed to celebrate Holy Mass. The first Divine Liturgy in the newly built church was celebrated on Christmas Day, January 7th, 1957, followed by the solemn consecration of the church by the Bishop for Ukrainian Catholics in Eastern Canada, His Excellency Isidore Borecky, on 26th May 1957, with a large attendance from the community.

Spiritual attendants

Our Bishops, first His Excellency Isidore Borecky, then Bishop Cornelius Pasichny and now Bishop Stephen Chmilar, cared deeply that the spiritual needs of the large congregation of the Assumption in Rosemount were adequately met. With that in mind, in December 1954 Fr Prof. Stephen Kolyankivsky was appointed as assistant to Fr. Michael Hawryluk. In later years many more priests came to serve the faithful; some stayed for a short period of time, others—longer. Among them were also recently ordained priests who graduated from local Montreal theological colleges: Fr. Yurij Kowalsky and Fr. Edward Yarema. Thus the following priests served this parish: Fr. Prof. Stephen Kolyankivsky, Fr. Nicholas Markiv, Fr. Yurij Kowalsky, Fr. Volodymyr Verbitsky and Fr. Edward Yarema.

On October 10th, 1962, His Excellency Isidore Borecky appointed a second parish pastor: Archpriest Fr. Dr. Michael Zaleski, a professor in the Department of Slavonic Studies at Université de Montréal. He arrived at the parish on November 10th, 1962; Fr. Michael Hawryluk stayed on as assistant.

On Sunday, April 4th, 1965, Bishop Isidore ordained Fr. Vasyl Bryniawsky and appointed him chaplain at our parish. July 1st, 1965 Fr. Dr. Michael Zaleski passed away. The third pastor to join our parish was Archpriest Fr. Anthony Cymbalisty, from Sudbury, Ontario. Fr. Bryniawsky at this point left to take over the duties of pastor at the parish of St. Basil in Lachine and the parish of St. John the Baptist in Park Extension.
On May 2nd, 1966, Fr. Michael Hawryluk died. It wasn’t until November of that year, that an assistant priest from the northern Quebec parishes – Val D’Or, Rouyn-Noranda and others – came to join: Fr. Jaroslav Haymanovych.

Father Anthony Cymbalisty served our parish for nine years, until October 1974, when he was transferred to a parish in Hamilton, Ontario by Bishop Isidore (announced on 25th October 1974). In his place, Bishop Isidore appointed pastor, dean syncellus – and deputy bishop – Fr. Councilor Ivan Hawryluk, who served our parish the longest.

In May 1999, Fr. Volodymyr Vitt became the first priest hailing from Ukraine to join our parish, from a country that had only recently emerged from behind the Soviet Iron Curtain. Father Volodymyr’s pastoral ministry continued until 2001, leaving memories of himself as a priest, musician and writer.

In 2001, the Very Reverend Bishop Cornelius Pasichny OSBM appointed Fr. Oleh Koretsky, who before this served the parish of the Holy Spirit in Point-Saint-Charles. The newly appointed pastor fulfilled his priestly ministry for ten years together with assistant priests Fr. Ihor Oshchipko and Fr. Nazar Yuriv, who served in rotation, until his sudden death on June 8 2013. The Late Father Oleh was a good preacher and an outstanding expert in the Scriptures and his extraordinary tenor will remain in the memory of our parishioners.

On November 1st, 2013 His Excellency Stephen Chmilar, present Eparch of Toronto and Eastern Canada Dioceses, appointed Fr. Ihor Oshchipko, who was ordained in our parish, exactly ten years ago, (November 19th, 2003) during which time he served in our church as assistant-priest (three years) and ministered in our city’s founding parish, St. Michael Archangel on Iberville Street (seven years).
During the past 60 years, our parish in Rosemont has seen many dedicated pastors as well as members of the church council who dedicated themselves in developing a thriving spiritual life in our community while safeguarding its administrative and financial needs. It would be impossible to name the countless individual committee members who selflessly contributed to the cause, but will limit ourselves to remember the chairmen. The first Chairman was Mr Kostya Telishevsky. During his tenure the church was built and developed. Me Basil Danchyshyn came next, the first judge of Ukrainian descent in the province of Quebec, on whose advice additional land was purchased in order to increase the area of the church’s property. Then followed Dr. Roman Struminsky, Mr. Theodore Parhin, Prof. Jaroslav Dvozhak, entrepreneur Wasyl Hladky and last, but not least, Mr Myroslav Balycky. Together with the committee members they faithfully take care of our parish’s administrative and financial affairs, with the full understanding and in coordination with our pastors.

Many religious organizations contribute in keeping the parish vigorous: the Sisterhood Apostleship of Prayer, whose leader from its inception was Mrs. Stephanie Rakush, then later Mrs. Stanislava Hirnyak; the Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League (LUKZH), whose long-time head is Mrs. Bohdanna Klecor-Hawryluk; the Young Parishioners Society; the Church Choir under the longstanding artistic direction of Mrs. Maria Czoli; the Ukrainian Catholic Youth; (UCY); the Ukrainian Catholic Young Men Organization(OKYMM); the Altar Boys and the Children of Mary that are overseen by the Venerable Congregation of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, and especially Sister Reverend Lawrencia Semyaniv who, for many years, prepares our children for their first sacraments of Confession and solemn Holy Communion.

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