THE BYZANTINE CATHOLIC CHURCH is comprised of disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ who belong to the Church in communion with the Pope of Rome and a church whose religious patrimony, distinct from that of Roman Catholics, took shape in fourth-century Byzantium (Constantinople; present-day Istanbul). These Greek spiritual traditions were adapted from the rituals of ancient, east Mediterranean cities evangelized by apostles who were sent forth by our Lord to “make disciples of all nations.” These traditions were brought to the Slavic regions of Europe beginning in the ninth century. Greek Catholic emigrants from Eastern Europe brought their Byzantine faith to the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. Since then, several eparchies (dioceses) have been established to serve Byzantine Catholics in America. Our eparchy is part of the Metropolitan Church of Pittsburgh that grew from the faith of Ruthenian (Rusyn Slav) Catholics in America. The geographical boundaries of our eparchy encompass the thirteen western states including Alaska and Hawaii. In what is indeed missionary territory for the Byzantine Catholic Church, our small western American parishes continue to worship God within the context of a religious patrimony that stems from the earliest centuries of Christianity while sharing the faith, scripture, and seven sacraments of the Catholic Church and while serving faithful of various economic and ethnic backgrounds.
The Metropolitan Church of Pittsburgh
The history of the Ruthenian Catholic Church in the United States began in the late 1880’s with the immigration of numerous families and individuals from Eastern Europe. As these people settled in various regions of the country, they began to build churches and request priests from their homeland. There was, however, no central authority for the fledgling churches. The early decades were spent in attempting to organize them into some sort of structure. This effort was briefly aided by the appointment of Basilian Bishop Soter Stephen Ortynsky. His premature death, however, left the young church once again without episcopal leadership.¨It was not until 1924 that canonical status and recognition would be given to this young church with the appointment of Bishop Basil Takach on March 8th. It was on this date that Rome established an exarchate for Greek Catholics of Carpatho-Ruthenian, Hungarian, Slovak, and Croatian descent. “This exarchate would continue to grow and flourish over the years. Its continued development was recognized in 1963 when the Exarchate of Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) was raised to the status of an eparchy and divided to form the Eparchy of Passaic (New Jersey). ¨The continued growth and stability of the Ruthenian Catholic Church was again recognized in 1969 when an additional eparchy was created in Parma, Ohio and the entire church in America was raised to a Metropolia.
Holy Protection Eparchy of Phoenix
In 1981 the Eparchy of Van Nuys (California) was established for the Western United States. Our parish is part of this Eparchy that was renamed Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix in 2010. Our eparchy is part of the Metropolitan Church of Pittsburgh which originally consisted of Ruthenian (Rusyn Slav) Catholics in America. The geographical boundaries of our eparchy encompass the thirteen western states including Alaska and Hawaii. In what is indeed missionary territory for the Byzantine Catholic Church, our western American parishes continue to worship God within the context of a religious patrimony which stems from the earliest centuries of Christianity while sharing the faith, scripture, and seven sacraments of the Catholic Church and while serving faithful of various economic and ethnic backgrounds.
History of Holy Angels Parish
In the 1950’s, San Diego, California, with its large naval facilities and nearby Marine base, was rapidly growing with an increasing number of Byzantine Catholics moving there in search of work and a warmer climate. The Reverend Eugene Chromoga, Pastor of Saint Mary in Van Nuys (now the Cathedral of the Eparchy of Van Nuys), and several families wrote to the Most Reverend Nicholas Elko, Bishop of Pittsburgh, and requested that a parish be established in San Diego. With the assistance of the Most Reverend Charles Buddy, Bishop of San Diego, and Mother Emmanuel, Prioress of the Carmelite Monastery in San Diego who offered the use of their chapel, plans took shape to establish a mission.
On June 1st, 1958, the Reverend William Levkulic, Pastor of Saint Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church in Fontana, California, celebrated the first Divine Liturgy at the Carmelite Chapel with about 65 faithful in attendance. Father William, who was responsible for the mission, commuted to San Diego from Fontana every other week for the next two years to celebrate the Liturgy. The commute was one hundred and twenty-five miles one way.
In the progress report that he sent to Bishop Elko three months after the first Divine Liturgy, Father William Levkulic mentioned that he began with 18 households and was now up to 54. He also urged Bishop Elko to assign a priest to the mission as soon as possible to ensure its proper growth and development in the future. He suggested that the mission be placed under the patronage of Saint Michael or the Holy Angels.
In May of 1960, Bishop Nicholas Elko raised the mission to the status of a parish and named it Holy Angels. He assigned the Reverend Paul Fetch as the first resident Pastor. Father Fetch worked cooperatively with the parishioners to organize the parish. A house was purchased adjacent to the monastery to serve as rectory, office, social hall, ethnic food center, and classrooms. Visioning and fund raising for a new parish complex began. Fund raising included bazaars, baking, and the production of kolbasi.
On August 15th, 1969, the Reverend Joseph Radvansky became Pastor. Site-specific planning for a new church building began in 1971. The present location was purchased at a Cal-Trans auction on 6 December 1973, the Solemn Feast of our Holy Father Nicholas, for the thankfully affordable price of $33,000. What a gift! An additional house at the edge of the new property was purchased in 1974 to serve as new rectory and office.
Groundbreaking ceremonies for the church took place on November 9th, 1975 and construction began on May 3rd, 1978. The final Liturgy at the Carmelite Monastery was celebrated on November 5th, 1978, and the first liturgy in the new church was celebrated on November 12th, 1978. The location of the new church was aptly named Angel Heights. The Most Reverend Bishop Emil Mihalik of Parma blessed the church on February 4th, 1979.
The parishioners responded to the task of paying off the staggering debt with imaginative projects to which they gave their wholehearted support, such as bingo, hall rentals, polka dances, and expansions of ethnic food making and the annual bazaar.
In 1980, the Reverend Joseph Ridella became the Pastor, and the efforts to pay off the debt continued under his leadership. Six years later the parish debt had been successfully retired.
The Most Reverend Thomas Dolinay, Bishop of the recently created Eparchy of Van Nuys, celebrated the Liturgy commemorating the Silver Anniversary of the founding of the parish on November 6th, 1983. Toward the end of Father Ridella’s tenure in 1992, a house was purchased a few blocks from the church to serve as residence for the pastor. The old rectory was converted into office, meeting, and religious education space.
The Reverend Robert Daigle was appointed the Administrator of Holy Angels in 1992 and served the parish for the next two years.
The Reverend Melvin Rybarczyk, CR was called to shepherd the parish in 1994. The 40th Anniversary of the parish was celebrated in 1998 with the Right Reverend Archimandrite Wesley Izer, SDB, the Protosyncellus, officiating as the representative of the Most Reverend George Kuzma, Bishop of Van Nuys.
As years passed, the weather began taking its toll on the wooden church building. Father Mel looked at ways to correct the situation as well as to raising funds for the project that lay ahead. Plans were drawn up and submitted to the city for this renovation.
In 2004, the Reverend Robert Pipta was appointed Pastor of Holy Angels. In 2005, under his guidance and with the blessing of the Most Reverend Bishop William Skurla, work began on Phase One of the parish’s ambitious Renovation Project. Necessary repairs on the church and hall as well as building and property enhancements comprised the majority of work that was completed in January of 2006. The renovated hall was blessed, and the generosity of the benefactors celebrated, at a parish festival on February 19th, 2006. During these years, the spiritual commitment of some fervent parishioners was seen as Matins and Vespers came to be celebrated more regularly.
In 2010, the Most Reverend Gerald N. Dino, the Bishop of the re-named “Holy Protection of Mary Eparchy of Phoenix,” allowed for the purchase of a new rectory – a house immediately adjacent to the property that was being sold by good neighbors of the parish. After some renovations and the sale of the previous rectory house, an ideal living and work environment for the pastor came to be.
In 2012, Holy Angels Church began Phase Two of the Renovation Project. An expanded hall, new facade of the church, and replaced parking lot were all part of this major undertaking which was completed in 2016. The Pastor and Pani Janet also renovated the back yard of the rectory with pavers and a wall. New fencing and landscaping improvements to the church grounds took place in 2017.
Holy Angels Church has progressed these past 53 years from a small group of pioneer families into a visible presence of our Byzantine faith on the West Coast. We are grateful to God for his bountiful blessings.