Newcomers Need a Place to Pray
The history of our parish begins when the first immigrants from Syria arrived in the New World at the turn of the twentieth century. They settled first in Carnegie and then branched out to Bridgeville and other nearby communities. These new Americans attended various local non-Orthodox churches, and received sacraments at the Russian Orthodox Church of Carnegie. From time to time, a Syrian Orthodox priest stopped in the area and held services in people’s homes.
In time, the Syrian Orthodox of this area wanted to have their own church so their children could grow up in their ancestral faith. About 1920, the St. George Orthodox parish was formed. The first members of the parish committee were: Michael Antion, Joseph David, John Elias, Abraham Monsour, and Murray Toney. Other parish founders were: Aboud Saba, Alexander Abraham, Albert David, Michael Charley, John Elias, George Corey, Joseph Sam, Samuel Deep, Zag Elias, and George Monsour.
The parishioners bought a one-room framed building with a wood floor and pot belly wood fired stove on McLaughlin Run Road in Bridgeville and began the hard work of transforming it into an Orthodox Church. Some present day parishioners may remember this tiny church that served the parish for 25 years. Few funds were available to support a priest so there were frequent changes in pastors. Sometimes weeks and months passed without services. Children were sent to Sunday school at non-Orthodox churches until Sarah Ferris later organized a Sunday School at St. George under the guidance of Father Luke Corey.
Throughout the years, many priests served in the church, some for holidays, others for a few months. The Very Rev. Archpriest Nicholas Ofiesh of New Kensington served from l928 through 1932. Father Nicholas visited the parish once a month through those years and managed to keep the parishioners from scattering. Fr. Nicholas was called at other times for special ceremonies such as baptisms, burials and weddings. In the 1930's, the parish sent for Fr. Luke Corey from Syria (Khoury Luqa) and he remained a few years until he was called to the Pittsburgh parish. Other priests who served the parish were Fr. Paul Corey (Khoury Boulos), Fr. George Khoury, and Fr. Anthony Sakey (1946-1947). Occasionally Fr. Meietios Kourey of Homestead was called to administer sacraments.
A Wise Land Purchase
In 1935, Murray Toney and Abe Monsour found a parcel of more than 13 acres of land in South Fayette Township along Washington Pike. Not long afterward, these two men purchased the land on behalf of the church for $800. The large grounds were used for St. George’s annual three-day Fourth of July picnic celebration, the predecessor of our modern day Food Festival, which hosted visitors from all over the country. A segregated portion of the land, far removed from the picnic area, became the parish cemetery.
As the years passed, parish families grew larger but many had strayed from St. George. Many American-born members of the parish had joined other churches, were lost through mixed marriages, or simply stopped attending church altogether. Almost an entire generation was lost to the Faith of our Fathers. Visionary members of the parish knew that the current building could not sustain the future of the church, and a search for a larger church and a permanent priest began. Chief among the farsighted members of the parish who wished to see a new and larger church was Phillip (Habeeb) Hanna of Carnegie. Despite the negative response of almost the whole parish Mr. Hanna, believing his dreams could be realized and proceeded with the project practically single handedly, organizing the financial backing to start the task.
The lot on Dewey Avenue was purchased in 1940 from Dr. Clarence McMillen through the efforts of Phillip Hanna and Joseph Abood, who formed the Building Fund Committee. Services continued in the small church on McLaughlin Run Road until 1945, when it was sold as a private residence. Construction of the new church did not begin until 1947, after World War II, and was completed in 1950. The total cost for the new church? About $85,000.
New Beginnings for St. George
Archbishop Anthony Bashir, and Archbishop Samuel David dedicated the new St. George Orthodox Church on May 24, 1950. Fr. Jerome (Gerasimas) Yared was named pastor and, largely through his efforts, parishioners donated the magnificent stained glass windows and icons to finish the church interior. Fr. Yared left in October l950, however, and Metropolitan Bashir appointed Fr. Nicholas Fedetz to be shared between St John’s Russian Orthodox Church of Canonsburg and St. George Church of Bridgeville.
After construction was completed, the church held a mortgage and the American-born element in the parish took a strong interest in parochial affairs to help pay it off. Dozens of fundraising drives and social events were organized with all parishioners worked together toward the common good. Never before had St George’s Church seen such activity and teamwork. Within five years, on May 2, 1955, the St. George mortgage was officially burned at a ceremony presided over by Metropolitan Bashir. The church was debt free.
In the five years that Fr. Nicholas Fedetz cared for the parish, it grew in size, and parishioners got into the habit of attending Sunday services every week. Fr. Nicholas also organized a choir, under the direction of Sylvia Antion and assisted by Richard Ferris. The Sunday School continued its fine work under the direction of Sara Ferris.
A Priest to Call Our Own
At Christmas of 1955, a new chapter began in the history of the parish. Fr. David F. Abramtsov celebrated his first Divine Liturgy in St. George's after being appointed to the parish by Metropolitan Bashir. Before Fr. David’s arrival, the Liturgy had never been celebrated in its complete form, because Fr. Nicholas could devote only part of his time to the parish. Now St. George could function fully and offer complete liturgical services. In anticipation of a full-time pastor, the parish had bought a rectory on Pennsylvania Ave. in Bridgeville, and Fr. David and his family moved in.
The fine work begun by Frs. Yared and Fedetz continued under Fr. David. The number of parishioners grew and the church added pews to accommodate them. Faithful and pious parishioners generously donated new items necessary for divine worship. The Sunday School facilities were now at full capacity with 76 children enrolled. Until now, the choir had been taught by Fr. David and directed by Richard Ferris and Diana Deep, but in 1958 the parish hired professional choir director Warren Carson to deepen and expand the role of the choir in services. The men's society reorganized in 1959 and the St. George SOYO for children was also formed.
In 1985, the Very Reverend Father Jason DelVitto was assigned to St. George Church in Bridgeville. He arrived with his wife, Anna, and son Gregory. Later, sons Steven and Daniel were born. In addition to his profound spiritual guidance, Fr. Jason has been instrumental in organizing and promoting numerous church activities, especially to involve teens in the life of the church. Teens now visit shut-ins, volunteer at local nursing homes, participate in Teen SOYO, and attend the Antiochian Village summer camp. In 1997, St. George bought the adjacent Women’s Club of Bridgeville building and converted it into the St. George Educational Center to hold Sunday School.
Daring to Dream Big
In 2000, St. George Orthodox Church of Bridgeville celebrated its 50th Anniversary at the Dewey Avenue location. Ironically, at that same time the Council commenced a feasibility study to determine whether to renovate the Dewey Avenue church or construct a new church on the grounds adjacent to St. George Cemetery.
Ten years later, after many prayers, countless hours of volunteer time and talents, and an unprecedented display of parishioner and community generosity, St. George Church broke ground for a new church on June 5, 2010 -- nearly 100 years after the formation of the first St. George Orthodox Church in Bridgeville. We were honored and humbled to have His Eminence Metropolitan Philip and His Grace Bishop Thomas preside over the historic Groundbreaking Celebration.
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