Celebrating Holy Spirit Ukrainian Catholic Church in Hamilton

Patriarch Sviatoslav with clergy and parishioners of the Holy Spirit Ukrainian Catholic Church in Hamilton on September 30

Larysa Zariczniak for New Pathway, Hamilton.

100 years ago, several first wave Ukrainians formed the Holy Ghost (now Holy Spirit) Ukrainian Catholic Church in Hamilton, Ontario. These Ukrainians were families who shared a common language, a common homeland and a common religion. It was in this church that they created a link to the villages from which many came from, mostly from western Ukraine. This small church then expanded and grew with the second wave of Ukrainian immigration – Ukrainians who were completely cut off from their families and their ancestral homeland. But, these Ukrainians also knew how to organize themselves, mainly because of their experiences in the Displaced Persons camps. They began the Barvinok Dance Ensemble, the Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League and the only Ukrainian Catholic Elementary School in Hamilton.

Holy Spirit Church has been and continues to be “very busy…and its very patriotic” says the new parish priest Father Andrija Petresin. This energy and patriotism culminated in the opening of the elementary school in 1965 where thousands of students attended classes, St. Nicholas concerts, had their First Holy Communions and grade 8 graduations. About 200 families are the now core of the church and every Saturday there is a Ukrainian school that teaches about 40 kids, including Cataclysm with Father Petresin. This small group of children now make up the remainder of the school, which unfortunately closed its doors in 2013.

The 100 year anniversary began on September 30 with the arrival of Patriarch Sviatoslav from Ukraine. He led a celebratory mass at Holy Spirit along with Bishop Chmilar, Father Petresin and numerous other local and neighbouring priests. The Patriarch thanks the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada for their donations in money and time to the volunteer and regular battalions fighting in eastern Ukraine. He recalled that in almost every conversation he had with the Ukrainian Catholic chaplains who talk to Ukrainian soldiers, they are truly moved by the generosity of the Ukrainian community in Canada. This intimate mass was followed by a wine and cheese reception where parishioners could mingle and speak with Patriarch Sviatoslav.

In addition to this, the Organizing Committee planned a pub night and reunion for Holy Spirit School teachers and students. About a hundred attended, including Mr. Zadworny who began his career as a teacher in Holy Spirit and was a long time presence at the school. When he was transferred from the school in the 1990s, he was the principal and was truly missed by the staff and students. Although some did not manage to attend the reunion, their memories of the church and the school remain. Stephanie Baran for instance, met her husband at the church – the late Bohdan Baran and both were teachers at the school. This family link to both the church and the school is a familiar theme for many Ukrainians living in Hamilton.

On October 16, there was a remembrance and anniversary mass which included the Rt. Rev. Bohdan Bilinksy (Episcopal Vicar), Father Petresin and local and neighbouring priests. This was followed by the anniversary banquet which began with the Canadian and Ukrainian national anthems. The evening was MC’d by Irene Dmyterko and Larysa Bajus, women who also sing in the church choir and are active in the Ukrainian school at the church. The evening also included dancing from the Kalyna and Barvinok dance ensembles, singing from Svitanok choir and also a concert produced by the children of the Ukrainian Saturday School.

The Mayor of Hamilton, Fred Eisenberg, also spoke at the event and stated how lucky he was to have such a large Ukrainian community in his city because they work hard, have strong ties with each other and have wonderful and unforgettable traditions and dancing. The ceremonies ended with a letter from Prime Minister Trudeau and a blessing from Pope Francis in Rome. The evening ended with desserts completely donated by Karlik Pastry for about 250 people and the singing of “Bozhe Velykyj, Yedynyi”.

With the new wave of Ukrainians coming into Canada, Father Petresin insists that new immigrants are very welcome to the church and he has a special insight into their ordeals as he himself is an immigrant. He came from the former Yugoslavia and he insists that he “doesn’t have a problem communicating with new immigrants. This parish is a bit of home for them because everything is done in the way it was taught and how they prayed back home. So, once they come I don’t have to do much to keep them.” Father Petresin has a positive outlook on the future of his parish: “Considering that this is a Ukrainian traditional church I think we have a bright future with new immigrants and with more people in this modern time who turn back to their family traditions.”

Some of these traditions include home-made perogies and cabbage rolls which are produced weekly by volunteer parishioners. In one week than can make up to 3000 perogies and 1000 cabbage rolls that are then sold to the public (you can order them at: 905-545-2914 or come by the church every Friday). It is because of the hard working efforts of these parishioners, Father Petresin and his wife that the next 100 years of Holy Spirit Catholic Church look so promising.