Megan McGuire was overcome with emotion Sunday as she walked down the center aisle at St. Michael the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Church to receive communion.
“It was tough knowing this was the last time I would walk down this aisle,” said McGuire, 30, of Akron. “I had hoped to walk down it to get married, but I guess that won’t happen.”
McGuire was among more than 150 people who crowded the sanctuary of the Akron church for the parish’s final Mass, a highly emotional service in which parishioners shed tears and shared hugs.
The Rev. Robert Stash fought back tears as he thanked parishioners for their support and friendship during his seven-year tenure as pastor. He urged them to be strong in their faith as they move forward.
“We have a very beautiful heritage and a lot of traditions. St. Michael’s will never die,” Stash said. “We have to keep focused on Christ. We have to continue to pray. … I will pray for you and you pray for me — I need it. Thank you very much for all you have done for me. I hope that one day I can see another St. Michael in this area.”
The story behind the closing of the church at 845 Crouse St. is a familiar one — an aging, dwindling congregation that can no longer afford to maintain the property.
Its closing marks the end of a Byzantine Catholic church presence in the city. Most of its parishioners are expected to go to St. Nicholas Parish in Barberton.
“It’s regrettable, but the people of St. Michael, who have continued here for more than 100 years, should feel no shame. They now have an opportunity to become part of a larger community to work in at St. Nicholas,” said Bishop John Kudrick, who heads the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma.
The eparchy includes 35 churches and missions in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. Kudrick said St. Michael is the third parish in the eparchy that has closed since 2002.
History of church
St. Michael’s traces its roots to the early 1900s when 30 families, who called themselves Carpatho-Russians, organized in the Akron area. In 1906, the group established a fraternal lodge of the Greek Catholic Union. Two years later, it started a campaign to form its own church.
By 1909, the group garnered $750 and purchased two lots on Ackley Street. On Labor Day 1911, the group dedicated its first small wooden church there. The church building cost about $1,950. The church was actually incorporated as St. Michael’s Greek Catholic Church in 1910, according to church records.
More than five years later, a disagreement was sparked between a group of Orthodox Christians and the Byzantine Christians who had been worshipping together at St. Michael’s. The Orthodox Christians wanted the church to be administered by an Orthodox priest while the Byzantine Catholics wanted to continue under the jurisdiction of Rome. The argument was settled by a court decision in 1916, which established St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church.
Nearly 14 years later, on April 27, 1930, parishioners decided to build a new church on Crouse Street. On Labor Day that same year, the basement — the only portion of the church that was completed — and a parish house were dedicated.
It wasn’t until May 30, 1941, that the church was dedicated at its current site on Crouse Street. In 1958, the congregation purchased two lots on East Exchange Street for a parking lot.
A decade later, an expansion, which included a social center, was completed. The parish center also was used as a school for 134 children enrolled in religion classes.
In the early 1970s, the first icon screen was installed in the church. A complete church renovation was started in 1980. A rededication of the newly renovated church and a ceremony for the burning of the mortgage on the parish center took place Nov. 1, 1981.
In 2002, the congregation installed two 580-pound, gold, onion-shaped domes at the main entrance of the church.
In its heyday, the parish claimed more than 350 families, most of which included five to seven children, Stash said. In recent years, that number has fallen to about 70 families, with an average of 55 people attending Sunday worship service.
John Blike, McGuire’s grandfather, remembers the days when church services were filled with worshippers. As a lifelong parishioner, he also recalls attending services in the basement before the church building was completed. He and his late wife, Helen, and his late parents, Julia and Michael, were married at St. Michael’s.
“Our family has a lot of memories here, so it’s hard to see it close,” said John Blike, 80, of New Franklin. “It’s sad but we have to face reality. We don’t have enough people to generate the income to operate the church.”
Sunday’s closing Mass attracted former parishioners and the pastor (the Rev. Miron Kerul-Kmec) and parishioners from St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church at 1051 Robinson Ave., Barberton.
The icons and sacred items from St. Michael’s are being packed up for use by other churches. Stash, who will remain at the parish to help with the transition to St. Nicholas, will be reassigned at some point by the bishop and the parish property will be put on the market. A DVD memoir is being prepared for former parishioners.
“This is the place where my family always came together — my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles. It’s the place where I was baptized, received my first communion and was confirmed,” McGuire said. “I’m going to miss the singing. I’m going to miss everything about it.”
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.