St. Michaels History - 1900-1983

St. Michaels Ukrainian Catholic church is located at the corner of William and Walter streets in Coniston Ontario.Today it is part of the St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic church parish in Sudbury. St. Michaels has been in existence since 1928 and continues to serve the Ukrainian community in the Coniston area. 

The article that follows, originally appeared in the "Our Churches" section of  the book, "The Coniston Story"  which was published in 1983 by the Coniston Historical Group. Father Martin Balagus of St. Michaels was a member of this group.  

Significant events in church history since 1983 may be added at a future date for a more complete history.  

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1900 - 1983 

 The Ukrainian community in Coniston dates back to the early 1900's. No permanent place of worship was established until 1928. The spiritual needs of the early pioneers were met by visiting clergymen and laymen who conducted services at Our Lady of Mercy Church.

ne of the first Ukrainian clergymen to come to Coniston was Reverend Wasyl Gegeyczuk. When a priest was unavailable, laymen such as Fred Wasylenki, Paul Kornaga and John Jaworski led the congregation in hymns and  prayers at Our Lady of Mercy Church.Eastern Europeans from the Provinces of Galicia and Bucovina were in abundance in Coniston. The first group came before World War I when the smelter was moved from Victoria Mines. The second group came in the early '20's and included a number of single women, who were immediately courted by the many eligible bachelors. The Roman Catholic Church was the scene of many marriages from this group. 

Although the Roman Catholic Parish provided a temporary place for worship, cultural and social activities were non-existent.

In the fall of 1925 a group of Ukrainians obtained a town permit to build the Prosvit Hall on Edward Street South.Included in that group were a number of families who considered themselves Polish even though both groups came from the same towns and villages of Eastern Europe, and by the end of 1926 a hall was constructed. By 1928, the' group had added a Ukrainian Chapel to the hall. Now the Ukrainian  members had a place of worship of their own and they called it St.. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church.

The arrangements for the use of the hall by the Polish group did not last long and they subsequently moved to the Roman Catholic Parish for their place of worship.

The St. Michael's group carried on for six years. Church affairs were directed by an executive and the Sudbury Ukrainian Parish provided a clergyman once a month to conduct services. A number of male parishioners acted as cantors;
one in particular was Fred Wasylenki, a local merchant. His son-in-law, Nick Wolohatuk, used to drive the priest from Sudbury to Coniston for
services, for many years.
Presently (1983), Paul Behun, an accomplished vocalist, is the cantor at St. Michael's Church.

During the Depression many parishioners lost their jobs
and support for the church suffered. In 1934, both the hall and chapel went up in flames. Differences between the opposing factions of the hall administration were blamed. Rumours had it that it was done by an arsonist, but there was no proof.Even this tragedy did not stop the parishioners. For the next two years, two devoted people, Justine and John Bilowus, came to the rescue by turning their living room into a place of worship.A short time later, the Ukrainian Labour-FarmerTemple Hall on William Street was for sale and it was purchased by the church group for $750. A chapel was added to the building and it was used until 1951 , when a new church was built.

After World War II, many more Ukrainians came to Canada. A good number settled in Coniston, thus increasing St. Michael's congregation by 100%, and there was a demand for weekly services. In 1949, His Excellency Bishop l. Borecky concluded it was time for St. Michael's to embark on the building of a combined church and rectory, and to support a full time clergyman.

Father Roman Bialecky was assigned this organizational 
task. Two families provided him with sleeping quarters and office space. During the next two years he raised funds and created an enthusiastic climate to launch his building program. Rooms at the homes of Mrs. Albina Mislinski and Mrs. Mary Kilimnik served as his rectory. With an army of volunteers under the direction of Joe Solski, a full-time carpenter and supervisor, the building forged ahead. In 1952 the first mass was said with Biship Borecky blessing the new church.

The church executive, with Joe Worobec as Chairman, undertook the first stage of repaying the debt. Having builthe church, Rev. Bialecky was transferred, in 1954, to another parish. He was replaced by Rev. J. Elayiw. With a new priest came a new committee of fund raisers, and the parish turned to the youth to take on this role. A young couple, Angela and Paul Behun, headed the group. The usual bingo, bazaars and popular Sunday picnics in the Behun back yard kept the funds rolling in until the debt was paid. The garagand home of two young bachelors of that day, Steve and John Buchowski, served as a popular fund-raising spot for many years. Bill Petryna provided free electrical installation services during the construction stage.

No sooner was the parish free of debt when Rev. Theodore Pryjrna was assigned to Coniston. Before long, a new building program was underway. The hall that housed the Chapel was sold to the Canadian Legion. The recently built church was raised to put in a basement hall and kitchen to serve the parish. Father Pryjma had many talents and skills, such as carpentry and painting. A new altar was designed and built by him. The church ceiling and walls were artistically painted. Much of his energy went into organizing schools for the young and programs for the youth. 

As always, the builders leave and the fund raisers take over.  In this case, Father Pryjma was promoted to the Sudbuy Parish in 1965 and later became a Monseignor. For the next few years, Father Karpinsky looked after the spiritual needs, with Phil Gniazdoski heading the Parish Council. In 1970, Father Martin Balagus came to St. Michaels and is still here as of this date.*

 During the last twelve years, the church debt has been liquidated, and much face-lifting was done to the church and hall. Through the years many parishioners gave of their time and  money to make this small church community function. A large role was played by the ladies of the parish, and they continue to be the backbone of the group to thiday. 

St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church continues to uphold the old traditions and cultures adding colour and preserving the heritage of this ethnic community.


* Father Martin Balagus passed into eternal life on Oct 24, 2004.