In 1950, a group of Ukrainian immigrants who settled in the Utica, NY area met with Rev. Savyn Durbak and decided to form a new parish. A committee was formed and in June 1951 permission was received from the Bishop Ordinary allowing for the incorporation of the parish to be named St. Volodymyr the Great Ukrainian Church.
The church’s first pastor was Rev. Ivan Prokopovych. Services were initially held at St. George’s Lithuanian Catholic Church, however, the parishioners wished for their own sanctuary in which to pray. In 1951, the new parish purchased the former St. George’s Episcopal Church on State Street for their new home. The building was in a sorry state of repair. After extensive restorations and beautification by the parishioners themselves, the 1st Divine Liturgy was performed on Easter Sunday 1952.
In May of 1952, Rev. Bohdan Smyk was installed as pastor beginning a 42-year tenure as our church’s spiritual leader. Father Smyk was a visionary as well as a keen businessman who oversaw and promoted a period of much growth in our church’s population and facilities. He and his wife Volodomyra were beloved by our parishioners and the community.
In 1953, a large tract of land was purchased to serve as a cemetery as well as a parish park. With the growth in the number of parishioners, it was obvious that the church facilities would no longer serve the parish’s needs, so a building fund was instituted in 1957.
The first building constructed was the School-Auditorium. Ground was broken in April 1964 and the building blessed in May 1965. This building provided space for various parish functions and programs as well as classroom facilities for our School of Ukrainian Knowledge and Religious Studies. The Auditorium acted as a site for all parish activities and a place for our parish bonds to strengthen. It also served as a base for fund raising activities to help us enlarge our building fund in anticipation of further growth. It was through fund raising activities such as varenyky sales, bingo games and our yearly Ukrainian festival along with the generous donations of our parishioners that our building fund was able to increase allowing for continued expansion of our facilities.
In 1974, a beautiful Victorian building on Genesee St. was purchased to serve as our new parish home. Additional land purchase around the auditorium allowed for parking space expansion. Included in this land purchase was the site on 4 Cottage Place where we would fulfill our goal of building our new church. Our dream became a reality in October 1976 when ground was broken for our new sanctuary.
The church was blessed in July 1978 and became our new home. Over the next few years, beautification of the sanctuary began mostly funded through the generous donations of our parish organizations, our parishioners, and friends. The iconostas was installed in May 1982 and the stained glass windows in May 1983. Unfortunately, the now Very Reverend Canon Smyk was unable to witness the fulfillment of his dream. He fell asleep in the Lord in October 1994 before the completion of the church’s beautification. This was a very difficult time for our parish as the loss of such an iconic figure is hard to deal with.
In November 1994, Rev. Michael Bundz was installed as our new pastor. Understanding the importance of Father Smyk’s dream, he oversaw the completion of the church’s beautification in time for the celebration of our church’s 50th anniversary in 2000. During Father Bundz’s tenure he has overseen the renovation of our parish home and rental property on Mandeville St. as well as the Carriage House behind the church. He reinstated weekly varenyky sales and our yearly festival, thus reinvigorating our community spirit. He was also instrumental in the construction of the new Cemetery Utility Building/Chapel which was completed and blessed by Bishop Paul Chomnycky in July 2008.
The history of our parish is a fruitful one born of hard work and the willingness to bring a dream to reality. Our pastors, church leadership, and especially our parishioners deserve much praise for their efforts. It is our responsibility to maintain and build on that which those before us have worked so hard to attain.