top of page

Early History

Early History

The first immigrants from Syria and Lebanon came to NE Pennsylvania in the 1890’s. The year 1892 marked the first migration of an Antiochian Orthodox family to Wilkes-Barre. In this period the families, Atiyeh, Audi, Broody, Gazey, Hyder, Karam, Saba, Serhan, and Simon, came from the area known as Al-Koura in Northern Lebanon overlooking Tripoli, and the families Abraham, Baroody, Bitar, Cross, Johns, Mecherki/Moses, Namey, and Solomon arrived from the area of the Wadi-Nasaara, an area of many Christian villages, in north-western Syria, close to the Mediterranean Sea. Those who came from the Al-Koura came from the villages of Feeh, Buturam, Kyssba, Doraya, Bishmazeen, Baynu, as well as the city of Tripoli. Those who came from the Wadi-Nasaara, in the Al-Husson Valley where the famed Monastery of St. George “Al-Humaireh” stands, came from the villages of Mishtay, Zwaitini, and Matn Arnook.

All these families initially had their baptisms and marriages served either by Russian Orthodox priests, particularly the Very Rev. Protopresbyter Alexis Toth, at the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Cathedral on North Main Street in Wilkes-Barre, or by the Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeney, who became pastor in 1895 of the first Syrian Orthodox church in America, Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church in Brooklyn. He would travel to Wilkes-Barre to care for the people here. Both of these men are now glorified saints in the Orthodox Church.

In the late 1890’s, as the number of people from the Middle East increased, there was a time of headline news when one of the members of the Saba family, John, aged 24, eloped with a local Irish girl, Mary Kearney, aged 16. There was a kind of soap opera for a period of time. The two were married on November 5, 1899, and Mary, known usually as Mame, became one of the first converts to Orthodoxy from Wilkes-Barre. Later she was noted for her ability to speak the Arabic language which she learned from her new extended Arab family. She was a mid-wife and also provided much help to the Arabic community in legal matters.


First Priest

By 1904 there were some 35 families who formed the first parish of St. Mary. On March 13, 1904, Archimandrite Raphael was consecrated bishop of Brooklyn, ranking as second auxiliary to Archbishop Tikhon Bellavin, the only Orthodox Bishop in the United States, head of the Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and North America and a member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1904 Bishop Raphael organized St. Mary’ s Syrian Orthodox Men’ s Group. In the spring of 1904, a youthful and worthy parishioner, married to Mary Saba, was ordained the first priest of St. Mary’ s, the Reverend Michael John Curry Saba, who served the parish for four years before leaving for Johnstown. His first recorded Baptism is that of Victoria Saba who was baptized on March 25, 1904. At this time the parish bought land at 132 High Street for $300. From 1904 to 1908 the congregation gathered and worshiped in private homes located at 7 McCarragher Street and 9 Moyallen Street. St. Mary’s was the sixth Antiochian parish to be established in America.

Father George Kattouf

In 1907 Father George Kattouf, who was ordained in Wilkes-Barre, became pastor of St. Mary’ s in 1908. He led in the collection of money for the new church. Steady progress was made in clearing the land on High Street of oak trees and of preparing the site for building. In 1907 Bishop Raphael give his blessing to the effort. By this time the parish had grown to some 65 families. A Russian Orthodox contractor, Michael Hlipko had offered the acceptable bid of $8500 for the wood-frame structure, 32 feet wide and 67 feet long. An unfinished, earth-floor basement having only a 7 foot high ceiling was part of the contract. There was no provision for restrooms in the original plan. A belfry and cross topped the front of the temple. The first Liturgy was held in the fall of 1908 and the Church was consecrated by Bishop Raphael during a visit in 1911 to celebrate the burning of the mortgage. The first Baptism in the new church was that of Edna Baroody, daughter of Aboud and Helen Baroody on August 16, 1908, and the first marriage was that of Anthony Cross and Khatun Kattouf, Father George’s sister, who were married April 18, 1909.


On November 3, 1908, the parish received its official Charter of Incorporation for the county of Luzerne and the state of Pennsylvania. The name for the church in its incorporation is “St. Mary’ s Syrian Greek Orthodox Catholic Church, of Wilkes-Barre and vicinity.” The corporation was formed for “the purposes of the worship of Almighty God according to the doctrines, discipline, laws, and usages of St. Mary’s Syrian Greek Orthodox Catholic Church.” The subscribers for the corporation are: Albert Broody, Joseph Broody, Abraham John, Salim Saloom, Rustum Surhan, and D. A. George. The first parish council was established with the “pastor or pastors, and not less than six or more than twelve lay members” of the parish as members. The members of the first parish council were: Joseph Broody, Albert Broody, Rustum Surhan, Abraham John, John George, John Saba, Jacob Awday, Salim Saloom, Mutrey Muedsay, Asper Saleet, Anthony George and Joseph Khouri.

Father George Kattouf was a fine manager and by 1912 he contracted with Mr. Hlipko to build a spacious six-room rectory on the church property to the rear of the Church at 18 McCarragher Street at the cost of $3,300 with the help of much

free labor on the part of the young men of the parish. On August 14, 1912, with Joseph Elias (probably Father Joseph Elia Xanthopoulos) and Simon Saba as the grantees, the Church purchased the older part of the Church cemetery in Hanover Township for $1,400.


Father Joseph Elia Xanthopoulos

Father George Kattouf desired to move to Allentown and in 1912 Father Joseph Elia Xanthopoulos came as pastor. He had come to the parish prior to this to visit and to offer Baptism. He had studied at the Balamand monastery and was well known by the people. He was fluent in Arabic and Greek and his strong voice rang out in Byzantine chant. Many young people learned to chant with him, and he started a Syrian school for them. He also served the Greek community, and in 1917 was granted a transfer to the Greek Orthodox Church in Scranton, PA.

Russi-Antaaki Split

During the period after the death of Bishop Raphael in 1915, and the tumult in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, another parishioner, Daniel George, who was a member of the original subscribers to St. Mary’s Charter of Incorporation, and who had been ordained in 1914 to serve as priest in Geneva, New York, by Bishop Germanos Shehadi of Zahle, began to work in the parish of Saint Mary to have it come under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch. Father Daniel served as pastor during the latter part of the time of Father Joseph Elia Xanthopoulos and during a large part of the time of Father Abdallah Khoury. This was during the period when the community split into two factions because of the Russi-Antaaki Controversy in which the Syrian Mission in America was divided according to allegiances to two Patriarchates. Should St. Mary’s remain under the Patriarchate of Moscow, or be part of the Patriarchate of Antioch? During this time services were held both at the church on High Street, for those following the Russian Patriarch, and at 107 Blackman Street, for those following the Antiochian Patriarch. In July 1925 Archbishop Victor Abou-Assaly, the Antiochian Orthodox Archbishop of New York and North America, and also Bishop Germanos, came to the Antiochian church on Blackman Street to have baptisms. Archbishop Victor baptized the son of Father Daniel, Anthony George, on July 15th, and Bishop Germanos baptized Minerva Joseph, the daughter of Mary Xanthopoulos Joseph on July 19th. In the baptismal register for this period there are separate lists for the baptisms performed by Father Daniel George, and for those of Father Joseph Elia Xanthopoulos and Father Abdallah Khoury. Father Daniel remained in Wilkes-Barre until 1926, when he left to be pastor of churches in Geneva, New York, Danbury, Connecticut, and Boston, Massachusetts. He returned a few times after this to have baptisms.


Father Abdallah Khoury

Father Abdallah Khoury of Brooklyn, who would be the pastor under whom the reunion of the parish would take place, became pastor in 1917. Father Abdallah was a dynamic person of strong discipline. He taught Arabic School ever day at 4 p.m. and choir. He was highly disciplined and a friend of many parishioners in their school days in the Al-Husson Valley of Syria. He inaugurated Arabic plays, which he directed, and two vocal groups to chant the Liturgy, one male and the other female. The young people sang antiphonally with the priest as was custom in the churches in Syria. In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s there were many plays and musicals put on by the parishioners. In 1928, Father Abdallah and the Parish Council began a major remodeling of the old Church. It was lifted three feet and extended twenty feet. This gave a large basement with restrooms, steam heat boilers, and a kitchen for serving dinners. The construction was completed at the cost of $13,000. Shortly after the construction Father Abdallah Khoury transferred to Paterson, New Jersey.

Father Constantine Abou-Adal

In 1929 Father Constantine Abou-Adal, who had been Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeney’ s chanter and whom St. Raphael sent to Russia for further theological studies in 1899, became pastor of St. Mary’s. He had studied in Moscow where he was educated on scholarship, as well as in Syria. He was a tall, ruddy-faced gentle person, who loved music and children. During this period there were many plays directed and performed by the parishioners. Father Constantine taught the choir and was loved by all the Russian clergy because he spoke Russian. He was an expert violinist as was his Russian-born Khouriyee. Two sons were born to them in their stay in Wilkes-Barre. In November 1932 Father Constantine was transferred to Worcester, Massachusetts, where he served until his retirement in 1965.

Archbishop Aftimios Ofeish

In October 1932 Archbishop Aftimios Ofeish was invited to come to St. Mary’s to settle a dispute in the parish about the transfer of Father Constantine. After Father Constantine left in November, there was no priest for the coming Great Feast of Christmas. Archbishop Aftimios served the parish from November 1932 until February 1933, starting the choir and Sunday School. The Archbishop, who had served as Bishop of Brooklyn from 1917 on, under the Russian Patriarchate, attempted to start an American Orthodox Church in the late 1920’s, along with Metropolitan Platon, a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. After its founding, when support was withdrawn, the American Orthodox Church became uncanonical. Archbishop Aftimios, who had met a young woman of St Mary’s during his stay in Wilkes-Barre, married this parishioner, Mariam Namey, in April 1933, and he was then retired. He lived in Kingston, Pennsylvania, where he died in 1966, and is buried in the Maple Hill Cemetery across from St. Mary’s Orthodox Cemetery.

Father George Mitchell

For the first time in the history of St. Mary’ s there was a common desire for a priest who could speak fluent English. Just the priest was found when Father George Mitchell came to Saint Mary from Niagara Falls. Father George became the pastor from 1933 until his untimely death on November 4, 1940. He gained the love and support of the young people of the parish. They loved him especially because of his love for sports—baseball and football—and because of his sense of humor. He was blessed with a wise Khouriyee, Suzanne, and eight children. The Sunday School flowered under his care, as also did the choir. The young people were eager to identify themselves in the community and to share in the Divine Liturgy. A Russian, Deacon Pelish, was engaged to lead the church choir. Michael G. Simon, who would later become a priest and be the pastor of St. George’s Church in Paterson, served as soloist and assistant to the director. For the first time, four-part harmony was enjoyed by the congregation. Father George also lead in the purchase of a second parcel of land adjacent to the parish cemetery which he secured from the Al-Husson Club for the sum of $280. In addition, he rewrote the parish ly-laws, enabling a lay person to serve as president of the Parish Council. Michael Mitchell, the eldest of his sons, became the first Orthodox person in Wilkes-Barre to become a lawyer, and was highly respected in the community. In 1939, the Maronite and Orthodox Churches in Wilkes-Barre held a Testimonial Dinner in Father George’s honor in the Hotel Sterling to which all city officials were invited. By 1940 the congregation was some 175 families strong, and boasted of business and professional people.

It was during the time of Father George Mitchell that a new Metropolitan was consecrated for the Syrian Archdiocese. In the spring of 1936, the Archimandrite Antony Bashir was consecrated as the Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese. His resourceful nature established strength and growth for the spiritual, liturgical and financial activity of the Archdiocese.

Father Anthony Sakey

During the war years, 1941 to 1945, Father Anthony Sakey of Boston served as pastor of St. Mary’s. He was active in the community and was able and dedicated. His family was well-liked and his sons received high honors in the military. During the Second World War more that 100 of the youth of St. Mary’s saw service in the war zones. Sadly, several were to lose their lives in the service of their country: Leo Neddoff, William Hannye, James Broody, Michael Ferris, Michael J. Solomon, Albert Jabore, John Malta. In their honor, the young women of the church organized a Victory Club, which sent packages to our service men, and which earned funds to erect a large granite monument in their honor in the front portion of the cemetery, where annually the parish gathers each Memorial Day to pray for them and all the reposed of the parish.


Also in 1944, the Ladies Auxiliary collected $1300 to purchase a new Iconostasis. An iconographer, Michael Kupetz, of Simpson, New York, was hired for the project. The fine craftsmanship of the woodwork and the quality of the icons was a witness to the dedication and hard work of the women of the parish. In 1944, the church mortgage was paid and burned. This was all during Father Anthony Sakey’s pastorate.


Father Nicholas Hussan

In 1945, Father Nicholas Hussan of Wichita, Kansas, became pastor. His great chanting talent lent itself to the choir’s growth, and a new director, Michael Dzury, was engaged. With the help of the newly ordained deacon, Michael G. Simon, the choir grew strong with the influx of returning veterans from the recent war. Marriages abounded and many children were born.


It was a time in which the life of the parish prospered. New pews of light oak were purchased for $3500 and a rubber-tile floor was laid in the church with red carpet-runners in the aisles. During this period a desire began to raise money to build a new church. The ladies baked Pasties for sale in the factories at lunch time each Tuesday of the week. Father Nicholas and his Khouriyee were busy in assisting the work. Baking ovens were set up in the small kitchen in the rear of the church hall. By 1951, the Ladies Society had raised $40,000 towards the building of a new church. The first Arabic movie was shown during Father Nicholas’ time and its success led to many other movies being shown in the parish hall.

In 1948 Deacon Michael Simon was ordained to the Holy Priesthood by Metropolitan Antony at St. Mary’s. It was the first ordination to Priesthood in St. Mary’s Church Temple. Father Michael was assigned to St. George’s Church of Paterson, New Jersey, where he remained until his retirement in 1981 when he and Khouriyee Sarah returned to Wilkes-Barre.

In 1951 the parish held the first of its many annual Haflis which would continue until 1989. These were special times for the community to gather as well as important fund-raisers for St. Mary’s. Many who came to these would come from throughout the community, as well as those traveling from out of state to be part of these parish parties. The Haflis were held in various places, particularly the Hotel Redington, until the new large Parish Hall was completed in 1969, and were held then in the Parish Hall.

Father Herbert Nahas

In October 1951, Father Herbert Nahas and his family, Khouriyee Alice and two children, George and Joyce, came to Wilkes-Barre from Danbury, Connecticut. Father Herbert, born in Rhode Island, was the son of the Very Rev. George Nahas and Khouriyee Elizabeth. Father George was the pastor of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Father Herbert graduated from Brown University in 1940 with a degree in chemistry, and then served in the Army five years in Military Intelligence. Father studied privately with Father Michael Simon of Paterson, and Father Wakeem Dalack, dean of St. Nicholas Cathedral of Brooklyn, and on the Memorial Day Weekend of 1949, was ordained by Metropolitan Antony Bashir. He served for three years in Danbury and then came to Wilkes-Barre, where he would be pastor for the next 35 years.

The New Church Fund continued to grow and by 1958 there was $150,000 collected. The parish now had some 350 families with a Sunday School of 150 children, a Junior Choir of 40 voices, a Senior Choir of 35 voices which performed many public concerts in various places in the area, including the Civic Nationalities Pageants, Boy and Girl Scout Troops, Week-day Religious Classes — every Tuesday in the Church Auditorium commensurate with Pennsylvania State Laws — and many plays performed throughout the area, even on television and radio. Christmas pageants were presented on television two years in succession. Father Herbert was active throughout the community, serving on the boards of directors of the United Fund and Heart Association. He addressed more than a hundred civic and religious organizations in the area, as well as many High School assemblies.


In 1950, the Cathedral Club of Brooklyn and the Young People’s Fellowship of Paterson met to draw up a constitution for the SOYO, Eastern Sector. In January 1951 the constitution was adopted by representatives from Albany, Allentown, Brooklyn, Brownsville, Geneva, Paterson, and Wilkes-Barre. In 1952 the first convention was hosted by the SOYO chapter of St. Mary’s, Wilkes-Barre, at the Redington Hotel, where eleven chapters were represented. On Pentecost, June 6, 1952, Metropolitan Antony visited St. Mary’s and ordained Abraham N. Solomon, who was married to Father George Mitchell’s daughter Christine, to the Diaconate, and Raymond Saba, to the Sub-diaconate.

In 1954, another native son of St. Mary’s answered the call to Holy Orders and was ordained a priest by Metropolitan Antony in Brooklyn. This was Robert George, who was married to Adele Saba, also of St. Mary’s. Father George George — the name taken at his ordination — served parishes in Danbury, Connecticut, and Boston, Massachusetts.

Building the New Church Temple


In 1958, St. Mary’s celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the building of the Old Church. A group of young men was so inspired that they formed an ad hoc Committee to visit Metropolitan Antony to seek his blessing to make plans for a General Parish Meeting to vote for the authorization to build a new Church, Hall and Rectory. A leading member of this group was Isaac (Zeke) Abraham, who over the next decade would diligently pursue the completion of the building of the new Church as he served as chairman of the building committee. It was his vision and persistence that made this dream a reality. The meeting was held in March of 1959 and a total of $93,555 was pledged by the parishioners. Land was the first necessity and after much searching, a 2.5 acre plot was chosen at the South end of Main Street in 1962, and was purchased for $28,500 in 1964. The blessing of God was with this purchase, because the three other sites in the city that were considered were later completely flooded in 1972 by Hurricane Agnes to a depth of sixteen feet. This would have destroyed everything the parish had worked so hard to bring about.

In November 1959, Father Herbert was elevated to the rank of Archpriest with the title “Exarch”. A testimonial dinner was held in his honor with 300 guests at the Hotel Redington. Soon afterward, the fund drive for the new church began with Father Herbert as chairman. There were various efforts to raise the needed funds. Besides the baking of Pasties, the parish began sales of Hoagies for factory workers each Tuesday. As many as 1500 submarine sandwiches were prepared, wrapped and delivered by volunteers to various factories for lunch-hour. A profit of $300 was enjoyed each trip around. Total profits from the ladies’ work with Father Herbert amounted to over $90,000 from 14 years of work. These sales made known the Church’s desire to build, and because of the money raised with such hard work, the bank was readily willing to loan a mortgage of $220,000 at the low rate of 5 1/2% in 1968. In addition, the local Gas Company gave the church a mortgage of $60,000, interest free, payable in five years.

The next, new activity to raise money came in the Annual Block Party and Bazaar the last week of August for a four day period on the old church grounds and street. This began in 1960 and continued until the last Bazaar in 1996. People from all the area came to enjoy Syrian foods and sweets, set up in tents on the church yard, as well as games of chance and times to sit, enjoy, and talk.


Also in 1961, St. Mary’s hosted the Eastern Region SOYO Convention at the Host Motel.

It was during this time that the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese was blessed with the consecration of a new Metropolitan, His Eminence Philip Saliba, who was consecrated in the fall of 1966. This would be an important time of transition for the Archdiocese as the Metropolitan worked to reorganize and restructure the Archdiocese, which was now to be called the Antiochian Archdiocese.


In 1967 the architectural firm of Riggi and Riggi was chosen, and by the next year the architect, Vincent Riggi and his associate, Gene Peters, owner of an engineering concern and Mayor of the City of Scranton, a Lebanese Maronite, prepared the plans for the new Church and hall. The cost for the land and construction exceeded the initial estimate of $250,000, and reached nearly $800,000. The work began with the ground breaking in September of 1968 and was completed in May 1969 with the completion of the Church and Parish Hall.


The complex of buildings measure 250 feet in length and 100 feet in width. All brick and concrete construction with a gold aluminum dome 48 feet above ground level. To secure the buildings, pilings were sunk over 100 feet into the earth to reach bedrock. Much of the work on the Church and Parish Hall was done by crews of parishioners, overseen by John Morrash, a parishioner who was a builder and city inspector, assisted by another parishioner builder, Nick Azain, with the Ladies of the Church providing food for the parish workers.

On the first Sunday of June 1969, Father Herbert served the first Divine Liturgy in the new church. The first Baptism in the New Church on June 1, 1969, was that of Robert Solomon, son of Michael and Barbara Solomon, and the first marriage on June 1, 1969 was that of seminarian, Anthony Bassoline of Yonkers, and Barbara Leo, who was from St. Mary’s. In 1971, during a visit to St. Mary’s, Metropolitan Philip ordained 18 year-old Jack Morrash to the Sub-diaconate during the Divine Liturgy.

Three years were to lapse before the Rectory was finished in August of 1972. The rectory consists of nine rooms and a one-car garage, all heated and air-conditioned. Parishioners, carpenters and electricians, volunteered to build the Rectory at minimal cost, with much of the work done gratis. The work was presided over by John Morrash, who used his building skills to guide the workers to do the best for the least cost. John made use of some of his high school students to aid him in the work. Another parishioner, John Namey contributed many of the materials and did the electrical work, and another parishioner Steve Barrouk did the welding. Instead of the contractor’s asking price of $95,000, the rectory was built for $65,000. It was during the time of the building of the rectory, in June 1972, that the city of Wilkes-Barre and the surrounding communities were all flooded by Hurricane Agnes with some 17,000 homes flooded. The parish suffered 108 families homeless, and 35 businesses of parishioners closed for months. During this time of devastation, the waters stopped just outside the Parish Hall, and the hall would become one of the shelters for the many left homeless by the flood. The men and women of the parish worked diligently to care for those who came to find shelter in St. Mary’s Church Hall in this they were aided by the Teen SOYO.


With the need to raise money for the new Church and hall, the ladies commenced to hold Syrian Nights with ethnic foods and Arabic music in 1969. In addition, SOYO held two Spaghetti Suppers a year and a Bingo party to raise funds. A new source of income for the building fund began in April of 1970 with weekly Bingo Parties on Monday nights. This was to continue for the next eight years until December of 1978 under the chairmanship of Bob Amory who coordinated the many volunteers needed. In addition, the old rectory was sold for $8,500, and the old church and an old apartment building donated to the church by the Al-Husson Club were sold for $13,500.

Shortly after the flood of June 1972, the new rectory was ready and Father Herbert and his family moved into the new rectory in August 1972.

In 1983 the Parish celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the building of the Old Church, with a special celebration presided over by Metropolitan Philip. During this celebration the mortgage was burned, thanks to the hard work of the parishioners to raise the needed money.


In addition, several members were inducted into the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch.


Father Herb's retirement and a new pastor

In 1985 another son of the parish, Father Edward Hughes, along with his wife Khouriyee Anna and daughter Sarah, was assigned as associate pastor to assist Father Herbert prior to his retirement in October 1986. Father Edward was from Kingston, Pennsylvania, and had joined the Orthodox Church at St. Mary’s under Father Herbert in 1976. In 1977 he entered St. Vladimir Seminary and was ordained to the Priesthood by Metropolitan Philip at the Antiochian Village in the fall of 1982. He served as deacon at St. Mary’s from 1981-1982. After his priestly ordination he was pastor of St. Michael Church in Beaumont, Texas, and then in 1985 came to St. Mary’s to become pastor in 1986 at the retirement of Father Herbert Nahas. In 1989 Father Edward was assigned to St. George in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he continues to serve.

Father Mark Sahady

Father Mark Sahady served as pastor from 1989 until 1994. Father Mark was from Brownsville, Pennsylvania, and with his B.A. in music had worked as a teacher in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and instructor in Church music and choir director. In 1986 he began his studies at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, where he graduated in 1989 and had met his future wife Barbara. In 1989 they were married, Father Mark was ordained, and then assigned as pastor of St. Mary’s in November 1989. Father Mark did much work in the parish in music with the choir and chanters. Also in 1993 new icons were added to the Iconostasis as well as the walls adjoining it. In February 1993 St. Mary’s began to have weekly Spaghetti Dinners prepared under the direction of a parishioner and master chef, Jimmy Cardillo. These dinners were provided by a team of loyal parish volunteers who helped cook and serve the many pastas and sauces. The dinners came to be very popular throughout the Wyoming Valley, with some evenings having over 300 meals served. In 1988 Father Mark was commissioned in the Air Force Reserve. His desire was to be in the military, and this became possible in 1994. He is now a chaplain in the Air Force and is being transferred from Germany to Alabama at this time.

On March 12, 1991, Father Michael Simon, who had retired in his home town of Wilkes-Barre after decades of service as pastor of St. George in Paterson, reposed and was buried in St. Mary’s Orthodox Cemetery near Father George Mitchell.


It was during the 42nd Annual Eastern Region Parish Life Conference in 1993, hosted by St. Mary’s in the Woodlands Inn, Wilkes-Barre, that another of the sons of the parish, John Karam, who was Sub-deacon since 1986, was ordained to the Diaconate by Metropolitan Philip.

In addition, in 1992 another parishioner, William Obeid, was ordained to the Sub-diaconate by Metropolitan Philip. Also from 1993 to 1996 Father Iskander Younes, along with his wife and daughters, was sent for studies at St. Tikhon’s Seminary and assigned to come to St. Mary’s for pastoral training.


Father Thomas Zain

Father Thomas Zain and Khouriyee Claudia came to St. Mary’s in 1994. Father Thomas was from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Claudia from Brooklyn, New York. Father Thomas had studied for two years at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and one year at Holy Cross. He also spent one year at St. John of Damascus Theological Institute in Balamand, Lebanon, studying Arabic and Byzantine music. After his ordination on July 17, 1994, he was assigned in August to St. Mary’s. In 1994 he presided over St. Mary’s 90th Anniversary Celebration on October 2nd. Father Thomas was pastor until 1997 when he was transferred to become Dean of St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn, New York, a move which surprised the congregation but was necessary for the Cathedral.

Father John Winfrey

Father John Winfrey, along with his wife Khouriyee Beverly and three children, had come to study at St. Tikhon’s Seminary in 1995, and was assigned to come to St. Mary’s as a seminarian for pastoral training. Father John and his family were from Texas. During his third year in seminary he was ordained deacon and priest at St. Mary’s, and was pastor during his third year of seminary in 1997. He served as pastor until 2000 when he requested to return to Texas to be pastor of a Western Rite Orthodox Church, which he served for two years. In 2002 he was transferred to St. Basil Orthodox Church, Ocala, Florida. Also in 1999 the SOYO Fellowship began to hold annual golf tournaments to help the finances of the parish, as well as provide community fellowship.

On the weekend of September 18th and 19th, 1999, St. Mary’s had two celebrations, with that Saturday being the celebration of the 95th Anniversary of the parish and that Sunday the 50th Anniversary of Father Herbert Nahas’ ordination to Priesthood. Fr. Herbert was awarded the Antonian Gold Medal for Meritorious Service by Metropolitan Philip at this celebration. At the Divine Liturgy that Sunday, another parishioner, Attorney Norman Namey, was ordained a Sub-deacon by Metropolitan Philip.

Father David Hester


In August 2000, Father David Hester was transferred from 10 years of serving as pastor at St. George Church in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In June 2000, Father David was elevated to the rank of Archpriest. Father David, originally from Baltimore, Maryland, came with his wife, Khouriyee Anne, who was a native of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Father David has a doctoral degree in Eastern Christian Studies, and his wife a doctoral degree in Pastoral Counseling. Father David taught Patrology part time at St. Tikhon’s seminary, as well as at the Antiochian House of Studies programs.


In 2002, the Archdiocese began to regularly send seminary students to study at St. Tikhon’ s Seminary. In 2002 there were three students, John Oliver, David Sommer, and Fred Pfeil, in 2003, six students, the previous three and Peter Brubacher, Paul Sidebotton, and Joshua Armitage, and in 2004, seven students, the other six and Christopher Morris. In 2005 Andrew Damick and Raid Shawareb came to St. Tikhon’s Seminary. They are all assigned to come to St. Mary’s for pastoral training, chanting practice and parish experience. Fred Pfeil was ordained Deacon at St. Mary’s in March 2003 and David Sommer was ordained Deacon at St. Mary’s in March 2004 and priest at St. Mary’s 100th Anniversary Celebration in October 2004


100th Anniversary Celebration

The year 2004 was a special year for St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church as the parish celebrated the 100th Anniversary of its founding.

Throughout the year there were various celebrations, parties, dinners and events. As part of this celebration, an icon of the Virgin Mary with Christ, the Platytera, was placed in the apse of the Church behind the Holy Table. This icon is traditionally in all Orthodox Churches in the apse behind the Altar as a sign that through the womb of the Virgin Mary the Son of God came down to earth, incarnate as a man, born through her as the Theotokos, the God-Bearer.

Parishioners and their families donated the needed $7500 over a period of two years.

The Eastern Region Parish Life Conference was hosted by St. Mary’s as apart of its anniversary celebration, and was held at the Radisson Lackawana Hotel in Scranton for some 500 people from the 33 parishes throughout the region. The work for the Conference was a several year task for the parish and especially for the committee that led the preparation for the Conference. Some of these members of the Parish Life Preparation Committee can be seen at the Conference working on the registration of those arriving at the Conference.

The Parish LifeConference was presided over by Bishop Basil, the Bishop of Wichita and Mid-America, who came home to his home state of Pennsylvania to be at the Conference.

One of the highlights of the Conference was the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy served by Bishop Basil and many of the clergy of the region. Before the Divine Liturgy some of the clergy can be seen as they joined with Bishop Basil waiting for the procession into the chapel to begin the Divine Liturgy.

During the Conference there were various meetings of Regional organizations. The Antiochian Women met for a luncheon meeting. During this AOCWNA meeting some of the women of St. Mary’s gathered together for the photo seen here.

The regional women discussed their various projects and enjoyed learning what the women of each parish are doing in their home parishes, as well as their work to support the national AOCWNA.

The Fellowship of St. John had a day-long meeting during which plans were made for various activities and projects in the region. The Order of St. Ignatius had an evening meeting and dinner. During this meeting, over which Bishop Basil presided at the head table, representatives of the National Governing Board of the Order presented the programs of the Order, and called upon those present to continue working to interest new membership in the Order.

On the weekend of October 9th and 10th Bishop Antoun came to St. Mary’s for the 100th Anniversary Weekend Celebration. On Saturday evening the bishop presided over the Great Vespers, as is seen in the photo where he is assisted by Nicholas Sommer, the son of Father David Sommer. The parish chanters and the seminary students did the singing during the Great Vespers.

Following the Great Vesper service on Saturday evening there has a Hafli in the parish hall to which some 350 people attended and enjoyed the arabic dancing and the special food prepared by Riad Attar and his helpers in the kitchen. It was also an opportunity for the clergy to be with bishop Antoun.

As part of the celebration, there were two special cakes made by Jack and Reba Witko which were modeled on the old church on High Street and the new church on South Main Street. The cakes were admired by many people over the weekend and were then served at the Coffee Hour following the Sunday Divine Liturgy where they were first cut by Bishop Antoun.

During the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning Bishop Antoun ordained Deacon David Sommer to the priesthood. Father David’s Father, Father John Sommer and his father-in-law, Father James Bernstein presented him for ordination to His Grace, as can be seen in the photograph below.

It was very moving to the parishioners to see this many priests in one family. In addition, many of the clergy and seminary students from St. Tikhon’s came for the ordination of Father David Sommer.

Also during the Divine Liturgy on Sunday two parishioners, John Moses, Jr. and Edwin Bell were ordained to the Subdiaconate by Bishop Antoun as they are seen here.

With them the parish is now served by four Subdeacons who regularly help in the altar for the various services of the parish, as well as serve when needed as chanters for Great Vespers and Orthros.

The Grand Banquet was held in the Woodlands Inn on the evening of Sunday October 10th. There were some 275 people at the banquet. At the head table seated by Bishop Antoun can be seen the Very Rev. David Hester, Khouriye Anne Hester, the Very Rev. Herbert Nahas, and attorney John Moses, Father Herbert Nahas’ son-in-law.

This weekend honored all of the clergy and parishioners who over the last 100 years have worked so diligently and contributed so much to the life of St. Mary’s. A highlight of the evening speakers was the talk given by O. J. Solomon who served for many years as the parish secretary. O. J., as seen here on the left, spoke about all the events, activities, plans, and organization that went into the construction of the new church in 1968.

In all of this history it is seen how, beginning with Father Michael Saba, whose first recorded Baptism was in March 1904, up to the present, the clergy and people of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church have served the Holy Trinity in true worship and spirit, and have lived and taught the Orthodox faith from generation to generation until our own time. 

The Icon of Christ the Pantokrator


Throughout the year 2005 funds were gradually collected as memorials, and for the good health of parishioners, to enable the parish to commission the painting of the Icon of Christ the Pantokrator—the Ruler of All—for the dome of the Church Temple of St. Mary Orthodox Church. The Icon of Christ the Pantokrator is traditionally in the domes of all Orthdodox Church Temples since the time of the sixth century.
The Icons was painted by a Russian Orthodox Iconographer from St. Petersburg, Ivan, who was residing on the property of St. Tikhon’s Russian Orthodox Monastery and Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania.

The Icon was painted on two eight foot semi-circle halves of marine plywood and then brought to the Church were they were each gradually lifted on scaffolding which was erected in the center of the Church Temple.

After each of the halves was attached to the dome, the center of the Icon was repainted to join the two halves into one complete circle.

When the work was completed and the scaffolding removed, all were awed at the beauty of the face of Christ, indeed the Ruler of All, looking down on the assembled congregation offering his blessing to all as we gather for the Divine Liturgy and the other Services of the Lord’s Holy Orthodox Church.



Father George Alberts

In August 2017, the V. Rev. Fr. George Alberts was transferred to St. Mary Church from 13 years of serving as pastor at St. George Church in Danbury, CT. Fr. George, who is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and St. Vladimir Theological Seminary, has served as Teen Spiritual Advisor for both the Midwest and Eastern Region of SOYO and summer Camp Director at the Antiochian Village.  He was also the Orthodox Chaplain at both the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, CA and California University of Pennsylvania (CUP) in California, PA.  Fr. George presently serves as Eastern Dioceses Christian Education Coordinator and the Secretary of the Orthodox Christian Education Commission (OCEC).  He is also presently the instructor of Antiochian Liturgics and Byzantine Chant at St. Tikhon's Orthodox Seminary.

Living the Faith – Past – Present – Future.

Compiled from various parish histories, parish records, and newspaper articles by the Very Rev. Dr. David Hester

A little bit of history and so much more…

In 2004, our parish of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church proudly celebrated 100 years of dedicated worship, fellowship and service here in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. At that time, we shared a detailed history of the parish which was part of our Anniversary Book as well as a pictorial poster history of our parish community and the people who were such a vibrant part of that past which continues to fill our walls of history in the Church hall. These posters have provided hours of storytelling and sharing of multiple memories across many generations here at St. Mary’s. Our Parish web site ( contains a full history of our Parish.

Now it is 2014 and we are celebrating our 110th Anniversary as a parish community “Living Orthodoxy in Northeast PA for over 110 years.” Despite our aging population and the economics of Northeast PA, we are blessed to have welcomed several new families into our parish community over the past 10 years and also welcomed back several former members of St. Mary’s into our community. The hospitality of our parish members continues to invite others into the Church and we encourage others to use our church hall for events such as the large fund raiser on October 19th, 2013 for Syrian refugees sponsored by Dr. Khoudary and many others from the Maronite Parish of St. George/St. Anthony here in Wilkes- Barre. The success of this fund raiser was due in part to the close working relationship between our two parishes. Members of St. Mary’s helped to promote this endeavor which eventually led to a successful financial gift to the Jesuit Relief fund in Syria. But our story doesn’t end here.

In the past ten years, we completed the inner dome of the church (as seen on the front cover of this Anniversary book) with a rich array of hand-painted icons depicting the Pantocrator in the Center surrounded by 24 additional Icons representing the Church of the New Testament and the Church of the Old Testament. This was a two phase project. In 2005, funds were gradually collected as Memorials as well as for the good health of the parishioners in order to commission the painting of the Icon of Christ the Pantocrator. The Iconographer, Ivan Roumiansev from St. Petersburg, Russia but currently residing in South Canaan, PA at St. Tikhon’s, painted the Icon on two eight foot semi-circle panels of marine plywood which were later brought to St. Mary’s and unfolded and assembled in the Dome amidst scaffolding assisted by Joe Dotzel and the H.A. Smith Co. In 2011, phase two was begun. The Inner Center Dome was repaired and repainted blue to resemble heaven. The same Russian Iconographer painted 24 Icons on canvas, each over six feet tall. These Icons include that of the Mother of God, The Archangels Michael and Gabriel, the twelve Apostles, eight Prophets of the Old Testament, and St. John the Baptist. Once completed, each Icon was afixed to the Dome surrounding the Pantocrator. Again, Joe Dotzel and the H. A. Smith Company installed all 24 Icons. Once completed, the interior of the Church was repaired and repainted in 2012. In addition, the outside Dome of the church was also repainted to resemble more of a gold appearance which now glistens in the sunny sky. This project was made possible through funding procured through Joe Dotzel from the local
Architect’s Association. In January, 2009, the worn red carpet in the Holy Place, the Sacristy and in the area in front of the Iconostasis was replaced with cream and mauve porcelain tile. In 2010, Catherine Allan and her family donated an exquisite Bishop’s Throne in honor of her late husband, Allan J. Allan. Bishop Thomas was the first to use it during his Annual Parish Visit in October, 2010.

On the Sunday of Orthodoxy in March, 2009, another momentous event took place at St. Mary’s. Bishop Tikhon, the OCA Bishop of Eastern Pennsylvania and Rector of St. Tikhon’s Seminary, celebrated the Divine Liturgy with Bishop Thomas. This was the first time an OCA Bishop celebrated any Liturgical Service in St. Mary’s. In the late afternoon, Bishop Thomas and Bishop Tikhon both celebrated the Triumph of Orthodoxy Service at Holy Resurrection OCA Cathedral on North Main Street in Wilkes-Barre.

In October, 2010, St. Mary’s was asked to host the Installation of Father Alexander Atty, an Antiochian priest, as the incoming Dean of St. Tikhon’s Seminary in South Canaan, PA. Metropolitan Jonah, Bishop Tikhon, and Bishop Michael (all Hierarchs from the OCA) were in attendance together with many clergy, family and friends of both Father Alexander and St. Tikhon’s Seminary. The Ladies of St. Mary’s provided a reception and Middle Eastern dinner following the Installation of Father Alexander.

Beginning in 2002 through 2013, the Parish of St. Mary hosted a wide variety of Antiochian Seminarians who were studying at St. Tikhon’s Russian Orthodox Seminary in South Canaan, PA. Metropolitan Philip assigned these seminarians to various local parishes, including St. Mary’s, for pastoral training, chanting practice, and parish experience. Each Seminarian was given a modest stipend provided by the Parish to cover gas and other personal expenses. Numbers each year varied from one Seminarian to seven seminarians in a given year. Our Parish community shared real life hospitality to these fine young men and encouraged them on their journey to Priesthood.

On Sunday, September 12th, 2010 we celebrated Father David’s 10th year Anniversary as Pastor of St. Mary’s and his 20th Anniversary as an Orthodox priest in the Archdiocese. On August 1, 2014, Father David will have completed 14 years as Pastor of St. Mary’s. On Sunday, August 11th, 2013, we celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Deacon John Karam’s Ordination to the Diaconate which took place on July 4th, 1993. His service to St. Mary’s spanned almost 60 years beginning from his time as an Altar server. We are also proud of our Sub-deacons: Bill Obeid, Norm Namey, John Moses, Jr., and Ed Bell who faithfully serve each week with Father David and Deacon John especially during all the Lenten and Holy Week services.
Yes, we still have our weekly spaghetti dinners (which started in February, 1993) and while the number of patrons have dropped somewhat, we are now seeing new faces among the faithful who have been coming for many years. In the spring of 2013, St. Mary’s completed 20 years of holding its famous spaghetti dinners. A special bulletin board tribute was made to include the originators of the spaghetti dinner, all the past faithful workers who are no longer with us, together with those who helped in the past but are no longer able to work and of course, all the current workers who offer hours of service to make sure each spaghetti dinner is as good as the first. Some of our regular weekly workers are 90-98 years old! But this celebration wouldn’t have been complete without all the patrons who came each week. Pictures were taken of the individuals who have been coming, some for the past 20 years. Each picture on the bulletin board also told the approximate number of years that these patrons had been attending.

A bright spot in our parish community in 2012/2014 was the birth of five infants: Brody Moses (son of Josef and Jennifer Moses), Isaac Solomon (son of Christina and Bob Solomon), Matthew Nassar (son of Dr. Fawaz and Malak Nassar), Josephine Solomon (daughter of David and Nadalie Solomon ) and Sofia Ann Moses ( daughter of Josef and Jennifer Moses). In a parish with an aging population, the birth of these five infants brings a ray of hope that our parish will continue for many years to come.

For the past ten years, we continued to honor Veteran’s with a Sunday breakfast in November for not only our parish veterans but for other local Veteran organizations, especially the Italian American veterans which have been connected to St. Mary’s for many years. On Memorial Day, we hold services in the Parish cemetery with both religious and ceremonial commemorations. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are celebrated each May and June and our Parish picnic is held at the end of summer. Periodically, we also have a golf tournament in late summer or early fall. In December, the children and youth are visited by St. Nicholas and a special children’s sermon on the life of St. Nicholas is held. The Ladies of St. Mary hold their Christmas party in December as well, but in 2013, we opened this up to a parish Christmas social. Our Father Nahas Senior citizen group meets twice a month with special social events for Thanksgiving and Christmas and often a picnic in the summer. Bishop Thomas makes his Annual Parish visit to St. Mary’s in the fall.

To complete the personal history of St. Mary’s, we have asked those parishioners 80-100 years young to tell us their memories of significant events, special people, and meaningful reasons for continuing to be such vibrant and dedicated members of our Parish Community for all these years. These are their stories…in their own words.

From Father Herb Nahas: The following is the story of George Boulos, a Lebanese farmer who came to Wilkes-Barre in 1975 at the age of 65. In fact, he had been born in Wilkes-Barre in 1910 but had returned to his father’s homeland of Lebanon and stayed for sixty years, marrying and raising a large family. When he returned to Wilkes-Barre, he was anxious to acquire his citizenship status. Sadly, he had no official papers to prove he had been born here. To make matters worse, George could not speak English. In his dire straits, he came to me for help. On an appointed day, I accompanied George to Federal Court in Scranton to request citizenship. Although our case seemed hopeless, our only hope of success rested on an unlikely fact and truth. I simply asked the judge to listen as George Boulos spoke the only English words he knew. George stood at attention and with the hand motions familiar all, he recited the following: “Patty- Cake, Patty-Cake, Baker’s Man…Bake me a cake as fast as you can…(to the end).” As the judge roared in laughter in laughter, he awarded George his request. The judge realized that only an American-born child would know that iconic nursery rhyme. George lived his remaining years in our community, regularly attending church, and cherishing his status as an American citizen.

The following is a true story that began in November, 1942 in the city of Algiers. At that time, I was a young soldier from Pawtucket, Rhode Island serving as a French-Arabic interpreter. Our army had been fighting the Vichy-French for one week. A week later, as I spoke Arabic on the sidewalk, an American soldier approached me and introduced himself to me in pure Arabic. We were both 24 years old and could have been of one family. We chatted for five minutes and wished the best of luck to each other. We never met again until 9 years later. I was a young Orthodox priest sent to Wilkes-Barre, PA. I served my first Divine Liturgy on Sunday, November 1st, 1951. As the church members came forward to receive the altar bread, lo and behold, before me stood the soldier I had met in Algiers. His name was Jacob H. Malta whose family home was across the street from the church rectory. He remained so dear to my heart, and was one of the finest human beings I have ever known.

From Leo Solomon: All of my memories of St. Mary’s were very positive. My childhood was very connected to the church and its members. It starts with my parents (Samuel and Najoum ) who were very involved with the church. My father Samuel was one of the original charter members to incorporate the church on High Street. He was also a chanter for years until he had a heart attack. I understand that he was involved with the early beginnings of the Syrian Orthodox Church. Next was my brother O. J. Solomon. He was also very involved in the building of the new church and all church activities for years. He loved our church and even gave his personal reflections at our 100th Anniversary Banquet, much to the surprise of everyone! I also became a member of the Parish Council for many years and served as its President. I continue to be a long term member of our parish Choir. During the aftermath of Hurricane Agnes in 1972, our parish hall served as a shelter for many families displaced by the flood. Our parishioners took responsibility for their care by cooking meals and performing many tasks to make their stay as comfortable as possible. This lasted about two weeks. The best part of my affiliation with our church though was the people who I interacted with from this church over the years. I have nothing but positive feelings about all of the people I met with over the years. They helped shape my character, personality and values. My wife Margie worked on many projects with the Ladies of St. Mary.

From Catherine Allan: First, I would like to acknowledge the fact that Allan J. Allan was President of the Parish Council during the building of the new church (1968-1969-1970). Allan was one of the first members of the Order of St. Ignatius. I was a member of the Antiochian Women and the Advisor of Teen SOYO (1969-1974). We had many benefits (dinners, fashion shows, and Bingo) to cover the expenses of the teens for their trips to the conventions. Allan and I also volunteered at Bingo, the Bazaars, the Hafli’s and the dances held at the church. I am most proud of the donation of the beautiful Bishop’s Throne in memory of my husband, Allan J. Allan.

From Peggy and Eddie Malta: From a little girl until today ( I am now 84), St. Mary’s has been the center of my life. It has been happy times and sad times but the church is always there when I need it the most. The love I have for my church never dims. It shines bright in my darkest hours. It comforts me and lifts me up. That is because I know that is where my God dwells. It is my home where I meet all my extended family…my church family. The church choir keeps us together. Eddie and I were about 14 years of age when we each joined the choir and I still sing in the choir but Eddie had to quit about two years ago for health reasons. It was in the choir where Eddie and I met and we have been together for 66 years. We were married here and we raised our children here. They have had a good foundation and are bringing their children and grandchildren to love God and obey his rules. St. Mary’s will always live in them too. They have fond memories of St. Mary’s and are still connected to all of their childhood friends from church. I especially remember all of my children in the plays at Halloween and Christmas. There were many laughs watching them preform. I remember Aber Solomon, our choir director, and our trip to New York as a choir and where we stayed at the Waldorf. My mother, Marie Hawthorne Saba, made hoagies and pasties. My Grandmother, Mame Carney, who was Irish soon learned to speak fluent Arabic and my mother taught many of the ladies to make a variety of Middle Eastern pastries. Eddie took care of the books when he was on the Parish Council and at one point he was also the church custodia and sometimes was assisted by our son John. My daughter Patti always loved coming to church and to make it easier for her, a handicapped ramp was donated and installed by Jake Malta her uncle, the very same person who donated the beautiful bells at St. Mary’s which ring every Sunday and on special occasions. May St. Mary’s doors always be open and live in our hearts forever.

From George A. Morrash: We had a very active church. We had bazaars on our church grounds at least once a year. We had Hafli’s at various hotels in the city. The ladies made hoagies. I remember Mrs. George (Lorraine George’s mother) working with one hand. She had an injury in her other arm. The men and women would deliver the hoagies to various dress factories. There were many people in the city of Wilkes-Barre at that time. We took off from work to deliver them. We organized trips to various resorts in the Poconos. Our Sunday School was active. Some of the children went to the Antiochian Village. My brother, John Morrash, built the church rectory and when he needed a welder, my wife, Hal Morrash, told him she did welding during WWII like “Rosie the Riveter.” So she and another member of the church, Steve Barrouk, did some welding on the rectory floors.

From Phillip Malta: As a member of both the old and the new church, I remember attending church with my parents Habib and Bahia and later with my children every Sunday. I recall at the old St. Mary’s Church (on High Street) that the men and women were segregated. The women would sit on one side with their heads covered in a veil or a hat. The men sat on the other side dressed in a suit. I remember how hard the faithful of the church worked to raise money to build the new church on South Main street. They would work together as a well-organized team. They made and sold delicious pasties and hoagies weekly, long before starting the weekly spaghetti dinners. These spaghetti dinners continue today with people coming from all over to enjoy the variety of pastas and sauces. The parish also held special Mid-East dinners together with bazaars, bingo, and hafli’s. My personal contribution to the church (besides being a regular paying member) were in the original church. I volunteered to be the church janitor. This required me to take care of the coal burning furnace, clean the church, set up for Sunday School and the special events which included at this time the many viewings of the deceased members which were held in the church basement. I joined our well known choir under the capable supervision of Professor Michael Dzury, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. I also helped at the local block parties and bazaars. Last but not least, I joined a hardworking team of men and women in preparation of the popular spaghetti dinner, under the supervision of Jim Cardillo, a master chef. In conclusion, I hope the future generation will be faithful and hard working as the past and present in keeping St. Mary’s church on the map.

From Joe Morrash : I thank God each and every day for the love I shared with my beautiful wife Connie, and I am grateful for continued good health and the health and safety of my entire family. Our church and our church family have greatly contributed to my determination at being a good husband, a good father and grandfather, a good son, a good brother, and a good Christian. What else can a man ask for? I am truly blessed. I have such great memories of growing with my family and St. Mary’s Church, which was and continues to be a part of my family. My father Anthony Morrash and his generation built the original church and my generation, and our children together, built the church we now live in. My sons Joe and Tony served later as altar servers. My wife Connie always helped with the bazaars and also delivered hoagies made by the women.

I remember the bazaars on McCarragher Street every summer. All the members of the church would close off the bottom of the street and build wooden booths. I especially remember my brother John and all the different work crews – setting up the stands, the games, and the food tent. The Arabic food was unbelievable, with all the women of the church cooking and working hard. I remember working the Big 6 game, or serving in the food tent. It seemed like all of Wilkes-Barre came to our Bazaar. I also have great memories of midnight liturgy at Christmas and Easter, with hugs and ”busses” for all our families and friends in the church, and all the kids walking around the church with candles on Palm Sunday. After midnight liturgy on Easter, we used to click our eggs against each other in the church lobby to see whose egg would crack first. The kids used to love that. It was like a competition we looked forward to every year.

That was and is the beauty of our church for the most part, especially in the beginning and for much of my lifetime. The church was literally our extended family. We were all related somehow; we were all truly brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and cousins. It was the center for learning religious, family and community values. It provided a means to help us teach our children about a strong work ethic, honesty and integrity. We have all been truly blessed and I am eternally grateful.

From Lorraine George: I am 98 years old and currently the oldest in the parish. I come because I can’t think of living without church. I love the people and the very atmosphere of our church. It helps me “be content with living.” I still remember our choir director and Sunday School director, Mr. Thomas. A few times, I remember skipping choir practice to ride around the city with Mary Mamary who was the only one with a car. I have been singing in the choir since I was in Sunday School (maybe age 14/15) and I continue to sing after all these years. In the old church on High Street, we didn’t have enough chairs for all the children for Sunday School, so we walked to a nearby elementary school and asked for enough chairs for every child, especially the ones in kindergarten. Church and going to church and doing things at church have given me a lot of years to live. I was the only girl in the choir at first and then I worked to get other girls to join. Some are still singing in the choir today. I am also reminded of the time when I use to help my mother (Mrs. Badeau George) come home from church. After school, I would leave my books on the table and run to the church to pick up my mom but instead of getting my mom, three women (Mrs. Davis, Sophie Cross, and Mrs. Saba) would ask me to work for the church. Because of these three women, I felt joy in my heart to go and help at the church. Church has fulfilled me and I have enjoyed going to church ever since.

From Jennie Elias: Church is fantastic. I have no complaints. I was in the choir for many years beginning as a teenager and I still sing in the choir at this time. I loved all the priests – they were good to me, coming each year and blessing my home and asking how I was doing. I love the people. I always participated by helping whenever I could and I still help out each week of the spaghetti dinners. I have been helping since our church was on High Street – where I lived just two doors away. I was the oldest of seven children and I had to quit school to help out at home.

From Tom Yuhas: I find the church to be comforting. I especially remember all the bus trips we took as a choir participating in regional choir competitions in the Archdiocese. We had amateur nights at the Dodson School and various plays as a parish. I remember Mr. Dzury, a Russian who directed our choir at one time. We even went as a choir group to Brooklyn to enjoy that parish’s hafli. The days of weekly Bingo (70’s) also brings back many memories. Bob Amory called the numbers for the Bingo games and I can still see Mal Gazey with a table filled with bingo cards. Kids would sell the bingo cards while Ruth Druby and Lorraine George sold instant bingo outside the hall on bingo nights. Since Sarah Cross worked in a bank, she took care of the financial books and Leo Solomon collected and wrapped money. My only complaint was the smoke since smoking was permitted in the hall at that time. My one memory of the bazaars is seeing Jimmy Cardillo and his sausage and pepper stand. Before the church hall, we made hoagies at Peter’s Ice Cream Store. St. Mary’s also had their own baseball team about 1955-1956. They played at a lighted field which is now the site of Dan Flood School. Some of the players were Junior, Jack and Eddie Audie, Zack and Jimmy Moses, Jack Broody and myself, Tom Yuhas.

From Rose Yuhas: “It’s the people!” I have two families: my own family and my church family where I have so many friends. I remember all the fun we had on choir bus trips and all the hafli’s over the years including our trip to Brooklyn for their parish hafli. We traveled as a group from St. Mary’s for choir competitions. I remember having choir practice every week and still hearing “You better be there!” from the choir director Aber Solomon. I spent almost 16 years singing in the choir. Our hafli’s were often held in the Host Hotel and the Reddington Hotel (currently Genetti’s). We held breakfasts for the Sunday School and our bazaars were a week long where everyone chipped in to help. Making pasties and hoagies while in the old church served as a fund raiser for the new church on South Main street.

From Joe Obeid: Memory is a good thing especially in old age. We can ruminate on the past and bring it to the forefront, sometimes precise and clear and other times faded. With the church being to a large extent the focus of living, there exists a store of richness. I remember playing on the floor between the first pew and the iconostasis while my father Abraham Obeid was busy in the sanctuary. I must have been about 4 years old. The women at that time of my age sat on one side of the church with head covered and the men on the right side of the church facing the altar. The chanters were seated or standing on each side about 2 or 3 feet above the seated congregation. Leo Solomon’s father, Samuel Solomon, appears to be the foremost of the chanters.

I vaguely recall some digging done under the church, apparently for a kitchen, stage and meeting room. In my later years, I learned that the church had been raised by the Shiber family, who were house movers. This apparently allowed for a finished basement. At one time I observed ladies making baklava for sale. The trays were very large and between each sheet of filo dough butter was “painted” using a very large feather saturated with melted butter. One hundred or more trays were made.
We went on church picnics with delight. Open body trucks in front of the church were loaded with the necessities for the picnic. We joyfully endured the open air ride. Gracedale Park, Mountain Top, and Wesneski’s Grove, Dallas, were two of the destinations. Picnics were well attended. Plays were performed on the small stage with all the authenticity of the culture and I believed these endured until the early 1930’s. Minstrel shows appeared in the early depression years. I remember Joseph (O.J.) Solomon making us all laugh in one of the skits.

There was an effort to teach us the Arabic language. So eventually we children went to “Syrian school.” After public school, we had classes in the church auditorium under the church. I can’t say we learned much. On looking back, the instructor appeared not to be a good disciplinarian. It was common to be sent outside to find a stick or slat for punishment. The bearer would receive his due. I’m sure I was one of them. For reasons unknown to me, the school did not appear to last very long.

In the 1930’s, there appeared some fractionalization within the congregation. This seemed to disappear after World War II. Father George Mitchell (Regina Sekol’s grandfather), Father Sakey and Father Nicholas Husson honored us during this period. An organization named “El Husson” (named after an area in Syria) appeared in memory at this time after World War II. I can’t say when the club was formed. They did own a large building on a lot adjacent to Bob Amory’s barber shop. They also had acquired land for a cemetery adjacent to the church cemetery. I believe the first grave opened in this cemetery was April, 1940. In the sixties, the “El Husson” society and officers agreed on the one side to give up its property and on the other side to accept under certain conditions. It appears that the “El Husson” society ceased to exist and the cemeteries became unified.

Father Herbert Nahas came to us in October, 1951. The Maronites had built a hall on Stanton Street about 1950-1955. This may have been an impetus for a suggestion to be made at a meeting of our church officials for our own expansion. Eventually a meeting was held by our congregation to seek pledges for this. Bishop Bashir was here about March,1959 offering encouragement and his blessing. Pledges for new construction were made. The first pledge was for $5.00 and made for a newborn grandson, Herbert Williams, by his grandfather Charles Williams. The baby was named after Father Herb. About ten years later, the fruits of this labor was a church, hall, and rectory. There was a building committee. Architects Eyerman and Riggi and Riggi were interviewed and the latter company was selected. Tabone and Barbers were the contractors for the church and hall. John Morrash was contracted to build the rectory. The present location of St. Mary’s was selected over two others (the present parking lot of Westminster Church and the corner of Park Ave. and South Street.)

Hafli’s were common in the 40’s and 50’s, very well attended and many at the Redington Hotel and they became less common in later years. Pasties were made and sold as a fund raiser for the new church, and bingo stared in the new church but later terminated in the mid-70’s by Metropolitan Philip. I would also like to say that Joseph (O.J.) Solomon was secretary of the Parish Council for many years and kept excellent and thorough minutes. Two adult persons I recall active with the children of the church were Martha Azain Moses and Lorraine Azain but in what capacity, I am not aware, probably as teachers. I believe all services were conducted in Arabic and with minimum translation to partial English slightly prior to Father Nahas’ time at St. Mary’s.

From Tony Peters: My memories of the church were from the 50’s to the 70’s time period. I chaired many fund raisers and banquets during that time. It was also the time of transition to the new church. I worked with Zeke Abraham, O.J. Solomon, John Morrash, my father Albert Peters, and many others who struggled to make the new church a reality. I have good thoughts about the many who gave so much so the church would grow. They were good times because we enjoyed the friendships we made. Bob Amory ran the weekly bingo while I worked in the office during the Bingo. I was Chair of Social Activities and therefore, responsible for all the Communion Breakfasts (men only at the time) and all the Hafli’s.

From Olga Higgins: “Howa,” my mother, was one of the finest cooks in our small close knit Syrian/Lebanese Church. She was so well known for her Kibbee Nyee. I remember a time the ladies in the church kitchen were cooking for an affair and no one was making the kibbee. My mother wasn’t there but they came for her because they wouldn’t let anyone else make it. One time, at one of our bazaars (a time when my mother wasn’t too active anymore) she and I came as patrons. We had just sat down at a table when we saw Sarah Cross approaching (from the kitchen) with a dish in her hands. She came straight to my mother and set a plate with kibbee nyee (shaped like a football) in front of her and said, “We want you to taste this, Howa, and let us know if it is okay.” The ladies of the church had so much respect for her and she for them. Once while she still helped out in the kitchen, Pauline Abraham said to my mother, “ Please, Howa, make that Syrian cake I heard so much about.” You see, every time the ladies cooked, they would end up sitting down and having coffee and something to eat. My mother decided at one of their food making sessions to bake the ladies a cake that she concocted herself and which she made often for us at home because we would beg her to make it. I can taste it now even after all these years. The ladies had asked her to tell them how it was made and she couldn’t, except to say she just used her imagination which brings me to a time similar to that episode which occurred at our home. It was a holiday and my three sisters had come home to visit which didn’t happen often. I could still see the four of us sitting around Mom’s kitchen table and Mom cooking at the stove. All of a sudden I said, “Mom, I’m going to get a tablet and pencil and you’re going to give me the recipes of all the dishes you cooked for us when we were growing up.” Of course, she said she used her hands for measuring. Well, I got up and brought a measuring cup, spoon, flour, sugar, butter and anything else I could think of. I would mention the dish and she would use her hands. She would put the amount in her hand (for instance flour) and dump it in the measuring cup and this went on for hours while I got my recipes, messed up the kitchen, and all of us were laughing hysterically! I follow and make those dishes today, every day, and forever.

I have another anecdote to tell, another laughing hysterically one. A few years ago, Lorraine George and I were visiting. We started talking about our mothers. Lorraine said our mothers and Sophie Cross use to visit a lot. One day, Lorraine walked in on them and they (her mother and my mother) were holding cigarettes and smoking. They were laughing so hard that they had tears running down all over their faces and Lorraine joined in with the laughter. Once, a very long time ago, I ran into Johanna Habib who praised my mother to me and also some of the foods she learned to make because of her.

Then I remember the years she spent praying over a glass of water and with the faith in God that she had, it became holy water. I was too young to remember when neighbors and friends began coming to the house to try to get well from some kind of pain or sickness. The only thing my mother and I discussed about it was , that a priest in her hometown in Lebanon taught her special healing prayers and showed her what to do. I use to think it was funny, until I was in my teens and realized it was your faith in God that made you believe that God could make you well, that He could do anything. It was a beautiful thing, people whom we didn’t know coming to her for Holy water and I became so proud of her. People needed her and she was my mother. She was “Howa!”

These are only some of the beautiful memories I have of her, and I shall take them to the grave with me, and before I go any further, we must pay honor to all of the women Howa worked with because they all worked for the church from the bottom of their hearts. On another note, she will always be remembered by the many young girls who years ago, came to the house to have their ears pierced.

In addition, I remember our little church on High Street before our present beautiful church was built. I’m going back about seventy years, perhaps more. The most vivid memory was a night of eating, music and fun for the parents. We children weren’t invited but I snuck in and there was my mother Howa singing one of her Lebanese songs that they went crazy for. The memories of her singing have almost faded. She had a wonderful voice. We, her children, were so small and didn’t hear her sing much except at bazaars and for the adults that visited us. They would beg her to sing for them and she would. Back to the night of the bazaar…they had small tables and chairs set up in the church hall. My mother started singing and when she reached that soulful part of the song (it gave you goose bumps), the audience was yelling joyfully and a gun shot rang out! It was Si Saba (James Saba’s father). He loved my mother’s voice and he loved his Lebanese music more. He was probably overcome by it. As she got older, she stopped singing, her voice had changed and the memories faded.

Another memory from our little church on High Street was the time a Bishop visited. Well, his high black hat with the long veil, had gotten torn and guess where Father Mitchell (our Pastor at the time) brought it to be repaired? Howa repaired it like new. What I missed for years was the original Baklava that was made by the women of the church when filo dough wasn’t even in existence. It was a holiday and the women were going to make so many trays to raise funds for the church. It was a sight to behold. They made it from bread dough and rolled it out and tossed it in the air like a pizza maker does today. They made as many layers as they do today with the filo dough. If you walked in to the church hall where it was being made, you would see about ten women tossing these rounds of dough into the air until they were as thin as filo. Imagine how many layers they had to make per tray! The taste was unbeatable but a lot of work. I guess filo was a blessing. Those women were our mothers and grandmothers. They are all gone but never forgotten. They were the Pillars of the church. May they rest in peace. God bless all those women, past and present for all their hard work and good deeds.

My mother Howa’s beloved husband, Abe, had quite a roll in the music part of the church. He was the only musician who played an instrument at all the weddings to which he was invited and at all the hafli’s at that time. I’m going back about 80 years ago. I was only a child when I remember watching him tune up and practice his “zamida.” It looks like a flute and very hard to blow into. His cheeks would go out like balloons and he would blow on it for hours, while the people danced. I remember Bob Amory wanting to learn how to play it, so he would come to the house and my father gave him a few lessons, but I think it was extremely hard to learn, so Bobby gave up. I wonder if there’s a hand full of people in our church who remember. Beside’s playing his “zamida,” he was very active in our church. Incidentally, he brought the “zamida” with him from Lebanon and it now sits in my house with all the memories.

From Jerry Taroli: Both of my sons served as altar boys from the mid 70’s to the early 80’s. I recall my son Christopher attended several seminars at the Antiochian Village for a week when he was 12 or 13 years old. What I miss the most at this time is the lack of camaraderie among the parishioners. These were the hafli’s, the gala affairs which drew people from far away places and seeing relatives and friends conversing, dancing and over stuffing themselves on Arabic food and pastries. Men contributed their time and effort to formulate plans for the erection of the new church: Tony Habib, Al Peters, Zeke Abraham, Abe Solomon and of course, Father Nahas, not only our Pastor, but also our philosophical scholar. After Father Nahas retired, there emerged what I call controlled chaos – who was going to replace Father Nahas? First came Father Hughes for 3 years. Next came Father Shahady followed by Father Tom Zain, in my opinion, the most likeable and friendliest and currently serving, I believe in Brooklyn. Lastly, Father John Winfrey arrived and finally, stabilization within the church with the arrival of Father Hester.

From Ruth Chrzanowski (in loving memory): The fondest memories I have are working with the Ladies Auxiliary at the old church. We all worked hard at the bazaars, bake sales, and hoagie sales to raise the money for the new church. Father Herb was right there with us making the hoagies and then delivering them himself to the companies that ordered. There was a joy while we worked. The ladies sang, “We’re going to get a new church.” My husband Chet gave all of his time to the Boy Scouts and working at every church function. He (together with his faithful young helper David Roushey) was the maintenance supervisor of the church for many years until his health prevented him from continuing. Chet was a great baker, even teaching baking. In his memory, our family donated a new Convection oven to the church kitchen. We all worked to make our new church a reality. (Ruth was also the President of the Ladies when pasties were first being made.)

From Bob and Judy Amory: As a member of St. Mary’s, I was asked to write the memories I had about our church. I could probably write a book, but I will try to make it short and heartwarming. Like most young boys in the church, I was enrolled in Sunday School, became an altar boy, and eventually joined the choir, which I loved. Becoming involved as an adult began approximately in 1967. I was 28 years old and elected to the Board of Trustees. The Board began discussing the possibility of building a new church and at a new location. The elders of the parish didn’t want to move from High Street because a number of families were able to walk to church, but our church was old and in need of repairs. A new location had to be found.

There were many and I mean many parishioners responsible for where we are today. There was one gentleman in particular who spearheaded the talks at our meetings. He was a big influence in getting votes to build a new church, but it did not come without much controversy, arguments and pounding of tables. A meeting was then called to try to get those votes needed to build a new church. There were about 50 men and women in attendance. The votes were in and the okay was given to begin the process to build. The first step necessary, of course, was the financial obligation. Those who attended this meeting were then asked to make a monetary pledge. They responded and thousands of dollars were pledged.

The gentleman I spoke of earlier who was very influential in this project of building our beautiful new church was Isaac (Zeke) Abraham. He along with Allan J. Allan were strong supporters, not only with their leadership, but also with their financial backing. This began the foundation of our new church.

A building fund committee was then appointed and Zeke was made Chairman. John Morrash was also on the committee. It was his knowledge and time that he took on the “gratis” job of overseeing the different contractors who worked on the site. O. J. Solomon also played a big part by taking on the responsibility of keeping accurate reports of what transpired at all meetings both vocally and financially. There was a lot of work that needed to be completed that wasn’t under contract, and was taken upon by many parishioners. They volunteered their services for many months by showing up every weekend to paint and finish off the woodwork that needed to be installed in the church, hall, and other areas. This project was also overseen by John Morrash. Allan Allan donated red ash for the parking lots and Lee Namey was able to procure concrete rock which was made into the gravel for the parking lots. Every Sunday, a family in the parish was asked to cook a meal for the men. The wonderful food was an incentive to keep those volunteers coming. The fellowship that the men shared was second to none.

Then came the time for our financial obligations. The church sponsored a bingo game once a week and every week for nine years. However, when Hurricane Agnes hit the Wilkes-Barre area in 1972 many bingo establishments were lost. So St. Mary’s began