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Church rich in Ukrainian tradition

While many Ukrainians attend Roman Catholic churches, many are discovering the unique Eastern Byzantine church called St. Andrew's.

By JEAN JOHNSON
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 28, 2002


BROOKSVILLE -- St. Andrew's Ukrainian Catholic Church is the only Eastern Byzantine church in Hernando County.

Although many of its members are natives of the Ukraine or of Ukrainian descent, it is not a requirement for membership. Before getting their own church, most of the original members attended Roman Catholic churches.

Founded in 1987 with about 18 families, the local church is rich in tradition.

Victor and Mary Ann Dougherty have lived in Spring Hill for six years. They decided to move here because of the Ukrainian church. Their grandparents were Ukraine natives, and the Doughertys and their children were raised in the church.

"As young adults, we came to appreciate the various elements of the tradition -- the music, the spirituality, the icons and the liturgy," said Mrs. Dougherty. She said when traveling in Europe, they can't always find a Ukrainian church and may attend a Roman Catholic Church. "We enjoy it when the parish has lots of singing and/or a classical mass with some of the great hymns and liturgical parts with western composers."

Mr. Dougherty agrees with his wife regarding the music and liturgy. "We think it's something unique and special in this part of the world." Although he would like to see the church grow, "we don't know yet how we're going to do that. I suspect the greatest potential for growth would be trying (to get) other people with Eastern rite backgrounds living up north to let them know that we're here and what we have to offer."

Laughingly, Mr. Dougherty said he'd be happy if he had to deal with the problem where the church became too small for the congregation.

Luka Bijanskyj is a 74-year-old native of the Ukraine. After being separated from his parents at age 14 and sent to Germany to perform farm work, he came to the United States after World War II at 18.

Bijanskyj worked at General Motors in Detroit before being drafted in 1952 to serve in Korea. He moved to Spring Hill in 1989 when Chrysler Corp. offered him an early buy-out. Before St. Andrew's opened, Bijanskyj attended Catholic services at the Knights of Columbus.

The married father of two said the church is blessed with the pastor and the cooking by the women of the church. "They've been a big help in paying for the church."

Alyce Clark, the widow of popular Stage West performer Irving Clark, has lived in Spring Hill for more than 12 years.

She migrated to the United States from Gronlid, Saskatchewan, to pursue a postgraduate course at the Margaret Hague Hospital Nursing School in Jersey City, N.J. She attended Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Catholic Church in Hillside, N.J.

Clark, whose father was from the Ukraine and whose mother was Canadian, arrived in Spring Hill before St. Andrew's Ukrainian Church opened and attended St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Spring Hill.

Clark talked about the group of women "we can count on to do the baking each Tuesday and Wednesday making the perogi," which she calls a Ukrainian ravioli that "usually consists of potato, cheddar, farmer's and cream cheeses and sauerkraut. There are also the babkas: rich bread with poppy nuts and apricots and prunes rolled up like jelly rolls, but made with a raised dough."

Clark said the church needs young people. "We can't survive if we don't have younger people. It's important for the church."

The Rev. Boris Dukeley, 75, has been pastor of St. Andrew's Ukrainian Church for four years. Originally from Perryville, Conn., Dukeley went to St. Basil Seminary in Stamford, Conn.

He left to go into the Army in World War II and went into the engineering field. After getting his bachelor's and master's degrees in administration, he became the director of Oliver Walton school, a regional vocational technical school in Torrington, Conn. After retiring in 1982, Dukeley moved to Ocala.

He was ordained as a priest on Nov. 1, 1998. The next day he was assigned pastor of St. Andrew's.

"I enjoy running the church and enjoy the people as parishioners. It makes life easier when you do something you enjoy," he said.

Although Dukeley worked in the secular world for many years before joining the clergy, he was always involved in the church in Perryville. He was on the council for renovation and the executive board for 10 years, and as a deacon was responsible for the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program for a decade.

Dukeley's decision to come out of retirement and go into the priesthood came after he served as deacon in a Ukrainian Church in Daytona Beach. "I realized there was a different liturgy in the Latin rite and the Ukrainian rite" and decided to go back to his original roots.

Having learned the language from his Ukrainian grandparents and attending a Ukrainian seminary, Dukeley offers his congregation a Ukrainian worship service as well as one in English. "They want their own language in the church," said Dukeley, referring to the Ukrainian-born members.

Dukeley also is a member of the Knights of Columbus St. Jude Council 6383 and the VFW in Spring Hill.

Aesthetically and liturgically, St. Andrew's is much like a Roman Catholic church, except perhaps for the icons and the concealment of the sanctuary behind the iconostas (a wooden screen with icons).

A major difference is the priest conducts the worship service with his back to the congregation, except when serving the sacraments. In addition, musical instruments are not allowed during the service.

Natalie Balvich's parents were instrumental in the founding and building of St. Andrew's. She and her husband, John, moved to Spring Hill in 1989 to be near her parents in Homosassa.

Balvich's parents were born in the Ukraine and she was born in Germany. She remembers when professing your faith was suppressed and conducted in secrecy.

Like many in the congregation, Balvich would like to welcome more members of Ukrainian descent. "It's surprising how many young people come to the garage and bake sales because they see the newspaper notices and want to see the church building, saying their grandparents were Ukrainian," she said.

Balvich is dismayed they don't worship at St. Andrew's, pointing out that they don't have to speak Ukrainian to enjoy the liturgy. "My husband is Lithuanian and he goes because of the English Mass and he enjoys it."

If you go

WHERE: St. Andrew's Ukrainian Church, 8064 Weeping Willow St., Brooksville.

WHEN: 9 a.m. Sunday in English, 10:30 a.m. Sunday in Ukrainian, 8:30 a.m. Monday through Friday in English. Confession is 30 minutes before liturgy.

CALL: 597-4366

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