The first Ukrainian immigrants began arriving in Wheeling in the late 1890’s. Most of these immigrants originated from Galicia in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. They left their homeland looking for greater opportunities and freedoms.
Upon their arrival they had to make many adjustments. Language of course was a problem. Most came from farm backgrounds and had to adjust to life in the city. They found employment in industry in Wheeling, mostly in the steel mills. Often the men came first and the women and children followed later.
Of major importance to them was establishing a Greek Catholic Church where they could worship following their cherished Byzantine heritage. Earlier, groups of Slovak and Ruthenian Greek Catholics settled in the area, but most of these assimilated in the local Latin Rite parishes. The Ukrainians then took it upon themselves to organize a Greek Catholic parish. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit they founded a Ukrainian Catholic Church where they could express the faith and traditions of their ancestors in their new community of Wheeling.
In the meantime they worshipped and received the Sacraments at St. Ladislaus, a Polish parish. Some sent their children to St. Ladislaus School when they could afford the 50c a month tuition. There the Ukrainian children learned English and Polish and were often called “Russians” by other students.
The first liturgies were celebrated at 4300 Wetzel Street in an old incline station. The parishioners stood as there were no pews. The “church” was called St. Rotenin Russian Catholic. The term Russian may have come from a mistranslation and corruption of the Ukrainian terms Rus or Rusin. The first priest was Father Dalijanus of whom we know very little. After his departure the parish was led by Father Anton Strokyj.
At this time there were “missionaries” present from the Russian Orthodox Church making attempts to “convert” the parishioners to Orthodoxy. Their attempts were futile as the parishioners remained true to their Catholic faith and the “missionaries” eventually left Wheeling.
The parish was reorganized September 20, 1911 as St. Mary’s – Our Lady of Perpetual Help Greek Catholic Ukrainian Church. May 28, 1912 the Ukrainian Apostolic Exarchy was officially established by the Vatican and in 1913 St. Mary – Mother of Perpetual Help officially became a parish.
On May 20, 1912 five lots of Mozart Terrace and eight acres of hillside were purchased from the Mozart Land Company for $10.00 with the stipulation that within one year a church would be built costing no less than $1,500.00. No construction was done on this property as it was decided to build in a more convenient location.
The parish was then large and strong enough to purchase the two lots where the church and rectory now stand on Jacob Street. Father Strokyj bought the two lots from $3,500.00 on July 2, 1913 from Emma and Christian Vieweg. The parish put $2,500.00 down with the remainder due in one year at five percent interest. On September 4, 1913 the parish was granted full deed to the property. On that same date Father Strokyj signed over the deed to Bishop S. Soter Ortynsky.
On September 22, 1913 Father Strokyj borrowed $5,800.00 from the South Side Bank of Wheeling at five percent interest to begin construction of the church.
The first church embodied many of the features of classical Greek architecture. There were large columns leading to the church entrance. The top of the building was marked with small domes. The interior was adorned with mosaics and icons typical of the Eastern rites. The cornerstone was blessed in November of 1913.
The Ukrainian heritage was also preserved in the parish through singing, dancing, and Ukrainian language lessons. Violin lessons were also given to the children in the early 1920’s.
March 31, 1925 a loan for construction of the rectory was combined with that of the church, bringing the total debt to $9,000.00. There was damaged done to the church as the result of the flood of March 1936, and also by a fire on April 19, 1937. Economic depression joined with these other disasters and the parish still owed $7,550.00 on the original loans in 1944. These loans were eventually paid off in the late 1950’s.
In 1961 the iconostasis was installed and repainting of the church was completed costing approximately $10,000.00. A complete remodeling of the rectory, interior and exterior, was begun in the late sixties and completed in the mid-seventies.
On November 19, 1967 the Ukrainian American Citizens Club was purchased by the parish for $10.00. The building now serves as the parish hall annex, Xata. In prior years it was used as a livery stable, dance hall, and Ukrainian Club.
In the 1960’s it became apparent that a new church was needed. Through many fund raising efforts lasting a decade, $100,000.00 was raised to defray the $240,000.00 cost of the new church. The old church served the parish until April 4, 1974. While the new church was under construction the people worshipped in the church hall annex.
Construction of the new church began in the spring of 1974. The iconostasis and windows from the old church were saved and reinstalled in the new church. Construction was completed in February 1975. The blessing and dedication took place October 2, 1977 with Bishop Basil Losten as celebrant.
The lot next to the rectory was purchased in July 1985 to be used as a parking lot. The church mortgage as paid off June 5, 1986. The beautiful icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was instilled on the church façade in the summer of 1986 as a gift in memory of Olga Kohut Sebulsky. The church was reroofed in July 1987 at a cost of $5,800.00.
The women of the parish especially deserve special mention for their role in assisting with the funding of special projects for the new church and special activities of the parish. The women contributed many thousands of dollars to the parish for both the building fund and for many other parish projects. Over the years their dedication and generosity has been invaluable.
Regardless of our origins, we share the same faith with the founders of this church. We remember with great love and respect those who made many sacrifices as immigrants to leave us this church as our inheritance. As we celebrate this jubilee many joyous memories come to mind. Let us preserve this holy church and community so that there will always be a Ukrainian Catholic presence here in Wheeling, and so that these same joyous memories may also be enjoyed by our children on the Centennial of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church.
May God grant us many years.
from the 75th Anniversary, 1913-1988, published by the parish