First Settlers Arrive in the 1900s
The first Serbian settlers came to Southwestern Ohio in the early 1900s. Those were the times of the Balkan Wars when Serbia was defending itself from aggression of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the Turkish Empire and surrounding kingdoms. Many came from the Province of Vojvodina in order to escape from being forced to serve in the Austro-Hungarian Army fighting their fellow Serbs. Although settlers came from several regions of the Kingdom of Serbia, many early settlers to Cincinati came from the area of Vojvodina known as “Banat.” Among the first families whose names we find in our church records include Chirich, Glesen, Georgev, Golusin, Kaprish, Kosanchich, Miladinov, Mrvicin, Peyakov, Palkovich, Todorov, Trifunac, Tyirich, Tyirin, Velimirov,Vukich , Yesich, Yovich, and Zavisin. The fact that Cincinnati was a center for manufacturing at that time made finding jobs easy for these hard-working settlers.
A Church-School is Organized
These first groups of immigrants settled in Over-the-Rhine around the Findlay Market Area of Central Avenue, Race and Elder Streets. Many European immigrants settled in this same area. They purchased a building on Charlotte Street and in 1909 founded the first Church-School Congregation of St. George the Great Martyr. The first President was Milan Mrvicin. Applying for a Charter to the State of Ohio, it was granted in 1910. Milan Mrvicin also organized the ladies in the Congregation to form the first Circle of Serbian Sisters in the U.S. His wife, Darinka Mrvicin, was their first President.
One of these early settlers, Cveta Yovich, held Serbian Language School several times a week for the sons and daughters of the immigrants to assure that they learned the language and the culture of the country their parents left behind for a new life.
Initially, church services were held in the hall occasionally when a Serbian priest was available to come to Cincinnati. Weddings and christenings were conducted by the Priest of the Rumanian Orthodox Church on Dayton Street in Over-the-Rhine. Many dances and social events were held in the Charlotte Street location, however. A Young Couples Club was formed to sponsor various social events as well. During one year, a large Auditorium in Clifton was reserved for a concert by the renown Popovich Brothers Tamburitza Orchestra from Chicago, Illinois during one of their many U.S. Tours. Some 800-1,000 people attended this memorable event.
The Church-School Congregation became a part of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese for the U.S. and Canada with its Monastery in Libertyville, Illinois headed by His Grace, Bishop Dionesija. Milan Mrvicin was later ordained and became St. George’s first parish priest. Sometime later, however, he and his family relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After his departure, Father Balaban came to serve the parish..
The Congregation grew spiritually and in number during these first 30 years. Settlers continued to come to make Cincinnati their home.
A Move to Forest Avenue
In the early 1940s, a large building on Forest Avenue in Avondale was purchased and converted into a church. Of the priests who served during this era, Father Kotur and Father Bozidar Dragichevich are especially remembered fondly. The Congregation flourished with many parishioners. There was an influx of families who immigrated to the United States after World War II and many settled in Cincinnati. They worked very hard for their church and for their family educating their children who have become the next generation of parishioners.
Church Choir Organized
In 1954, the Congregation’s Church Choir was officially formed and took the name “Djura Yaksich,” a famous Serbian Poet. Through the next 30 years, the choir traveled to many Serbian Parishes throughout the Mid-Western and Eastern parts of the U.S. The choir held an Annual Fall Concert hosting a Guest Choir from another Serbian colony for the weekend along with other Mid-West Serbian choirs. Traditionally, a dance would be held on Saturday evening with an out-of-town Serbian Orchestra providing music. Our Cincinnati Serbian Colony quickly gained a reputation throughout the Mid-West for our southern hospitality.
Another Move –This Time to College Hill
In 1958, parishioner, William Tyirin, located property and acreage on Belmont Avenue in College Hill known as “The Thompson Estate.” This was purchased and improvements were made in the church. The “Stable” on the property was converted to a Social Hall. For the next severaal years, Father Bozidar Dragichevich, who was dearly loved, continued as our priest in this new location. After Father Dragichevich was re-assigned to a large Chicago parish, Father Mitrofan Kresojevich served as our priest for quite a few years as well
A Winning Basketball Team
In 1963, Father Kresojevich (best known as Father “Mike”) organized our high school age boys into a basketball team. Milan Snyder was their Coach. The team entered the Serbian Diocesan Basketball Tournament that year in Chicago. Many parishioners followed them to give them support. Even though many parishes had College players on their teams, our team was successful in bringing back to Cincinnati a huge trophy for “Best Sportsmanship!” The boys will never forget the experience.
Youth Camp at our Monastery in Chicago
Summer Camp was organized and continues today during June and July for Serbian children between ages 5 and 16 at our Monastery. They learn about the Orthodox religion, they sing during the church services, swim, make projects, and partake in other activities. They look forward each year to seeing friends they had made from the previous year. Many marriages have resulted from those original meetings at Serbian Camp.
Many Names To Be Remembered
During the 1950s and 1960s, many members played an important part in the successful continuance of the St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in Cincinnati. Many of these men and their wives and daughters held offices as Church President, Vice President, Treasurer as well as offices in the Circle of Serbian Sisters organization, Sunday School and Choir. Some of these men to be remembered include Cedomir Aritonovich, Milutin Bakin, Krsta Bulatovich, Alexendar Glesen, Zika Isakov, Dragomir Ilich, Milan Jurich, Zivadin Ljubisljevich, Milisav Maksimovich, Radico Miladinov, Michael Miladinov, Joseph Mishurda, Dragi Nikolich, Mirko Pjanic, Demostan Popovich, Matija Rokich, Milorad Sestich, Kosta Sibul, Milan Snyder, Zarko Stayin, Stanley Tyirich, William Tyirin, Emil Vale, Ivan Zavisin, Mike Zavisin, and Alex Yovich. We cannot forget to mention Sister Christina Vinokurom.
A Cow for Shadeland Farm
Our parish received word that donations were needed for Shadeland Farm. This property, owned by our Diocese and located in Shadeland, Pennsylvania, was a working farm as well as a Summer Youth Camp for children in the Eastern part of the U.S. A small group of Nuns also made their home there. Well, St. George Parish decided to purchase a milk cow for Shadeland! A “Cow Committee” was formed to raise the $350 needed to purchase the cow. We met our goal in no time and Shadeland got the cow! Jack Stayin, then President of our church and owner of several steak houses in Cincinnati, donated some tables and chairs to Shadeland as well. A group of our men loaded them on trucks and delivered them. The smiles that greeted them made the trip so worthwhile.
“Sunday of Orthodoxy” Celebration
In the Orthodox Church the first Sunday of Lent is designated as “Sunday of Orthodoxy.” In 1958, Father Mitsos, parish priest of the Holy Trinity St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Cincinnati, gathered with the Serbian, Russian, and Rumanian Priests to discuss a joint “Sunday of Orthodoxy” Service. Held at the Greek Church, the choirs from the various churches responded to their perspective priest during the Divine Liturgy. An Arabic Cantor also participated. After the service, everyone gathered in the Greek Church Hall for a Lenten Dinner. This memorable celebration of all Orthodox worshippers in Cincinnati continued for many years.
A Split in the Serbian Church in the U.S.
In July 1963, the Holy Synod of Bishops and Serbian Patriarch German made a decision in Yugoslavia to suspend Bishop Dionesije as Leader of the U.S. Diocese and to divide it into three separate Dioceses aligned with the “Mother” Church in Yugoslavia, a country under Communism at that time. Prior to this decision, the U.S. Diocese enjoyed autonomy from the Church of Yugoslavia. In August 1963, delegates from the St. George Serbian Church of Cincinnati joined in Chicago with representatives from 44 parishes in the U.S. and Canada along with representatives from parishes in Europe, Australia, Africa and South America. This Sabor, as it is called, resulted in the rejection of this decision and refusal to recognize the appointment of Bishops Lastavica, Ocokoljich and Gregory. The Sabor decided to replace Bishop Dionesije with His Grace, Bishop Irinej who would be the leader of the “Free Diocese of U.S. and Canada” with its headquarters remaining at the Monastery in Libertyville, Illinois.
The Diocese began a very, very long and costly legal battle with those U.S. churches who voted to align themselves with the “Mother Church” in Yugoslavia. This was a very dark period in the Serbian Orthodox Church in the U.S. and Canada. Many families were torn by their beliefs. This was finally resolved and the churches aligning with the “Mother Church” retained the Monastery in Libertyville, Illinois.
A New Monastery and Center is Built
As the result of this disappointing legal decision, many parishioners throughout the United States donated large sums of money with the intent of building a beautiful new monastery. This was built in Grays Lake, Illinois and is headquarters for our American-Canadian Diocese New Gracanica Metropolitanate. Parishioners in many cities left their original parishes to form new ones aligned with this newly formed Diocese and built beautiful churches and cathedrals throughout the U.S.
New Priests and Continued Growth
Father Kresojevich was re-assigned and in 1964 Rev. Dr. Tihomir Pontich arrived at our parish. During that same year, we welcomed a visit from His Grace, Bishop Irinej. A few years later, we welcomed Father Dusan Petrovich as our new parish priest.
Kuma Andja Visits
On September 29, 1968 “Kuma” Andja Polich, National President of the Circle of Serbian Sisters (KSS ladies organization), visited our KSS Chapter celebrating its patron saint’s day. “Kuma” Andja, great benefactor of the Diocese along with her husband, Todor, was very active in the “fight” for our Diocese to remain free from the “Mother Church” in Communist Yugoslavia. We were quite honored to welcome her and worked very hard to clean and paint the church so that everything was sparkling for her visit. She personally donated $1,000 to our church. This was a memorable occasion in our church history.
Church has always provided a sanctuary and a place for people to come together and worship, congregate and establish their roots here in Cincinnati. Like our founders did in the early 1900s, we must continue to have the foresight and vision to preserve our heritage and faith.
The ”Big House” is Sold
Because the large house we were using as our church needed very costly repairs, the house and property facing Belmont Avenue were sold. We proceeded to convert the building, previously used as our hall at the rear of the property facing Glenview Avenue, into our church.
In 1970, since our priest, Father Dusan Petrovich, was made Director of Education for the Diocese, we welcomed V. Reverend Zivan Stefanovich who came directly to the U.S. from Johannesburg, South Africa. He had a beautiful operatic voice. However, within two short years, Father Stefanovich was forced to move to California as his wife could not withstand the humid Cincinnati weather.V. Reverend Alexander Dimitrijevich then came to our parish. He and his family were in Cincinnati for many years. Our parish progressed by building our membership and continuing dances and other activities.
During the 1980’s, Father Dusan Petrovich returned to serve our Parish for many years as well until his fateful death from a heart attack. Also, during this period Father Ives Babich served our parish. He was the only American born priest to serve St. George Parish. His Popadija, Kathy, was from Cleveland, Ohio. Father Babich was quite talented as seen by the gold leaf design which he painted on our Altar Doors.
Father Dragoljub Popovic Arrives
In early 1992 Father Dragoljub Popovich with his wife and two children came to Cincinnati directly from Yugoslavia to serve as our parish priest. We welcomed Father Popovich and grew to truly love him and his family. He was a very positive person and encouraged us to grow, “to do bigger and better things.” As a result, shortly after Father Popovich arrived, we hosted a visit by His Grace, Bishop Irinej. In October 1992, and again in October 1994, we hosted two very successful Diocese Bowling Tournaments with chairmen Wade McFarland, Alex Maksimovich and Milan Brakus. With Father Popovich’s unfailing leadership, we continued our progress and celebrated our 85th Anniversary in June 1994.
A Social Hall is Built!
After continued urging from Father Popovich, a Committee was established in May 1994 to research the possibility of building a church social hall. Even though Father Popovich was re-assigned to St. Simeon Parish in South Chicago in November 1994, we did not give up on his dream of building a new hall. Through dedicated work by Milan Brakus and Cedomir Djokovic to obtain the necessary funding, on March 5, 1995 Ground Breaking Ceremonies were held for the New Social Hall with Bishop Sava attending. Many parishioners came forward with large donations to insure that the project would continue. This event brought our Building Fund to $31,000, sufficient funds to begin construction. President Milan Brakus personally devoted the next year to successful completion of the hall construction.
On September 1, 1996, Hall Dedication Ceremonies were held with Bishop Sava in attendance. He brought with him a $5,000 donation from the Diocese. Donations totaled $15,000. We began having “Mortgage Lunches “ sponsored by individual parishioners twice per month to help pay the hall mortgage payments. Our KSS ladies organization, through many fundraising activities and events, developed the Hall Kitchen and paid the cost of $3,500 for completion. Milan Snyder purchased the cabinets and appliances, and with the help of Mike Vukich and Zivko Bozic, installed everything to complete the kitchen. Cedomir Djokovic found 100 chairs to purchase for use in the hall for $2,500; parishioners donated $25 per chair to reimburse him.
In 1996, Father Luka Lukich came to our parish directly from Yugoslavia. Cedomir Djokovich was elected President. During the next several years, we held many dances with orchestras from other cities for our enjoyment, dinners and other events in our new hall. We hosted a visit by newly appointed leader, His Grace, Bishop Longin, on March 15, 1998.
However, soon thereafter we began a period of failing finances. The Diocese assisted with the payment of Father Lukich’s monthly salary and we established a monthly pledge system of parishioners to try to improve our financial condition. In 1999, Father Lukich was re-assigned to St. Simeon Serbian Church in South Chicago.
Our 90th Anniversary
On November 7, 1999, we celebrated our 90th Anniversary. A guest priest came for this occasion. Chairman Dimitrije Jovic and his many committee members worked very hard creating an Ad Booklet. The Jovan Duchich Choir from Indianapolis, Indiana was invited to sing responses in church. It was a big success socially and financially. It gave us momentum to move ahead!
Father Mihajlo Mikich Assists Us
Beginning in January 2000, Father Mihajlo Mikich, semi-retired priest living in Indianapolis, agreed to come to Cincinnati two Sundays in each month to perform Liturgy services for us. We are so very grateful to Father Mikich for agreeing to help us during this difficult period.
A Smart Financial Move!
In February 2000, Milan Brakus donated $1,000 to establish an Investment Account with the goal to pay off our Hall mortgage. He and President Ceda Djokovic would manage the account.
A New Priest Arrives
On December 1, 2000, we welcomed Father Petar Petrovic and his family to Cincinnati. He had previously served in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We could see almost immediately the very positive attitude that Father Petar and Popadija Gordana brought to our Parish. They worked very hard to bring the congregation together, to work with the newcomers, to bring new ideas to our colony. The “St. George Social Club” was formed by Father Petar and Marko Mijac to sponsor dances, ping-pong tournaments and other events especially of interest to our newcomers.
In March 2001, Father Petrovic published the monthly “Parish Herald” Newsletter containing religious and spiritual articles, notes and information about activities and parishioners. Sponsors were sought to cover the monthly postage. Since its inception, the mailing list has grown to more than 200 recipients.
A Mortgage Burning Ceremony!
Through serious efforts by many people within the congregation to seek donations, to have various money-making events and with smart investment decisions in our Investment Account by Milan Brakus and Ceda Djokovic, on November 3, 2002 we held a “Burning of the Hall Mortgage” Celebration. It was a miracle that within 3 years from experiencing a financial low we were able to pay off our $53,000 Hall Mortgage!
His Grace, Bishop Longin attended this event along with Father Dragoljub Popovich who in 1994 convinced us that we could build a hall. Other guest clergy included Father Mihajlo Mikich, who helped us so much by coming from Indianapolis to have monthly services during our financial situation, and V. Rev. Radomir Chkautovic, Dean of our Mid-Western Area, and Parish Priest in St. Louis.
Father Petar is Promoted!
The Church Board directed a letter to His Grace, Bishop Longin describing the accomplishments of our Father Petrovic in just the 2 years he had been assigned to our St. George parish. Our letter recommended that Father Petar be promoted to Prota or “Very Reverend.” And, yes, on November 3, 2002 during the Celebration, His Grace Bishop Longin bestowed on Father Petar the honor of “Prota.” Father Petar was very pleased as were all of the Board members and parishioners.
“Serb Cuisine” Booth at “Panegyri” Festival
In early 2004, Dimitrije Jovic came up with the idea of a booth at the annual “Panegyri” Festival that the Greek Church held each year in June. The Board discussed the idea with some reservations…..could we get enough workers to handle a booth for 3 days? What do we serve? Do we know anything about doing this? Well, we decided to “give it a shot.” The Greeks graciously agreed to our participation. We served our famous “chevapcici,” grilled small sausages made of pork and beef. This event has been a huge success for us. Many parishioners volunteer early week to prepare the chevapcic. Many more volunteer to work behind the booth selling to our customers; our men perform the hot job of grilling the chevapcici…all of this taking place on the last Friday, Saturday and Sunday of June. It’s a great moneymaking event and lots of fun. Great camaraderie to bring our people together and to promote the Serbian culture to others. Dimitrije has successfully chaired the annual event since 2004 and we’ll be doing it again this year.
In 2009 we celebrated our 100th anniversary as a parish and were fortunate to have His Grace Bishop MITROPHAN be in attendance. We look forward to 100 more years, God-willing!
Over these many decades, St. George Serbian Church has always provided a sanctuary and a place for people to come together and worship, congregate and establish their roots here in Cincinnati. Like our founders did in the early 1900s, we must continue to have the foresight and vision to preserve our heritage and faith.