St. John the Baptist Parish (1930-2003)
Final Celebration, Divine Liturgy – June 5, 2005
In the early 1900’s a number of Ukrainian Catholic pioneers settled in the Rycroft, Greenway and Volin districts. Feeling a need for spiritual assistance, they set about to get it.
The first Ukrainian Catholic Divine Liturgy was served at the home of Michael and Rosalia Muzyka in 1930, by Father Tymochko, O.s.B.M. of Mundare, Alberta. Following several years, Divine Liturgy was again said at Michael and Rosalia
Muzyka’s, John and Helena Rawlek’s, and later at Greenway School. Basilian Fathers Dobko, Olinsky, Sianchuk would come to Rycroft and Greenway to say Divine Liturgy and visit the people. While here they stayed at the home of Smitty and Mary Listhaeghe and Smitty would drive them to different locations for Sunday Liturgy. Daily liturgy was held at their house. The Basilian Fathers also built a home south of the current st. Peter & Paul Roman Catholic Church in Rycroft,
which was later bought by Smitty.
In 1937 several Greenway settlers met to discuss the matter of building a church. Acquiring land was a problem, ,that was solved when Michael Muzyka donated an acre of
land for the church and cemetery next to the Greenway School.
Now that they had the land a committee had to be elected. John Rawlek was elected president, William Werniuk, secretary, and Mike Muzyka, treasurer. Members were Michael and Rosalia Muzyka, John and Maria Bzowy, William and Stephania Werniuk, Peter and Ahafia Smakula, John and Helena Rawlek, Nick and Maria Mulyk, Fred and Mary Boyko, William and Annie Boyko, William and Pauline Naum, Pete Stadnyk, John and Eudokia Yaniec, Paul and Mary Kozel, Nick and Katherine Schudlo, Gordon and Anne Rawlek. Membership was $1 .00 each.
In 1938 Father Dobko and Smitty Listhaeghe with other church members dug the basement. Actual construction of the church was under the direction of head carpenter Joe Bilinski from Wanham and Nick Mulyk. Labor was voluntary by members. Logs were hauled and sawed at the Volin sawmill. At that time lumber was selling for $4.00 for thousand feet. The priest and members built the basement and church, Nick Mulyk and Pete Stadnyk put up the window and doorframes and altar. Joe Bilinski built and installed the three domes, while Jacob Boyko built the three iron crosses for the domes. Jules Maron put up the eave troughs. Mike Maloney donated $50.00 towards the church and also a teacher from Ontario. John Rawlek donated wire for a fence.
The Blessing of the cornerstone on June 7, 1938 was a gala occasion. The names of the builders were placed in a quart jar and sealed in cement in the cornerstone. These were Joe Bilinski, Nick Mulyk, Father Dobko, Smitty Listhaeghe, Michael Muzyka, William Werniuk, Peter Smakula, John Rawlek, John Bzowy, Paul Kozel, John Yaniec, Fred Boyko, William Boyko, Gordon Rawlek, William Naum.
Money for the church was raised from picnics, suppers, concerts, ball games, raffles and Christmas Caroling.
Father Dobko on the Greenway School ground held the first confession class. After the church was built, Father Sianchuk with help from Anne Smakula held a confession and first communion class by the church.
In 1939, Maria Bzowy, the Werniuks, Rawleks and Smakulas prepared a “Taras Shevchenko” concert in the church basement, which some of us still remember. Anne Smakula, Sophie Muzyka, Emily Werniuk and Nick Mulyk’s family varnished the windows and doorframes in the church. Members did grass cutting and cleaning of the church.
In June 1941 several ladies decorated the altar with crepe paper flowers that they made in preparation for the blessing of the church. On June 8, 1941, “Green Holy Days”, the church was blessed by Bishop Ladyka, o.S.B.M. with Father Dobko, Father Sianchuk and Father Baranyka concelebrating. Following the service, the bishop, priests and committee were invited to dinner at Michael and Rosalia Muzyka.
Walter Bzowy and Emily Werniuk were married at the church on this day, following the blessing. William Stadnyk donated a $150.00 Gospel Book to the church which is still used today.
For several years, Fathers Sianchuk, Procenty, Vennyk, Hrynyshyn, and Olenchuk, with the help from the Sisters would conduct Ukrainian school for two weeks each year. Catechism and Ukrainian language would be taught. At the end of two weeks, a Divine Liturgy would be held; confessions and some of the children would receive their First Holy Communion. Following this, a big dinner would be enjoyed.
Another special occasion was the blessing of the new cemetery on July 27,1945. A memorial service was held for Stanley Werniuk who was killed in the war in Holland, in April 1945. He is buried in Holland.
On January 25, 1946, Father Hrynyshyn held the first funeral in the church for Mr. Michael Muzyka. Mr. Muzyka was one of the first founders of the church. His was the first grave in the cemetery.
There were quite a few weddings, baptisms, and funerals held at the church. The parishioners would take turns boarding the priest when he came by train to hold the services.
Church picnics were held every summer as one of the largest fund raising events. There would be ball games and races. Father Vennyk would call bingo games. Homemade ice cream, Cracker Jack popcorn, gum, chocolate bars and slices of watermelon would be sold at 5 cents each.
Christmas and Easter were also special times. Singing of Ukrainian Christmas Carols would follow Christmas Divine Liturgy. Easter Divine Liturgy was held very early Easter morning or sometimes on Saturday. After Liturgy, the priest would bless traditional Easter baskets of food.
As the years went by, young people moved away and many of the seniors moved to Rycroft and church attendance declined. Father Moysiuk met with church members about a possibility of moving the church to Rycroft, which was now more centralized and would attract more parishioners. Although a few members objected, the majority voted to go ahead with moving the church. A small priests residence was purchased in Rycroft so they would have a home of their own when coming for services. A basement was dug and cemented and the church was raised on to the foundation in 1954. It was also enlarged, again by voluntary labor by members. William Werniuk, a mason by trade, and Mr. Kuzma stuccoed the outside, while Father Moysiuk and several members including Mr. Niniowski, a painter from the Ukraine painted the inside. Father Moysiuk was the first priest to have Liturgy in Rycroft.
In 1956, Bishop Neil Savaryn blessed the church and new cornerstone. Mr. & Mrs. William Werniuk donated the $1,000 for the Iconostas (icon screen). William Werniuk went with Jack Sandul of Sandul’s Transfer to Edmonton to pick it up. A large banquet followed, held in the new I church basement.
On June 17,1956 the first couple to be married in the new Rycroft church were Claudia Rawlek and Jim Paish by Father Moysiuk.
The lady members were getting more involved with fundraising for the church. Maria Bzowy collected donations for a chandelier. Additional money was raised from Christmas caroling, chicken suppers, ticket raffles and a queen contest. Each year when celebrating “Green Holy Days”, after the Divine Liturgy, the congregation visited the cemetery at Greenway to pray for and remember the pioneers who built the church and faithfully served the community in the early days.
Every church has its special attendants and helpers for the priest. William Werniuk was the “dyak” (cantor) from the beginning of the church at Greenway until his death. John Rawlek was “Stars hey Braat” (elder altar server) at Greenway, but when the church was moved to Rycroft, Nick Schudlo took over the position, later followed by Mike Shmyruk, Sr. who served until 2003.
John and Maria Bzowy planted three maple trees in the church yard. Helen Putio (Didow) Stephania Werniuk, Mary Kozel, and Irene Nadorozyn planted lilacs and tulips. Mike Shmyruk, Sr. donated fence posts for the front entrance to the cemetery. Pete Kozuback is still doing regular maintenance of the church. The cemetery is maintained by Stanley Bzowy (grandson of John and Maria Bzowy and Stephania and William Werniuk) and whomever he can get to help.
In the early years at Rycroft Divine Liturgy was held at least once a month. A praznyk was held at the end of June every year. As the years went by there were more funerals than baptisms in Rycroft.
The young people have moved on to bigger centres. Though remaining very dearto their hearts and memories, the remaining three couples made the difficult decision in 2002/2003 to close St. John the Baptist church in Rycroft. Today, June 5,2005 and in the years to come we continue to pray and remember the pioneers who built the church and to those who were trying to keep it alive the last few years. “Monohaya Lita!”
The priests that have served in Rycroft are:
Father Tymochko, Father Olinsky, Father Dobko, Father Procenty, Father Sianchuk, Father Vennyk, Father Hrynyshyn, Father Olenchuk, Father Butz, Bishop Saveryn, Father Melnychuk,Father Moysiuk, Father Korechuk, Father Bazuik, Father Shinduke, Father Tarnawsky, Father Hupalo, Father Zuback, Bishop Greschuk, Father Ambrose, Father Nykyforuk, and Father Sedgwick.