Cathedral History

The first Greek immigrants arrived in Hartford in 1898. By 1915, there were some two hundred Greek residents in Hartford, and by 1920 the number exceeded four hundred, only twenty-five of whom were families. The early Greek residents of Hartford were too few to support their own church; consequently, they accepted the spiritual guidance of the neighboring St. George Greek Orthodox Church of New Britain, which had been established in 1916. At the time, a chartered trolley car on special holidays such as Easter and Christmas was necessary to transport the increasing church attendance from Hartford.

As the number of Greek residents in Hartford increased, the thought of organizing their own community prevailed. In the spring of 1921, and educational committee was formed. Its sole purpose was to organize a school for the teaching of the Greek language to children of Greek families. A room was rented in the summer of 1921 on Main Street, in the old Loew’s Poli Theater building. Twelve pupils attended, and Arthur Athanason was the first teacher.

During this period, several societies were founded: 1924 Pan-Rhodian Society; 1925 Greek Ladies’ Benefit Society “Athena” (the forerunner of Philoptohos), Peloponnesian Society “Saint Lavra” and the Nathan Hale Chapter, No. 58 of AHEPA; 1926 Plomariton Brotherhood Society.

Visiting priests occasionally came to Hartford and celebrated the Holy Liturgy in rented halls. A community as Holy Trinity celebrated Liturgies at the All Saints Russian Orthodox Church on Broad Street in 1924-1925. Officiating was the Reverend Achilles Garifalos, who was succeeded by the Reverend Sousoulides.

Turbulent political events in Greece also divided the Greeks in Hartford ecclesiastically. In the summer of 1926, this division resulted in a separate community call St. Irene under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Alexandros. Their meetings were held at the Apollon Hall. A fund drive resulted in the purchase of an old home on Capital Avenue, which was used for worship. The Reverend Constantine Statheros officiated. Later, The Reverend Peter Rigelis became their spiritual leader, and he conducted services at the Episcopal Church at the corner of Park and Washington Streets. Greek school classes were held at the Chauncey Harris School on Hudson Street with Vasilios Leontaras as their first teacher. The Very Reverend Modestos Stavrides then became the new priest and served until Easter, 1931. Meanwhile, Holy Trinity under the jurisdiction of Bishop Vasilios continued its services on Main Street with the Reverend Dionysios Papadakos as spiritual leader.

The GAPA (Greek-American Progressive Association) was formed in 1930.

Fortunately, the necessity for religious unison and concord was quickly realized by the Greeks in this country. Archbishop Athengoras assumed this post on February 24, 1931, bringing with him an atmosphere of peace and understanding.

From the time on, a single community emerged in Hartford under the name of Eastern Hellenic Orthodox Ecclesia of St. George under a chapter dated June 26, 1931.

On June 2, 1031, the Baptist Church at 182 Jefferson Street was rented for $100 per month. The first Liturgy was celebrated by the Reverend Modestos Stavrides on the first Sunday of July 1931. The first Sacrement performed at St. George’s on Jefferson Street was the baptism of Anna Mouyios in August, 1931.

The first general assembly was held on June 22, 1931. The second general assembly convened on November 15, 1931. The third general assembly convened on November 29, 1931. The first Parish Council was elected, took office in January, 1932, and was composed of the following:

President: James Tzimoulis
Vice-President: Costas Pappageorge
Secretary: Zacharias Athanasiades
Treasurer: John Pitchell
Councilmen: George Matthews, James Mitropoulos, and Nick Stefanakis
Constitution Committee: Peter Stemopoulos, George Stamatellou, and Emanuel Parantonakis

In 1932, church membership increased from forty-five to one hundred and seventy-seven members in one year. Dues were a dollar per month.

At this time, the community established a separate fund to purchase the church building. Other actions were the purchase Icons, the painting of the church interior, the enclosure of the Holy Altar, desks for the school, and furniture for the social hall.

On February 28, 1933, the community adopted the new name of Greek Orthodox Church St. George, Inc., under the presidency of John Pitchell.

Archbishop Athenagoras visited Hartford in 1933 for the express purpose of formally organizing a chapter of the Philoptohos Society. Attending this meeting were representatives of the Greek Ladies’ Benefit Society “Athena” which had originally formed in 1925 under the leadership of Magdalen Bacus who was the first president of the Philoptohos and a member of its board for five years. The Archbishop indicated that the Hartford organization was one of the first Philoptohos chapters in the United States.

The Reverend Constantine Chrysanthopoulos came to Hartford in 1933. During this time, the first choir was formed. During the first presidency of Anast Bacus in 1934, the parish decided to purchase the church building at 182 Jefferson Street for $22,000, with a $2,000 down payment. In 1935, the Drama Club was organized, giving plays for the benefit of the church. In 1938, The Reverend Timothy Hountras became spiritual leader.

In the next seven years, Hartford had the distinction of being served by three priests who were destined for greatness in the Greek Orthodox Church. The Reverend Iakovos Coucouzes (1940-1941) became Archbishop Iakovos, Primate of North and South America. The Reverend Izekiel Tsoukalas (1941-1943) became Archbishop Izekiel, Primate of Australia. The Reverend Makarios Kykkotis (1946-1947) became Archbishop Makarios and President of the Republic of Cyprus.

The first official chapter of the youth fellowship in the United States was organized in 1941 under the direction of the Reverend Iakovos Coucouzes. The Charter President was Phathon J. Matthews. The Reverend Nicholas Palaeologos and the Reverend Philimon Vlahopoulos served Hartford between 943 and 1946.

During the presidency of Thomas Frazier in 1944, $8,500 was allocated for the beautification of the Church. John Pitchell and Thomas Frazier, with the help of Pauline Adamis, James Starr, the AHEPA and the Philoptohos Society sold more than $1,000,000 of United States Savings Bonds.

The Reverend Ioakim Isidorides was the priest in 1947. A church parish house located at 471 Campfield Avenue was purchased for $13,000 at this time.

The Very Reverend Nicholas Papageorge became the priest in September 1947. At this time the Greek parish first participated informally in Greater Hartford interfaith activities. The Church sponsored the first Athletic Association. Softball teams representing St. George won city championships in 1954 and 1956 under the capable assistance of William Capsolas. In addition, St. George teams under the combined leadership of Mitchel Pappas and Stephen Grossomanides won basketball championships. Father Papageorge with Peter Katsounis as editor initiated a church publication called “St George”.

In 1948, during the presidency of Costas Klemes, a committee investigated the advisability of adding the adjacent corner lot to the church property, and it was purchased in 1952 for $22,000. In addition, the small building fund was established, whose purpose was to collect three dollars from each dues-paying member per year to augment the regular building fund donations. This same year saw the retirement of the $6,515.20 mortgage for the parish house on Campfield Avenue.

On December 1, 1950, through the efforts of President Anast Bacus, John Drakos and Peter Stamopoulos, the property at 433 Fairfield Avenue was purchased for $22,000.

The Grand Building Fund, the result of several building fund drives, individual gifts, and the small building fund totaled $58,225.83 n February 1954.

In 1955, the Orthodox Faith was recognized by the State of Connecticut as one of the major faiths, through the president and creative efforts of Peter Nichols. The Lyceum University Club was organized.

The Reverend Nicholas Terezakis arrived in July 1956, and efforts continued toward building the new church complex on Fairfield Avenue. The Patriarchate Drive raised $5,500 in 1956 and the church was formally affiliated with the Greater Hartford Council of Churches. In 1958, the Macedonian Society was formed.

In June 1959, the St. George General Assembly gave full authority to the Parish Council to dispose of the old church property at 182 Jefferson Street, and to plan, construct and complete the new church complex.

The long-cherished dream of the community, building the new church on the Fairfield Avenue property, was now financially possible. A building advisory committee was formed with Phathon J. Matthews as Chairman in June 1960. Its duties were the development of a preliminary design for the building of the new church and the evaluation of the needs of the community. George Peters ably directed the evaluation sub-committee. Louis Drakos, a member of the Hartford parish, was retained as architect to prepare plans for a church complex with an estimated cost of $500,000. The building advisory committee completed its task in September 1960.

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held at the new site on September 17, 1961, under the Chairmanship of Bessie Nichols, and the spiritual guidance of The Reverend Nicholas Terezakis.

During the next three years, while various efforts continued in planning the new church complex, it became evident that the financial ability of the community was not commensurate with the construction of the desired church complex.

Great impetus was given the parish’s dream in 1963 when the Salvation Army offered the purchase the Jefferson Street property for $95,000, and approval was secured for a mortgage of $150,000.

In 1964, under the newly elected President, Phathon J. Matthews, a contract was executed with the Squillacote Co., Inc., general contractors, and construction was initiated.

In February 1964, Jerry Pangakis and Emanuel Moshovos revived the St. George Herald, an official church publication. A new spiritual leader, The Reverend James Demetriades, was welcomed into the community on November 1, 1964.

The largest building fund drive in the Hartford church’s history commenced in 1965 with one hundred canvassers under the general leadership of John Poulos. The parish house on Campfield Avenue was sold, further consolidating financial strength.

The memorable 14th International Conference of the GOYA took place in Hartford from August 28 through September 3, 1965. It was with great pride that the district GOYA held Saturday night vesper services in the unfinished new church, marking the first Liturgy held on Fairfield Avenue. The following Sunday morning, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated in Bushnell Park with Archbishop Iakovos officiating, assisted by The Right Reverend Bishop Silas, The Right Reverend Bishop Theodosios, with the Pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Hartford, The Reverend James Demetriades, acting as coordinator and advisor, and seventeen other Greek clergy from Connecticut and Western Massachusetts. A five hundred-voice choir inspired approximately four thousand people.
During the winter of 1965-1966 and the following spring, construction progressed at the Fairfield Avenue site while church services continued at 182 Jefferson Street.

The first sacraments performed at St. George’s on Fairfield Avenue were the baptism of Efstathios Manousos on April 17, 1966 and the marriage of Persephone Wallace to Robert Edward Banker on April 17, 1966.

Under the faithful leadership of Philip Harovas, the beloved church on Jefferson Street was sold, culminating thirty-five years of fond memories. On September 1, 1966 the parish moved into the Fairfield Avenue building.

Under the continued spiritual guidance of The Reverend James Demetriades and the dynamic chairmanship of Steve J. Costas, the great moment of consecrating the Fairfield Avenue Church complex occurred on October 12 and 13, 1968.