A History of St. Mary Orthodox Church
Written on the occasion of the 90th Anniversary of our Parish (2018-2019)
The history of our parish is one that begins in 1928, when a group of parishioners from St John of Damascus Church on Hudson Street in the South End of Boston decided to form St. Mary. In the beginning, services were conducted in homes an rented halls until a building was purchased in the South End in 1932. Life for immigrant families who populated the South End revolved around the church. Arabic was the language of the neighborhood and Arabic was the language of the church services. Until 1945 the clergy of St. Mary's were Arabic speaking. They included Fr. Mahfouz, the first to serve the Divine Liturgy, Fr. Gabriel Barrow, Fr. Hannanias Kassab, Fr. Basilios Abousaffie, and Fr. Alexander Deebeh.
Fr. John von Holzhausen became our spiritual shepherd in 1945, the first priest not of Middle Eastern descent and the first priest to use English during the services. The choir and chanters continued to use Arabic. While the introduction of English to the church services appealed to a younger generation, the continued use of Arabic by chanters and our choir provided continuity for the older generation. Fr. John and his beloved wife, Khouria Evelyn, also began a church school program, later to become a model for the former Toledo Archdiocese.
Our parish was blessed with twenty five years of pastoral service by our beloved Father John von Holzhausen and his Khouria, Evelyn. Today, the Hospitality Group in our parish honors Father John's significant contributions as a scholar and musician by hosting a spring lecture series in his name.
With the post-World War II baby boom, and as more parishioners moved from Boston to its suburbs, the leaders of the parish sought a new location. They selected the Universalist Church on Inman Street in Cambridge. Our present church, built in 1822, the second oldest church building in the City of Cambridge, was moved from Lafayette Square to Inman Street in the fall of 1888. Even though the moving of the church was the largest ever undertaken in the City of Cambridge the cost was less than that of building anew on the Central Square site. Money saved from building construction was committed to a massive remodeling scheme which resulted in what the Cambridge Tribune called, "... one of the largest, finest appointed, best arranged and handsomest churches in Cambridge." The building itself was historically significant, and its size would handle the increasing number of parishioners.
St Mary, being the first Antiochian parish to leave Boston in 1954, was a harbinger of many bold, at times controversial, actions by the parish. In 1970, hoping to provide the impetus for a unified Antiochian jurisdiction in the United States, St. Mary voted to join the New York Archdiocese. Several years later unity between the New York and Toledo Archdioceses was achieved. All Antiochian churches in the United States and Canada have come together under the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.
The 1970's and 1980's witnessed growth in many significant ways. The clergy brought to us an increased awareness of our responsibilities as Orthodox Christians. Fr. Nicholas Steele initiated the change to an English language choir. Fr. Athanasios Emmert rekindled an awareness of our spiritual obligations. Fr. David Buss emphasized the importance of prayer and started adult education classes. His Grace Demetri Khoury, our first priest in thirty years of Middle Eastern background, liturgically and organizationally gave us new goals, confidence, and sense of community with our sister churches.
After brief service from Frs. Paul O'Callahan and George Shaheen, St. Mary was blessed by the arrival in 1981 of Fr. Gregory Phelan as our shepherd. With his Khouria Francine and their children, he committed himself to us, his first parish. Because of a demeanor exuding faith that the Holy Spirit was watching over us, Fr. Gregory helped us to understand that anything is possible when we work together in His name. Father Gregory's pastoral service encouraged us to commence a restoration project that included the completed renovation of our social hall.
After eight years with us, his pastorate cut short by his untimely illness and death, Father Gregory left us with the practice to attend services held other than Sundays, and to open our doors to all who wish to enter. No longer an ethnic parish, we came to realize our future was to bring Orthodox Christianity to others.
Father Alexis Khouri continued with Father Gregory's love of music in the tradition of our past clergy.
In July 1993, twenty-six years ago, we were blessed with the arrival of our current pastor, V. Reverend Antony Hughes, his wife Khouria Carol and children Alex and Gregory. Fr. Antony was and is instrumental in bringing people to Orthodoxy. Numerous people have converted to Orthodoxy and became integrally involved in the life of our church, making our parish one of the most ethnically diverse parishes in our God protected Archdiocese.
During Father Antony's tenure, the parish has embarked on several restoration and preservation projects, including the restoration of our historically significant stained glass windows, our altar, kitchen and the chandeliers which adorn our sanctuary. Father Antony encouraged the growth of the Fellowship of St John the Divine Chapter, now the Hospitality Group, and expanded the catechumen class. He has been active in college ministry in Boston and Cambridge and in the Real Break program. His efforts can be seen in the number of college students that consider St. Mary their home.
We are blessed with a proactive parish council, dedicated to maintaining and refurbishing our parish, an energetic Hospitality Group committed to numerous philanthropic causes, a woman's organization dedicated to our Sunday School children, a young adult ministry, dedicated to integrating our young adults in the life of our church, an outstanding choir and chanters, an active Sunday School, Teen Group and College Fellowship. The spirit of family, commitment and fellowship is as strong today as it was ninety years ago when those courageous immigrant families during the Great Depression, undeterred, formed our parish. May their memory be eternal! May Our God Continue to Preserve and Protect Us All!