The History of St. Demetrios Church
In 1928 a few Greek families originally from Chios and Mani, with the support of the Pansamian Society went ahead and leased a second story flat at 120 Bank Street that was going to serve as a Church, as well as a Greek School. The late Reverend Nicholas Papas was the first Priest who joined St. Demetrios Church that same year. Their spirit, their determination and their faith were bitterly tested in the fall of 1928 when the first signs of the Great Depression caused great financial hardship to the newly established Church of St. Demetrios.
While struggling to survive, the Church was further tested in 1930, when a schism among the parishioners resulted in Father Papas, along with a large segment of the congregation to leave, and to form a new Church of St. George around the corner on Plane Street. In 1932, however, the two groups were reunited, and together they purchased a building on 135 New Street with Rev. Papas as the spiritual leader.
The building was renovated, and two members of the Board of Trustees, Costas Moskoyiannis and Michael Hatzimihalis assumed the mortgage for that property. Rev. Papas served as Pastor for a short period, and he was assigned to a Parish in Texas. A succession of priests followed after that, until the late 1930s when Rev. Papas was reassigned to St. Demetrios Church as the spiritual leader until 1952.
The heroic efforts of the Board of Trustees and their presidents, Demetrios Chrisoveris, Costas Moskoyiannis, Michael Hatzimihalis, Odysseas Neres, Costas Mumtzis, George Agalias and Peter Thomas managed to overcome the difficult times of the 30’s and early 40’s.In 1943 under the leadership of Peter Thomas they purchased a property on High and New Streets, with the intention of building a Church. Five years later it was sold and finally in 1947, a property on 210 Clinton Avenue was purchased.
In 1952, Reverend Christopher Condoleon assumed the spiritual guidance of the St. Demetrios Church. Five years later, in February of 1957 a mortgage burning dinner was held at the Robert Treat Hotel. The Church was finally out of debt! During the tenure of Father Condoleon as Proistamenos, the following individuals served as President of the Board of Trustees: Peter Thomas, Gus Makris, Peter Kokkalis, Gus Stravelakis, Andrew Agriantonis, Gus Genakos, again Gus Stravelakis and Anastasios Soros.
The 50’s and the 60’s were years of progress and growth. The Philoptochos Society of “St. Irene” which became active with the inception of our Church, and was officially re-organized in the mid 50’s, had a very positive impact in the social and economic life of our Church. Much of the progress, growth and success of St. Demetrios can be attributed to the magnificent services and contributions of this excellent organization and its fine ladies.
The first President of the Philoptochos of “St. Irene”’ Mrs. Jenny Poulos, fits and deserves the title of “Mother of our Church”. Mrs. Efterpe Papatheodorou who served twice as President and, under whom the Philoptochos enjoyed its largest membership ever, needs to be mentioned. By the late 60’s the member ship of St. Demetrios Church reached nearly 500 families and it earned St. Demetrios the reputation of being one of the best established communities in the state of New Jersey.
All of the organizations and schools grew and prospered to their highest potentials. But the social climate of Newark began to change in the early 70’s and shortly thereafter it became evident that the relocation of the Church would be necessary if it was going to retain its membership, the vitality and social activity of the Church’s life, which had begun to decline.
Rev. Constantine Xirouhakis took over the spiritual guidance of the Parish shortly after Rev. Christopher Condoleon passed away in June 1981. The building fund was then instituted to raise the necessary funds, and the Parish began looking at various properties. After some unsuccessful attempts at other locations, which included a purchase and sale of property in Maplewood, the present location at 721 Rahway Avenue in Union, became available in November of 1983, during the presidency of Mr. Anastasios Soros. After viewing and considering the property and the location, the overwhelming majority of the Parish Council expressed a favorable opinion for the purchase at a special General Meeting that was held at Jahn’s Restaurant in Union of December 3, 1983. The location made a lot of sense geographically also since most of the Parishioners resided all around Union, as well as within the township itself. The signing of the contracts took place on June 16, 1984.
The last traces of doubt, skepticism and fear, were removed when the late Elias Fotinos offered to pay the interest of the mortgage for the 7-year duration of the loan. Elias Fotinos, being the greatest Supporter and Benefactor of our Church, did pay the interest, from June 1984 until June 1988 when the mortgage was finally paid in full, and coincidentally just before Elias Fotinos passed away. The beautiful hand-crafted Altar is one of Elias Fotinos’ many contributions to the Church, in tribute to his everlasting memory, the Parish dedicated the Chapel of the Church after Fotinos, and thus it was named the “Chapel of Prophet Elias”!
The other person generally responsible for the move was a Board member at the time, who became President of the Parish Council in 1984, a position he held for six years, Mr. Elias Loucopoulos had the determination that was needed to move forward with this purchase. The Parish went through a lot, spending countless hours and days trying to sell the old Church and buy the new one. The managed to overcome all the obstacles until finally the Parish reached its goal. The THYRANIXIA took place on October 14th of 1984. The renovations and transformation of the Edifice began immediately, starting with an all new kitchen that was entirely donated by the Philoptochos Society of “St. Irene”. The Social Hall which was dedicated to the memory of Rev. Christopher Condoleon, four classrooms, storage rooms, and more recently a new stage area were constructed. Upstairs the Altar was extended and the stained glass windows that had been removed from the old Church and preserved, were installed. A Conference Room, the Pastor’s Office, the Choir Area and another classroom were added. Sprinkler and smoke detectors were added everywhere, the heating and air conditioning systems were upgraded, and additional pews were added to increase the seating capacity by fifty-six. Outside a retaining wall was constructed which increased the parking area, storm sewers were installed for water drainage, and all the utilities needed for the Festivals, the paving of the Parking Lot, and the landscaping of the Church’s grounds were done professionally.
The new Church’s CONSECRATION was done on October 29, 1989, with Metropolitan Silas of the Diocese of New Jersey, officiating. Now once again the St. Demetrios Community was alive in every way. Progress, peace and growth were the characteristics that were expected to return to the social life of the Parish. The Annual Festival which was established in 1985 grew and became famous in the area. By 1993 and during the presidency of Mr. Demos Arvanitis, the Church was free of debt once and in 1994 under the presidency of Mr. Nicholas Chatzopoulos, the building of the Community Center began. The Church offices were modernized and the computer was introduced into the every life of the Church.