St. Andrew's Greek Orthodox Church Celebrates 75 years
By: Mary Ann Nichols
St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Church, named in honor of the Apostle St. Andrew, is celebrating it’s 75th Anniversary this year. On December 18th, 1926 the congregation began in a two story brownstone building located at the southwest corner of North Winthrop and Hollywood in Edgewater. The Rev. C.H. Demetry (Hadjudemstriou) celebrated the first Divine Liturgy later that week on Christmas Day. During those early years the priest’s wife, Presbytera Maria, invited parishioners to their home, providing a family type atmosphere for the members of St. Andrew’s. Her efforts and enthusiasm resulted in the formation of the St. Andrews Women’s Club in 1928.
In the early 1940’s the Very Reverend Athenegoras Kokkinakai recognized the need for a new building complex to better serve his rapidly expanding parish and encouraged the congregation to begin acquiring property at Sheridan and Hollywood. In preparation, the Parish Council established a permanent building, building-fund committee to accomplish the goal. During the tenure of the Rev. George Mastrantonish (1949-1952) an initial substantial collection of funds allowed the purchase of the first portion of the present site. Following several years of discussions regarding site and building needs, on November 1, 1953, the general assembly reconfirmed the Sheridan Road location and the need to build a community center simultaneously with the new church.
Fundraising continued during the construction planning stages and on March 30, 1955, His Grace, Ezekiel, Bishop of Nazianzus, spiritual leader of the Second Archdiocesan District, conducted the service of “Agiasmos” (blessing of the water) for the ground-breaking ceremonies. The entire congregation then formed a procession and in orderly fashion, walked from the old church building to the site of the future building. As the past presidents broke the ground, the Bishop offered prayers, pouring holy water onto the upturned earth. On June 19, His Grace, Athenagoras Kokkinakis, now Bishop of the First Archdiocesan District, and Dean of the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, placed a copper box containing various documents pertaining to the history and growth of the parish in the cornerstone.
The faithful evacuated the old church buildings, which had been sold to the Ezra Temple congregation, on September 3, 1955. While the main church was being completed, religious ceremonies were conducted in the auditorium of the community center. In 1956, after spending nearly $1,500,000 for site construction and incidentals, the contractor completed the cut stone and Indiana limestone structure. The following year the parish family witnessed the completion of the marble iconostasion (icon wall) and the installation of the stained glass windows. On Sunday, May 29, 1960, His Eminence, lakovos, Archbishop of North and South America, conducted the sacred and inspiring service of Consecration.
The decorating of the interior of the church began in 1961 along with the erection of a second-story addition to the school section of the community center. The project included the magnificent mosaic of the Virgin Mary on the east wall, the Pantocator on the dome, delicate designs on the walls and the gilding of the column capitals. By 1967, the church complex was completed and the properties to the south were acquired for parking.
Most of the residents of Edgewater associate St. Andrew’s Church with its yearly Greek Festival, which began in the summer of 1961. From the beginning, parishioners who were in the food related businesses had contributed their expertise to the food concessions and the parish women have carefully baked Greek sweets and prepared loukoumades (fried donut holes with honey and cinnamon) for all to enjoy. These days, the church is also the location of the Edgewater-Mather Senior Outreach program which serves the needs of the senior citizens of the area and a senior exercise program sponsored by the Office of Gerontology and Aging at the University of Illinois.
After 75 years, the parish of St. Andrew’s remains vibrant, serving the needs of Orthodox families living in Chicago and the northern suburbs.