Volume 75, Number 44 | March 22 -28 2006

The St. George Academy Girls Chorus performed at the St. George’s parish 100th anniversary banquet.

St. George Schools thrive as parish marks centennial

By Andrew Stasiw

With St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church on E. Seventh St. recently celebrating its parish’s centennial, the church and its schools continue to prosper within the ethnically diverse East Village. Situated across the street from the historic McSorley’s Old Ale House, St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church and Schools (the schools are adjacent to the church on E. Sixth St.) have a dynamic story — a story of a people escaping political turmoil in Eastern Europe and of survival and growth in a new land.

Various waves of immigrants from Ukraine have flourished in the East Village over the course of the last 110 years, seeking a better life for themselves while building institutions to assist future immigrants and their families.

St. George’s parish was founded in 1905. In 1911 St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church — in existence on E. 20th St. since 1895 — decided to purchase a building on E. Seventh St. from a small Methodist congregation. It was converted to the Byzantine rite and survived until 1977 when demolition made way for the present church building. Since 1978, the “new church” has stood proudly on the corner of Seventh St. and Taras Shevchenko Pl.

Currently, the church consists of Americans of Ukrainian descent and new Ukrainian immigrants, with a congregation of more than 1,500 families. Yet the church’s pride is and always has been the St. George Ukrainian Catholic Schools. Escaping Stalin’s persecution in the former Soviet Union and the death and destruction of Nazi Germany, the wave of Ukrainian immigrants settling in the East Village in the late 1930s decided to make the program of evening classes — offered at the church since 1895 — into a regular daytime elementary and high school. Thus in 1940, the grade school started, with the high school opening up a few years later. By 1955, the St. George Schools enrollment stood at 845 students and was the seventh-largest private parochial school in Manhattan out of a total of 82 private parochial schools.

Today, the schools offer a quality private parochial education from prekindergarten through grade 12. Both schools are accredited.

The academy’s current principal, Peter Shyshka, said, “We provide a safe, warm and studious environment for our students to prosper within. From elementary school through high school, St. George’s entire academic program is focused on preparing young students to pursue higher education, succeed in college and later in life. We are committed to academic excellence, with special concern for our students’ religious education and moral development.”

Shyshka has been an East Villager all his life and is himself a graduate of St. George Elementary School. After working as a principal in other New York City parochial schools for many years, he was elated to return to his alma mater as the academy’s principal.

The elementary school’s principal, Sister Theodosia Lukiw, said, “We have a very good school here, one rooted in sound academic foundations and a moral focus on the Christian tradition of selfless service to others. With these basic guidelines, we are able to attract high-caliber students who are motivated to succeed.”

New immigrant students from various regions of Eastern Europe take advantage of the schools’ English-as-a-Second-Language program. Many of the teachers are fluent in both Ukrainian and English. Instruction in secular subjects is taught in English and there is daily instruction in Ukrainian and religion.

The symbiotic relationship between the church, schools and the Ukrainian diaspora is always flourishing. Recent visits to the schools have included Victor Yuschenko, Ukraine’s president, and world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klichko.

Though half the student body is either new immigrant Ukrainians or Americans of Ukrainian decent, the school attracts students of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

Both schools have recently refurbished their libraries and added two computer labs with Internet access. Tuition rates are maintained at affordable levels with annual deficits covered by the church.

The New York Self Reliance Federal Credit Union, a Ukrainian financial institution located on Second Ave. between Sixth and Seventh Sts., is the church’s and schools’ biggest supporter. Members of the credit union’s governing board and employees send their children to the school and help at fundraisers.

During the Christmas holidays, academy students spent several days during their break singing carols at local homes and businesses, raising thousands of dollars for the school.

For decades the church has sponsored an annual outdoor street festival on Seventh St., featuring spirited music and Ukrainian folk dancing, while local businesses set up vendor booths and sponsor ads in the church’s program booklet. This year’s festival is scheduled for May 19-21.

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