Our Founding - 1924
By the turn of this century a small number of Macedo-Romans had settled in the City of Bridgeport, attracted by the many job opportunities offered by its industries. The group was small and predominately male, those who had come to make their fortune and return. Their general youth, small numbers, financial status and attitude against permanent immigration combined to prevent more than a loose connection among them.
The deterioration of the Turkish Empire, the Balkan wars and later the First World War led many of our forefathers to reevaluate their positions here. Many of those that were here summoned their wives, children and relatives while others came here at the time of the migrations of hundreds of thousands of Macedo-Romans to Romania.
By 1924, the need for a religious and cultural center was obvious. The leaders of the community decided to undertake steps to found an organization to serve its needs. On March 24, 1924, the official incorporation of the church corporation took place under the name of the Cultural Society of St. Vasile and today’s church came into being. There were 24 members of the organization in its first year of existence – Miltiade Babiana, Dimitrie Balamaci, Pulia Cocia, Cociu Cresu, Ahileia Cuscona, Hrista Dimitrescu, Hrista Fatse, Miha Fatse, Theordore Giambazi, Ioan Ghianuly, Haralambie Nastu, Miha Nastu, Petra Nastu, Vanghele Nastu, Zica Nastu, Vasile Nicola, Hrista Pippa, Tom Pittu, Spiro Pittu, Ianuli Puci, Dimitrie Sheri, Ianuli Shimu and Cociu Sramusteanu. Each paid $1.75 to the new organization as membership dues.
The first President of St. Vasile was Dimitrie Balamaci who served in that office from 1924 to 1926. He was succeeded by Spiro Pittu who served until 1932. During this critical period steps were taken to expand membership and strengthen the organization. Dues were raised to $6.00 per year in 1925 and new members added.
Having no church or priest, the members attended weekly religious services at both the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches then established in Bridgeport. However, close contact was maintained with the Macedo-Roman community in Woonsocket, Rhode Island which already had a church and priest. When any local member required religious services for a wedding, baptism or burial the call went out to Woonsocket, R.I. for its priest, Father Moloci. Despite what was then a long and arduous trip, Father Moloci provided his spiritual services when requested.
The church community struggled on until 1928 when its most critical need – a parish priest – was provided. The first parish priest was Father John Popescu, a Macedo-Roman who later dedicated his life to the parish in Woonsocket where he resided until his death. He was ordained in 1928 and arrived in Bridgeport in time to celebrate Easter Services that year. By the time he arrived the church had changed its name – St. James Romanian Orthodox Church – having officially amended it Charter on February 22, 1928.
Temporary services were held in a building located at the corner of State Street and Hancock Avenue in the West End of Bridgeport where most of the Macedo-Roman community resided. The first floor of the building had been the former religious home of the Hungarian Reformed Church and was somewhat suitable to the community’s needs. St. James was allowed to use the premises only on Sunday mornings but it provided a place for the religious community to gather for services in its native tongue.
The search for a permanent church site now intensified. Diligent effort was made throughout the spring and summer of 1928 which proved successful. A suitable site was located in July of 1928 at 150 Lee Avenue, Bridgeport. The site was located in the heart of the Macedo-Roman settlement in the West End and accessible to all. It was owned by The North Star Building Association, an organization comprised primarily of Swedish Americans.
Discovery of a possible home touched off a flurry of activity in the community. Meetings were held at the home of the then president, Spiro Pittu, to discuss financing and other aspect of the purchase. Finally, on September 14, 1928 transfer of the property was completed and St. James had a permanent home on a 40 x 100 lot.
The dedication and sacrifice of the Church member of 1928 should always be remembered. They willingly assumed substantial financial burdens to build a religious foundation for their children and grandchildren. In addition to the cash money paid the North Star Building Association, the church corporation assumed approximately $5,000.00 in mortgages to the West Side Bank and borrowed an additional $2,000.00 from the sellers. In order to pay these encumbrances, each member was assessed the sum of $150.00 payable at the rate of $5.00 per month, a large sum considering the average earnings of that period. Members further volunteered their time and goods to the alteration of the building for use as an Orthodox Church. Tusha Chiacu provided much of the carpentry work in the interior and others donated icons, pews, and religious artifacts.
Having become settled, the church sought to strengthen its relationship with Father Popescu. He was formally signed to a one year contract as parish priest in October of 1928 at a salary of 125.00 per month.
Though 1928 was admittedly one of the most active and demanding years in the Church’s history, it did not prevent the community from expressing itself artistically. On July 23, 1928 the play “Golfu” was presented by an ambitious group of church thespians under the guidance of Director Michael Costulas. It served as the forerunner of future church presentations.
As 1929 dawned, St. James had grown from a dream and a prayer into a full grown reality. Yet the members did not rest after the great effort of the previous year but, rather, forged ahead. On February 3, 1929, new provisional by-laws were adopted which expanded the size of the governing church body from three to eleven officials and established many of the procedural regulations still followed today. Pandu Sota was elected as the first paid cantor receiving the sum of $5.00 per month. Nuli Shimu was elected cantor on the left side. On August 25, 1929, the first church picnic was held featuring “Pulia cu garnet” and Nuli Shimu with his mandolin.
On September 8, 1929, father Popescu advised the General Assembly officially of his intention to resign his post as parish priest. Discussion concerning a successor ensued and Father Popescu suggested his replacement be a Macedo-Roman. The name of Father Hrista Vasilescu was proposed. On October 1, 1929, the newly ordained Father Vasilescu was hired as parish priest, a post he held for more than 30 years providing leadership and spiritual guidance to the community.
The year 1929 also saw the organization of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate in Detroit, Michigan in a Church Congress convened in April.
The year 1930 opened the decade of the Great Depression, but it proved to be a year during which the parishioners demonstrated an enormous amount of generosity. Donations of both practical and decorative gifts completed much of the new church building. Chandeliers were donated by Christy M. Fatse, Louis Cipu and a Frenchman named Deu La Faciu. The baptismal font was given by Cociu Docu. Gifts also came from Spiro Pittu (incense burner), Spiro Vasilescu (candle stand) and Constantine Jangely (the large icon of Constantine and Elena). One gift, the church bell, later involved in the “Miracle of St. Dimitrie”, came to the parish as a result of the generosity of Maria G. Nicola.
The total gross income of St. James was $4,253.00 and its total expenses $3,809.00; a figure which today would probably be insufficient to pay the parish’s utility charges. Included in the income was almost $1,000.00 from the auctioning of the icons, a tradition which is no longer in practice today.
On July 4, 1932, members of the community participated in the Festival of Nations – they appeared in native Macedo-Roman costume under the direction of Nuli Shimu. During the year Father Vasilescu voluntarily cut his pay because of the bleak economic circumstances. In November, the church held its first Christmas pageant. A buffet dinner in the church hall was held, the admission fee being $.25 for men and $.15 for women.
St. Dimitrie Romanian Orthodox Church 504 Sport Hill Rd. Easton, CT 06612 (203) 268-8237