Sts. Peter & Paul Romanian Orthodox Church is a parish under the jurisdiction of The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, headquartered in Detroit/Jackson, Michigan, having as its ruling hierarch His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel (Popp). The current parish membership lists almost 350 dues-paying adults, but the parish ministers to a larger Romanian Orthodox community including children and non-committed communicants, visitors, etc. The parish is made-up of both American and Romanian born Orthodox Christians, which deems it necessary that the life of the parish is a bi-lingual one. However, special care is given to the realization that our practices and culture must, in some ways, adapt themselves to the American environment in order for us to have a greater impact on our community and future generations.
The History of Sts. Peter & Paul Romanian Orthodox Church
In the first two decades of the twentieth century, as Romanians joined the rising number of immigrants to reach the shores of the New World, Detroit was a much-desired destination. The young and vital automobile industry, in particular, was the attraction. As the Romanians found work, they naturally moved into nearby neighborhoods and eventually formed their communities “away from home,” to include benevolent societies and parishes, building their social halls and churches where they were most heavily concentrated.
In the late 1920’s, about 450 Romanian families, originating from Transylvania and Bucovina, lived and worked in the shadow of the Ford Motor Company’s Rouge Plant in Dearborn. In 1927, they were visited by a monk, Fr. Alexandru Nanu, who was selling icons from Jerusalem and occasionally hearing confessions as he traveled from house to house. This monk noticed that in Dearborn, although a society hall had been built (Casa Română Nr. 2), there was no Orthodox church in the community, so he proceeded to do something about it. He collected offerings from the people, then converted a small wooden house on the corner of Holly and Lowery Streets into a church structure and called it “Holy Trinity Monastery.”
Although that little church stood ready to serve the needs of the growing Romanian community, it was opened only on occasion, when Fr. Nanu happened to be in the area. This presented problems for the itinerant monk and for the community as they requested his services more frequently. It was only after the arrival of another monk, Fr. Ilarion Moloci, who then purchased the property from Fr. Nanu, that the little church began to meet the rising needs of the people. However, Fr. Moloci hoped to move on to another parish. So, at a meeting of forty-six founding members held at Casa Română Nr. 2 on June 15, 1929, the Orthodox faithful took control of their destiny and established a formal parish, which they incorporated the following April as “Parochia [sic] Ortodoxa Romana Sfintii Apostoli Petru şi Pavel.” The name was chosen only after much discussion as Petru Damian and his friend, Pavel Iloaie, offered $145 and $100 respectively for the honor of having the church named after their patron saints.
There were several priests who served the parish unofficially during those early years, but they did not stay more than a few months, as there were no funds to pay them a salary (it was the beginning of the Great Depression!). The faithful did seriously consider buying the monastery church from Fr. Moloci, but that would take all the funds they could raise.
They knew they needed a full-time priest. So, there being no Romanian Orthodox bishop in America at that time, they petitioned the Russian bishop in New York, Bishop John (Kedrovsky) to ordain Fr. Gheorghe Lupu, a local cantor who had been much help to them in forming their parish. Fr. Lupu generously accepted to serve without salary so that they could purchase the Holly Street property. He served the parish for eight months, and it was a help to them, both spiritually and financially. Fr. Lupu also helped them to compose their Articles of Incorporation and to arrange a purchase agreement with Fr. Moloci.
After Fr. Lupu’s departure, it fell once again upon Fr. Moloci to serve the new parish to whom he sold his church for $3,000, with $500 down and monthly installments thereafter. Dr. Gerald Bobango, in a history of this parish written for The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate’s 50th Anniversary Album (1979), describes those years in this way:
The hard economic situation of the country, however, worked against the Dearborn workers, and they found themselves spending money on legal fees as their church was repossessed. Only in 1933 did they try again, this time agreeing to pay Fr. Moloci $2,000, with half down and the rest amortized.
It was in that year, 1933, when the men of the parish realized it was time to organize the ladies. The Sts. Peter & Paul Ladies Auxiliary was formed. With tea parties and door-to-door collections made by those dedicated women, together with church dinners, etc., the church debt was paid. More than that, the Ladies Auxiliary enabled the parish to engage Fr. Martin Ionescu at a salary of five dollars ($5) per month.
In 1935, the parish voted to seek acceptance into The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, joining the ranks of her sister parishes throughout North America. On April 26, 1936 (Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women), the faithful joyfully welcomed His Grace, Bishop Policarp (Moruşca) to consecrate the little wooden church that they could finally call their own. His Grace was assisted by Rev. Frs. Martin Ionescu, Gheorghe Lupu, Ilarion Moloci, Stefan Opreanu and Teofil Popovici.
Two months later, in June, 1936, Fr. Traian Birau was named parish priest. During the five years of his pastorate, he saw the need to provide activity for the young people. So, he organized the “Fii României” group to instill pride in their Romanian heritage. Fr. Birau also initiated the founding of the Church Choir, under the direction of its first conductor, Maestro Nicolae Vămăşescu, a former administrator of the Romanian Opera House at Bucharest.
Fr. Birau also began the project of building a new church. It was decided to demolish the old wooden structure and build on the same site. In 1937, they bought the Casa Română Nr. 2 hall from the Unirea Romanilor Society for the sum of $7,815. However, the church project would prove to be much more difficult. According to Fr. Birau’s own account, the building committee hired an architect whose plans were totally unacceptable to him. Other contractors gave estimates that were also unacceptable to the priest, who understood better than his committee what was needed for an Orthodox church.
Finally, he contacted Fr. Gheorghe Lupu, his friend, and discussed the project with him. Fr. Lupu recommended that he contact Mr. Peter Rosello, an architect who had done work before for the Orthodox communities in the Detroit area. Mr. Rosello’s plans were well-accepted by both the parish priest and the building committee, especially since the price was about half the cost of the previous plans presented. The new church would seat about three times more people than the old one, and had a full basement, washrooms, kitchen, solid masonry construction and stone trim. Total cost: $17,085! Services were held in Salina Hall (formerly Casa Română Nr. 2) and need-less to say, people were enthusiastic about the project and rallied around their priest and council to see it through to completion.
Sadly, the joy of having the church consecrated by Bishop Policarp was not to be had, as His Grace visited Romania only to be detained there forever, away from his diocese in America. The new church was blessed on October 27, 1940, by Frs. Stefan Opreanu, Martin Ionescu, Ilarion Moloci, Gheorghe Lupu and Traian Birau. It contained a beautiful icon screen (iconostas) designed and painted by Alexandru Seceni, whose work can still be found in several of our diocesan churches.
This was a tremendous accomplishment for the Dearborn Romanian community, especially as the country was coming out of the Great Depression. All told, the church and its appointments cost $24,000, and it was paid off in just a few years. Unfortunately, Fr. Traian Birau could not enjoy the fruits of his labor, due to his untimely and sudden death at the age of 53, while attending a meeting of the Ladies Auxiliary.
The community was now entering the War Years and the ensuing booming prosperity that would follow. In his description of the times, parish member Thomas Cornea writes:
The Great Depression was nearly over, then World War II began! Our young men, and many of the fathers, were inducted into the Armed Forces, and the ‘Motor Capital of the World’ would take on a new dimension as the ‘Arsenal of Democracy.’ The women, once confined to home, took on new roles: Rosie the Riveter, Florence the Nurse and Sally the Driver. These remarkable women managed to hold jobs, care for their children and remain a driving force in church activities.
At school, home and church, fundraisers were held for the war effort. Collections were held for newspapers, magazines and any metal object or scrap. Special government-issued stamps were used for automobile fuel, meat and butter. Prices and wages were frozen. Regardless, the Romanian community adapted to these measures and were resourceful at making the most of what was available.
The ladies of the parish even formed a chapter of the Red Cross to serve weekly at a Dearborn canteen and send packages to the servicemen. Mr. Cornea continues:
I recall one morning in late August, 1945, automobile horns were blowing, factory whistles screaming and air raid sirens blaring: World War II had come to an end! Words cannot describe the joy of our Romanian community when the young lads and fathers returned home! However, we cannot forget the soldiers who gave their lives, and were laid to rest at Woodmere Cemetery.
The factories, especially Ford in Dearborn, switched from army truck and aircraft production back to the mass production of automobiles. As during the war years, the changeover to automobile production at the Ford Plant had close to 100,000 workers on two and three shifts, ranging from six to seven days a week.
Salina Hall was thriving once again! There were bridal showers, weddings and baptisms like never before!
Indeed, it was a time of growth, increased participation in church life and prosperity for all God’s people in America – but for this parish, there had been problems, both during and after the War. In the program booklet for the blessing of the new church in 1940, Fr. Birau expressed his gratitude that the parish was working together. He wrote that with such cooperation, the parish’s place in the forefront of the Diocese would be guaranteed. The next fourteen years, however, brought great havoc to the Diocese, a regrettable name for the parish and confusion and embarrassment to its people.
Fr. Glicherie Morariu was chosen to succeed Fr. Birau in 1941. He was a tremendous fundraiser and likable to his parishioners. It was during his time that the church debt was completely paid out, but in less than a year, he would be arrested by the United States Government and charged with espionage. He pleaded “not guilty” and was released on $10,000 bond. His devious activities divided the parish, especially as he was among those few who worked deceptively to prevent the return of Bishop Policarp to America, hurling the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate into turmoil for decades to come. He eventually was found guilty of failing to register as an agent of a foreign power, for which he received a five-year jail sentence.
Fr. Peter Moga came to the parish in 1945, at a time when the Episcopate was embroiled in controversy and division over its relationship with the communist-controlled Mother Church. Although he led the parish to mixed progress during his ten-year pastorate (a parish house was built across the street from the church), Fr. Moga, encouraged by Morariu and his supporters in the parish, joined the cause of taking the parish out of the jurisdiction of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate. In league with Morariu, Opreanu and others, Fr. Moga plotted to form a new Episcopate. He convinced the parish to with-draw from the ROEA and join forces with the unelected Bishop Moldovan with direct ties to the communist-controlled Romanian Patriarchate.
There was opposition in the parish to this move, and demonstrations were held in front of the church regularly. Members were removed from the parish roles for not accepting the changeover, and the police were often summoned to keep peace. Unable to appease the opposition, Fr. Moga eventually resigned in 1955, but not until the parish had made a name for itself in the local newspapers as a hotbed of discontent and disruption. Thank God for those anti-communist demonstrators.
Fr. John Surducan, a priest of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate, who had served several years in the Ohio Deanery (two years as assistant priest at St. Mary in Cleveland) was appointed in 1955. It was believed by both parish and Episcopate that he could restore Sts. Peter & Paul to good order and discipline. Father John & Preoteasa Elena had been political refugees and well acquainted with hardship and tensions. Immediately upon arrival they had to face yet a few disrespectful parishioners who were still fighting the causes for which Frs. Morariu and Moga had miserably failed the community.
The next twenty-five years saw great progress. Fr. John’s calm, but determined approach to problems and his organizational skills were evident in the progress made from the beginning of his ministry in Dearborn. The parish was literally re-organized, dissenters were marginalized, debts were paid out, a Mothers Club was formed, the youth were regrouped in 1958 as a chapter of The American Romanian Orthodox Youth – the national youth auxiliary of The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America – and, most importantly, the parish voted in 1957 to return to the fold of the ROEA. A sign of this “homecoming” was when Bishop Valerian (Trifa), the Vicar and successor to Bishop Policarp, was invited to consecrate their church on May 27, 1957, seventeen years after it had been built.
The parish continued to grow steadily throughout the 1960’s under the capable leadership of Father and Preoteasa Surducan, and the need for larger and more efficient facilities became felt, as did the decline of the surrounding neighborhood. Few parishioners were still around the church; they were buying or building homes in the suburbs. It was time to move out. Understandably, the older members had mixed feelings about relocating their church. The thought of building another church aroused old fears of debt and repossession.
Fr. John had no intention of letting his parishioners down. After much shopping around, land was finally purchased (2.75 acres) in Dearborn Heights in 1970 for $50,000, and a building committee was formed. Generous donations began to come in, encouraging Fr. John and his committee to move ahead with confidence. A budget of $500,000 was approved at General Assembly held in December, 1970, for the construction of a new church. Plans were developed by the firm of Architects and Planners, Inc. of Southfield, Michigan, with architect John Turmala in charge of the project. In short time, the plans were approved by the parish priest, council and the Diocese, and bids for construction were accepted. The Johann Pinkert Construction Firm of Birmingham was selected to build the new church at a cost of $524,000.
Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on April 15, 1973, but a lack of funds caused the postponement of construction for one year. Loans were asked from the parishioners, and the response was good, but not good enough. Finally, a loan was secured from a local savings and loan company in the amount of $300,000 and construction began in April of 1974. The cornerstone was laid in October, and the dream was rapidly becoming a reality.
The consecration of the new church, hall and classrooms facility took place on Sunday, May 18, 1975. His Eminence, Archbishop Valerian was assisted by fifteen priests and two deacons. Some items were brought over from the old church (icon screen, candle stands, baptismal font, etc.) and much was bought and donated by parishioners. The consecration booklet listed all special donations, both items and monies, with deepest appreciation. The honor of “Naşi” (or Godparents) of the consecration went to Dr. & Mrs. George & Veronica Daraban and Titus & Gigi Techera.
The new facility was used to its fullest potential. Father and Preoteasa Surducan saw to it that as many people as possible were involved in the fundraising activities. Of course, this necessitated their constant vigilance and hard work to see that everything went well, so that the mortgage payments were made on time.
A weekly Bingo was instituted and a catering committee was formed to rent out the spacious hall to help cover those pesky monthly payments of more than $1,700. In 1975, Fr. John saw the need for a Men’s Club to help assist him and the council by providing help when needed and “to bring forth a closer relationship with the parishioners by promoting social activities,” as stated in the Club’s By-laws. Fr. John knew that now he needed the organized help of the men as well as the women.
In 1979, Leonte Copacia, who had served as choir director for several years, was ordained into the Holy Diaconate for the parish by Archbishop Valerian and remained in the community until 1982.
Also, in 1979, the parish invested in a parish house near the new church.
Seeing the need for continued vigorous activity, and realizing their own need for peace and rest, Father and Preoteasa Surducan retired in January, 1980, after twenty-five years of devoted service to the Dearborn parish. Preoteasa Elena fell asleep in the Lord in January, 1997, and Father John continues to enjoy his children and grandchildren as well as attend services in his beloved church as his health allows.
On January 1, 1980, Fr. Romey Rosco was appointed parish priest by His Eminence, Archbishop Valerian and, together with Preoteasa Mary Ellen, continues to this day. His pastorate has been one of relative calm and cooperation among parishioners. Fr. Romey is one of the few clergymen in the Diocese who are American-born, raised and educated.
November 16, 1980, was a memorable day when Metropolitan Theodosius, Primate of The Orthodox Church in America, together with Archbishop Valerian and guest hierarchs, met with clergy and diocesan faithful at Sts. Peter & Paul Church for the first hierarchal Divine Liturgy celebrated by the newly-consecrated Nathaniel (Popp), Bishop of Dearborn Heights and Auxiliary Bishop of The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America. The community had the privilege of being the auxiliary cathedral of the Diocese until November 17, 1984, when His Grace became the ruling hierarch, following the retirement of Archbishop Valerian of thrice-blessed memory.
On October 2, 1983, the parish’s 54th anniversary banquet was particularly memorable for the joy of burning the original mortgage on the new church property. The honor of burning the mortgage was given to Father John Surducan in the presence of all who worked so hard to see that day. It took nine years of prayer and fundraising.
Also in 1983, Fr. Romey and the parish council sought iconographers to beautify the church interior. At the time the church was built, it was thought that stained glass windows and a few icon panels on the walls might lend enough beauty to the cement block interior, and that the icon screen from the old church would be adequate until the mortgage could be paid off. Now that the time had come, Rudolph Rohn Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was selected from a number of proposals. The old icon screen (Seceni’s creation) was given to the newly-formed Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan, where it stands in the chapel to this day. Services had to be held in the social hall for several months, as the church was filled with ladders and scaffolds until the project was completed.
It was blessed by His Grace, Bishop Nathaniel on Sunday, October 5, 1986. Everyone was pleased with the delicate, yet imposing, appearance of the Sicilian marble icon screen and wainscot around the church interior, greatly complementing the beautiful life-size icons surrounding the congregation, depicting miracles performed by Christ and the feast day icons in the spacious dome, encircling Jesus Christ “Pantocrator” (“The One Who holds all things”).
A beautiful Bishop’s Throne was hand-carved by parishioner Paul Petroi, new candle stands were designed, and the old baptismal font (originally donated by the Mothers Club) was enlarged and refurbished.
Although a mortgage was not needed to pay out this project (Andrew Peru, then council president, donated more than $85,000 for the icon screen), Fr. Romey did convince the parish council and general assembly in January, 1985, to apply for a second mortgage ($60,000), this time to renovate the classrooms – enlarging the four existing rooms and adding three more – to accommodate the more than seventy Sunday School students. His Grace, Bishop Nathaniel blessed the new classrooms on September 15, 1985. Again Mr. & Mrs. Peru came to the parish’s aid with a generous donation of more than $15,000. Upon his death in 1988, a plaque was dedicated to Andrew’s memory for his “vision and efforts for our church and young people.”
In 1989, the church’s appearance was made complete with a brick-arched covered entrance and permanent handicap ramp incorporated into the structure. This cost another $54,000 and was paid entirely by parishioner donations, together with money raised by the catering and bingo committees.
In 1988, a “Refugees Relief Fund” was approved for the purpose of helping refugees from Romania. After the Romanian “revolution” of 1989, this was renamed the “Assistance and Relief Fund” and used to help all new arrivals from Romania, no longer refugees from an atheistic dictatorship, but immigrants seeking a better life in America, much like the original founders of the parish. It was important that all “newcomers” were met with open arms and a sincere desire to be of help. The Assistance and Relief Fund was stretched beyond its budgeted limits, in those years, paying someone’s first month’s rent or for another’s first bed or table in the New World. Many grateful parishioners today remember the helping hand they received from this parish that loved them at first sight.
The years after the revolution in Romania were invigorating for the parish, as new members either replaced or worked alongside the “old-timers” in the kitchen, in the cantors stand, in the choir, the auxiliary groups, the church council and in the pews. Furthermore, it was a challenge for the parish priest, as he succeeded in providing services and sermons in both Romanian and English. That challenge was met with the sincere assistance of those who provided him with translations, as well as those who learned the importance of tolerating the needs of others so that everyone can feel welcome and comfortable as part of the church family.
In recognition of his many dedicated years of service to the Church, Fr. Surducan was elevated to the rank of Archpriest by His Grace, Bishop Nathaniel on June 30, 1991. This was a special day for the entire parish family as Fr. John and Psa. Elena had worked with and for the faithful of this community for 25 years.
In 1997, the Bingo committee “closed shop” after 22 years. This left the catering committee with the task of augmenting parishioner donations for financial support of the church.
To promote cooperation and unity among Orthodox Christians of all nationalities, Sts. Peter & Paul Church has been, and continues to be, an active member and supporter of the Council of Orthodox Christian Churches of Metropolitan Detroit, ever since its founding more than forty years ago. The parish’s clergy and faithful are encouraged to participate in joint-effort projects along with other parishes, such as worship services, retreats, bible study classes and charitable work projects, as well as those same activities provided by our own parish.
As a testament to the level of activity in the Diocese, a number of members have held positions on the diocesan level, and the parish even had the distinction in 1999 and 2000 of being home to the presidents of all three national auxiliary organizations (ARFORA, AROY and The Orthodox Brotherhood USA) at the same time – a distinction never before held by any diocesan parish. Moreover, Preoteasa Mary Ellen has served as Director of Camp Vatra for several decades, also an honor for this parish.
On Sunday, April 2, 2000 (Sunday of the Cross) Deacon David Subu, son of George & Marcia Subu of this parish, was ordained into the Holy Priesthood by His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel during the Hierarchal Divine Liturgy held that day. Fr. David went on to serve Holy Cross Church in Hermitage, Pennsylvania, and The Protection of the Mother of God Church in Falls Church, Virginia.
On Sunday, November 3, 2002, the parish once again became an auxiliary cathedral marked by the first hierarchal Divine Liturgy of the newly-consecrated Irineu (Duvlea), Bishop of Dearborn Heights and Auxiliary Bishop of The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America. In attendance were His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel and more than twenty priests, six deacons, subdeacons and numerous dignitaries from Romania, and the visiting “Teofania” choir of theological students from Sibiu.
On December 21, 2003, Horaţiu Cristian Balanean, one of the parish’s cantors who studied theology in Romania, was ordained into the Holy Diaconate by His Grace, Bishop Irineu and assigned to the parish. On September, 9, 2007, he was then ordained into the Holy Priesthood by His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel, and continues to serve the parish faithfully as assistant priest.
Other clergy who had spent time as parishioners active in the life of our parish and went on to serve the Church were Rev. Fr. Mircea Vasiu (parish priest of St. Mary Romanian Orthodox Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota), who was ordained into the Holy Priesthood here on November 8, 2009, and Rev. Fr. Dan Hoarste (Vicar of Canada for The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America), who was ordained into the Holy Priesthood here on December 23, 2012.
Also, attached to the parish in the 1990’s and 2000’s was Rev. Fr. Alexandru Partioc (retired) who participated in the services regularly and provided occasional assistance.
In response to the generous offer of parishioner Viola Pirvu, a beautiful granite cross monument (troiţa) was installed in front of the church. Designed by Tom Rosco, it stands 8 feet tall and bears an engraved icon of the patrons of the parish, Sts. Peter & Paul, holding this church in their hands. Viola donated the entire cost of the monument in memory of the deceased members of her family. It was blessed by His Grace, Bishop Irineu on Sunday, June 27, 2004, in conjunction with the parish’s Patron Feast (Hram) celebration.
No parish history can ignore the constant dedication of choir singers, Sunday School teachers, cantors, cooks, ushers, auxiliary officers and committee members. Indeed, they all serve, and deserve to be praised for their efforts. They do more than just keep the church going. They make it great, a pleasure to visit, a joy to be part of!
The parish’s role in the Diocese has been re-affirmed. The past is remembered, never to be relived but, rather, appreciated for the lessons learned and the fine examples of those who served her well.
The Dearborn Romanian community has come a long way from the shadow of the Ford Motor Company. Today’s parishioners are not only assembly-line workers, but also engineers, doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, and businessmen. They are Romanian and American – and their desire to serve the Lord and His Way remains constant. They are not better than those who have gone before them. They may not even be more religious…..
But from all walks of life, they choose to walk the same path as those who have gone before. God bless them.