Our Parish History
On the 10th of May, 1903, twenty two men sat down in a home on Elm Street in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and after serious discussion, solemnly pledged to take upon themselves: “Whatever may be necessary to bring [our community] back to goodness, spiritual and moral success. Receiving help from God the Most High to assume this heavy burden which we have taken upon ourselves voluntarily.” Immediately they set about electing officers and within a week had secured a place of worship, which they began to renovate, furnish and decorate. When Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny was elected in February of 1904, the parish immediately associated themselves with him, and Father Mousa Abou-Hyder was confirmed as the first pastor. In 1906 a building fund was established to provide a larger, more fitting place of worship; and in 1912 a building was purchased at 302 Elm Street, one block from the original place of worship and entirely rebuilt to serve as a Church. In the same year Father Elia Freije was appointed as the second pastor of the parish. After the death of Bishop, now Saint Raphael, St. George parish, like so many in America at the time, was pulled between Archbishop Aftimios Ofeish and Bishop Germanos Shahady. Yet unlike many other communities, this community did not split into two parishes. They assumed a neutral stance between competing authorities until the election of Metropolitan Anthony Bashir in 1934. During those years the parish grew in size and complexity, yet was often without the services of a priest. In 1938 the parish had been without a pastor for several years. Five young men, some of them still in their teens, took upon themselves to find a pastor and reorganize the parish. These included Ralph Richards (the youngest) and Charlie Hyder.
Fr. Edward Hughes gives the following account:
"Ralph had been at a Sunday outing up near Haverhill at the Hyder farm. (They were related to him) He decided to complain to one of the older Hyders about the fact that the Church was closed at the time. Fr. Hatem had left and another priest had not been secured. Ralph pointed out that the other communities such as Norwood and Boston had full time priests and were open on Sundays. He said that it was a shame on the older generation who obviously did not care about the younger people. All of this would have been pretty shocking to the older generation who were not used to younger people challenging them ever. The mister Hyder to whom he had been speaking told him that he surely could not do any better than they had. He said that Ralph wouldn't know what to do if he fell over a priest on the street. Ralph said "Try me!". Mr. Hyder pointed out that there was a priest right over there in Ipswich who had been ordained at St. George, and who was not serving a parish. That week, Ralph organized the trip over to Ipswich with the other four. Ralph organized it because he was the only one with the use of his father's car. They met with Fr. Johnson several times over that winter. He did not take them seriously when they requested his services as their pastor. They were, after all, only teenagers. He told them that he would be away for the summer, and that he would enjoy seeing them when he got back in the fall. (see his obituary to see that he was part of the Harvard archeological expeditions which took place in the summers) That fall, when he was back, the boys again went to visit him in Ipswich. By now they were feeling frustrated with the lack of progress. Ralph asked him outright "Why don't you have a parish?" Fr. Johnson answered, "Because God hasn't called me to one." There was silence for a long space until Fr. Johnson said, "OK. Maybe this is God's calling. But it has to be done through the Metropolitan." He agreed to contact Metropolitan Antony Bashir about the issue. The Metropolitan responded: "If you want to take that parish, you can have it." And so Fr. Kyrill Johnson became the pastor in the fall of 1938."
Through their efforts Fr. Kyrill Johnson was appointed pastor, the parish was reorganized and has not been without a pastor since. Fr. Kyrill was also most influential in forming the Federation of Syrian Orthodox Clubs, the direct predecessor of SOYO, and advised Metropolitan Anthony on the organization of the Archdiocese. Under his guidance the present Church building in Lawrence was purchased in 1945 and remodeled. In 1947, after 9 years of service to St. George, and at the age of 50, Fr. Kyrill passed away leaving a much stronger parish than the one he came to in 1938. Since his death the parish has continued to grow and prosper. A rectory was purchased in 1958. The lot next door to the Church was acquired in 1965, and the Sunday School addition built in 1969.
The faithful of St. George Church in Lawrence make regular trips to Fr. Johnson's grave in Ipswich where they say the Memorial Trisagion as a way of remembering his dedication to our community. You can read more about Fr. Johnson here.