Our History

We begin our history with the Mission Statement of St. Mary 2000, Catch the Vision:

St. MaryThe Orthodox Christian Church is the presence of the Kingdom of God here on earth. St. Mary Church of Wichita, representing the Church in its fullest form, allows its members to experience the Kingdom through the Sacraments, worship, prayer, and acts of charity, so that they might be in union with God each day of their lives. Each parishioner of St. Mary is a witness to the Kingdom so that by his/her faith, others too may realize the Glory of God through Orthodoxy.

In 1989, St. Mary Orthodox Christian Church gave birth to a vision:

That the people of St. Mary truly become the family of God and that each member walk in the path of righteousness led by our Savior Jesus Christ.

To accomplish this vision, three spiritual objectives were identified:

  • Intensify spiritual discipline through regular worship, devotion and education.
  • Heighten commitment to serve God through increased stewardship of time, energy and finances.
  • Develop a fervored spirit of Christian fellowship and outreach through regular social, educational and charitable activities.

Our Heritage

Since 1932, St. Mary Orthodox Christian Church has been a vibrant witness to the Kingdom of God in Wichita, Kansas. It all began back in the early 1900s, when there was a large migration from Lebanon because of the turmoil and continual religious wars in that land. Our parents were part of that group seeking not only freedom to worship in their Orthodox Faith, but also a better life for their families. In 1918, N.J. Farha and Dave Stevens founded St. George Orthodox Church, and donated money to purchase a small home at 210 S. Handley St., where services began. In the 20s and 30s, the population in the church was growing, and it soon became apparent that another church would be needed.

Church On May 22, 1932, the first men's club of St. Mary's was organized, and they began to bring their desires to life. They bought a house at 344 S. Martinson St. in west Wichita, since many of the families lived in this area, and worked hard at gathering support to ultimately build a church and better themselves in their business and spiritual life. In the beginning, much help and financial support also came from the Ladies' Auxiliary and their annual Lebanese dinners.

St. Mary Orthodox Church was founded in 1932 as a parish within the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Our Archdiocese is part of the Patriarchate of Antioch, which was founded by the Apostles Peter and Paul. (Antioch was also one of the 5 original patriarchal sees - Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, & Jerusalem - of the early Church.) This lineage is an important part of the ethos of St. Mary parish, because as we know from Scripture, "in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians" (Acts 11:26).

The Founders

The state of Kansas chartered St. Mary's American-Syrian Orthodox Church on July 20, 1932 (the Feast of St. Elias/Elijah). Frank Ferris was president of the charter organization. The other officers were Sam Kallail (vice-president), E.G. Stevens (treasurer), Thomas Laham (secretary), S.M. Stevens (custodian), Joe Namee (Sunday School superintendent), and Joseph Kallail (warden). Fr. Bahhah was the first priest. The original church was located behind the present church building, in a house near the current alley, and was consecrated (or simply dedicated) the following year in 1933.

The following is a translation of an early document of the church written in Arabic from two years later:

The officers and members of the society of St. Mary's American-Syrian Orthodox Church for 1935 are as follows: F.G. Stevens, president; Joseph S. Namee, vice president; Thomas Laham, secretary; and E.G. Stevens, treasurer. [Other members are] Mike Solomon, Ellis Kallail, Joseph Kallail, Frank Ferris, Esa Laham, Frank Risk, N. Shadid, Frank Solomon, Abe Addis, Wakeen Wehby, Eli N. Laham, A.B. Laham, S.M. Stevens, M. Tanous, and Tom Solomon. The members of the trustee and building committee are: Sam Kallail, chairman; Easa Laham, N. Shadid, E.G. Stevens, and Thomas Laham.

Many of these original families of St. Mary came from the towns of Mahaithi and Ain Arab, in Lebanon.

The Cornerstone

The present structure was built in 1936, with the cornerstone of the church being laid on December 8, 1935. A container within the cornerstone holds the names of the charter members of St. Mary, a copy of the day's Wichita Eagle, a copy of a New York Syrian newspaper, and other artifacts.

The following is what was written about the consecration in 1936:

IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, THE SON AND THE HOLY GHOST This church was established for the worship of God and to glorify His name, and dedicated to the name of St. Mary, during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, and Alf M. Landon, governor of the state of Kansas; also during the administration of His Beatitude Alexandros III, patriarch of Antioch and all the east, whose office is in Damascus, Syria; by authority of His Grace Theodosius, metropolitan of Tyre and Sidon, Syria, and by consent of the Right Reverend Anthony Bashir special legate of His Beatitude for the diocese of all North America. The laying of this church cornerstone took place on the 8th day of December in the year of our Lord, 1935, with full ceremonial, the Reverend M.M. Yanney, of Sioux City, Iowa officiating. The papers included herein consist of the roster of members of the congregation, the contributors, this day's edition of the Wichita Eagle, Wichita Beacon, and other objects.

The Early Years

From 1932 to 1938, our church was served by various priests at various times. They were Fathers Bahhah, Michael M. Yanney, Agapios Gholam, Methodius Shalhoub, Andrew Nasser, George Trad, Nicholas Nahas, and Gerasimos Yared.

During the years of 1938 and 1945, our spiritual leader was the V. Rev. Father Nicholas Husson. It was he who started our first choir and helped them sing the church songs in the Arabic language.

Church Then, V. Rev. Father Basilios Mahfouz came to St. Mary from 1947-1950. In 1946, the Young People's Club (YPC) was formed, and took part in and promoted many activities, such as plays, carnivals, picnics, sports programs, raffles and parties, and helped to reestablish the Sunday School. The YPC also began to publish a newsletter called the Orthodox Crusader, edited by Ernest Namee. Other newsletters that followed through the years were: The Trumpet, by Father Michael Husson, St. Mary's Scroll by Tom Laham, St. Mary's Monthly News by Linda Ferris, and The Scroll by Jana Laham.

As we moved into the 50s, the V. Rev. Father Michael Husson became our priest, and served us from July, 1950 until September, 1958. In 1950, we held our first Maharajan (when the people come from all over and gather together for Arabic food, fellowship, and dancing) with Archbishop SAMUEL (David) present. It was in 1953 that we received the beautiful new stained glass windows from Czechoslovakia, which took two years to obtain. They replaced the original plain windows in the church.

The Consecration and Beyond

Our present church building was consecrated by Metropolitan SAMUEL, Archbishop of Toledo, Ohio, in 1956 after it was completely free from debt. He was assisted by the Rt. Rev. Ananias Kassab, the Vicar General of the Toledo Archdiocese, our pastor Father Michael Husson, and other visiting clergy.

Because priests were hard to come by at times, we often had help from others cities, such as the Rt. Rev. Father Michael Howard from Toledo during 1958 & 1959. In January of 1959, the Rt. Rev. Basilios Saffi served our community, until the Rev. Father George Lambros came to Wichita to be our priest from February, 1959 until May, 1962. Father George's wife, Khouriya Mary, was quite dedicated with our Sunday School, and helped to raise our attendance to a new level. It was in 1960 that the YPC was reorganized and called the Teen Club, and in 1961, the ever-active Belles of St. Mary came into being, gradually relieving the Ladies' Auxiliary of the great efforts they made through the years.

During the years of 1962 and 1963, St. Mary Orthodox Church was served by the Rt. Rev. Father Anthony (Antoun) Malik, Father Nicholas Nahas (again), and Rev. Father George David.

ChurchBy 1963, enough money was pledged to pay for a new hall and kitchen, which was badly needed. In May of 1963, the Rev. Michael Father Hadad came to serve us until July of 1966, with Father George David helping to finish out the month of July. The Rev. Father Nicodeme Joseph then came in August, 1966 and served until April, 1967

From this time on, though, as priests became more available, those assigned to us would come to stay for more than simply a few years. During the next two decades, our pastors were the V. Rev. Father John Essa from May, 1967 until February, 1972, the V. Rev. Father Anthony Sabbagh from 1972 to 1979, and the V. Rev. Father Jason DelVitto from 1979 to 1984 (the usual transfer of priests now taking place in the summer).

In 1980, at the time of Father Jason, the interior of the sanctuary was completely renovated, including a new iconostasis (the icon stand in the front of the church) and icons, as well as the icon of the Pantocrator (all-ruling Christ) on the ceiling, and a new altar. Metropolitan PHILIP, came in May of 1982 for the consecration of the new altar, and the celebration of our 50th anniversary, at which time the charter members of the parish were recognized.

Our next pastor was the V. Rev. Peter Leigh who served from 1984 until 1996. During the late 1980's, icons of the twelve apostles were added to the arch above the altar, and in 1989 we began our St. Mary 2000 Building Program and Spiritual Revitalization with the establishing of the Long Range Planning Committee. In January, 1993, we bought the property across the street from the church (the Abdayem house), as well as the house beside it in March, 1994. The new parking lot was completed there by September that year, with one of our founding members, Sam Laham, cutting the ribbon at the dedication.

Then, from 1996 to 2001, the Rev. Father Stephen T. Ziton came to us after assisting the community at St. George Cathedral. One year after his arrival, we purchased the property next to the church, and had the groundbreaking ceremony on December 13, 1998 (the Feast of the Repose of St. Herman of Alaska). Construction of the new offices and Sunday School rooms began in February, 1999, and were completed with the hall and church renovations by December, for the Dedication ceremony in January, 2000!

After Fr. Ziton's departure, St Mary was served for a short time by Christopher Holwey from 2001 through 2003. From 2003 to 2004, St Mary had an interim pastor, the Rev. Father John Mefrige. In 2004 the Rev. Father Peter Smith arrived and served as our pastor until late 2009. During Father Peter's tenure St Mary saw an influx of new converts to the faith. Most of these converts came from traditional American Christian churches and decided to join our church because of our connection with the ancient Christian faith of the Apostles. They found in St Mary a church that is both relevant to modern society and culture, yet grounded in the ancient beliefs and practices of early Christianity.

When Fr. Peter Smith was commissioned to continue his missionary work in Dripping Springs, TX (a suburb of Austin), St Mary received its current pastor, the Rev. Father Aaron Warwick. You may read more about Fr. Aaron on our Clergy page. Since Fr. Aaron's arrival, St Mary has dedicated itself to continuing the development of both the spiritual and familial atmosphere that makes it unique among Wichita-area churches. Currently, our church offers many weekday worship opportunities, social and fellowship activities, and has increased its mission to serve Christ through serving the physically and spiritually poor through local and international humanitarian activities and mission trips. We invite you to join us in this work on behalf of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Our Growth

Since our beginning in 1932, after a group of men formed a club to start a new church, and the ladies helped to support it with their dinners, our church continues to grow. Over 180 members of varying ethnic backgrounds and Orthodox traditions worship at St. Mary. With revitalized and renewed vision, St. Mary is dedicated to spiritual growth, fellowship, outreach, and a modern facility dedicated to the glory of God.

The Challenge

St. Mary Parish is growing! Over the past year, we have experienced a "baby boom" and an influx of converts to and serious inquirers of the Orthodox faith. Currently, we have over 35 teens and children in our parish, and an active youth group. Many individuals and families have joined us in holy Orthodoxy from various backgrounds. They include those who were raised in our parish and have returned to Wichita, those who were raised in the Orthodox Church and moved to Wichita, and those who have converted to the Orthodox Faith from other religious traditions.

With this growth comes excitement and challenges. In addition to the continuance of successful existing programs, a growing and vibrant parish increases the demand for new organizations and activities.

St. Mary Envisions:

  • Growing church school and adult education programs, including periodic retreats and vacation bible schools in the summer months.
  • Growing teen program / youth ministry including retreats, lock-ins, sports activities and educational seminars.
  • Active charity, prison and street ministry.
  • Active mission and outreach program.
  • Study groups and activities for young adults, married couples, singles, college students, etc.
  • Fund raising that brings the parish family together including church dinners, bake sales, food sales, festival, and other similar events that take advantage of our unique talents.

Each week, our church offers us the Divine Services, discussion groups, & Bible studies led by our pastor, Father Aaron Warwick. We serve the community at large through our ongoing Outreach & Humanitarian ministry programs such as the Lord's Diner, our Spring Dinner, and our Food Pantry that is stocked by St. Mary members and serves more than 550 people every year with more than 2,000 pounds of food. We also have many social events for fun and fellowship.

We give thanks to God for all of the priests and laity who have served and given of themselves here at St. Mary, and for the wonderful blessings He has bestowed upon us through the years. With your prayers, in all that we do, may we always be able to glorify the God who has given us Life!

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