Church set to place ornate domes TOPPING IT OFF

November 14, 1990|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Evening Sun Staff

Finally, the domes are about to go up at St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church.

With the help of a professional crane company, a volunteer crew from the parish is expected this week to begin placing four copper-plated, onion-shaped domes atop the church in the 2400 block of Eastern Avenue.

According to the Rev. George Markewycz -- the pastor known as "Father George" to his charges -- each dome weighs seven tons and is 45 feet high and 22 feet in diameter.

The domes have been sitting in front of the church for about a year. But even before being raised on high, where their copper covers should dazzle against the backdrop of the sky's blue, the domes make for an astonishing sight.

They astonish at street level because they are so close and so big. Walking past, someone not familiar with the onion domes of Eastern Rite churches might think that a fleet of alien space ships had touched down near Patterson Park or that the Jolly Green Giant's kids had left their toys lying around.

In recent weeks, Markewycz and his volunteers have been assembling the domes, calling out instructions and questions to each other in Ukrainian as they work. The wooden domes, constructed by a company in Virginia Beach, Va., were wrapped with copper and then bolted together by the workers. A gilded cross provides the crowning touch to each dome.

The workers use ladders to reach the highest sections and crawl through small hatches at the bottom of the domes to get into the hollow interiors.

Peter Wernyj, one of three parishioners helping to piece together the domes yesterday, said, "It's tough work, but it's not so tough if you know what you're doing." He paused for effect, laughed and added, "Don't worry, we know what we're doing."

Wernyj was joined yesterday by Stephan Iwaszko and Teofil Popowych, two other parish members.

Markewycz, the pastor since 1982, said he caught a cold while working at the top of a dome one blustery day last week.

"I was wearing a short-sleeved sweat shirt at the time, and so now I've got this nice cold that I still can't shake," he said yesterday. "I guess I was too excited about the job to think about wearing anything warmer."

A fifth and larger dome, measuring 57 feet high and 38 feet in diameter, eventually will be placed at the center of the church's roof. Markewycz estimates that the distance from the church floor to the tip of the central dome will be about 110 feet.

The church itself is still under construction and probably won't vTC be ready for services until late December, the pastor said. First, workers will have to sweep the place out, apply coats of cream-colored paint ("for a warm feeling," said Markewycz) and set up temporary seats. Pews will be installed later.

The original St. Michael's structure, in the 500 block of S. Wolfe St., was opened nearly 80 years ago. Parishioners have wanted to build a new church since the mid-1960s, but they started making plans and raising funds only five years ago.

Markewycz estimates that the price tag for the new church, the domes and the parish center, which opened two years ago next door to the church and has served as a place of worship, will be about $3 million. Contributions of money, labor and materials by members and friends of the parish, fund-raising events, a loan and the profits from the 1988 sale of the Wolfe Street structure have helped defray the costs of the project.

The new church will seat about 260 people, or twice what the old church held. Ukrainian Catholics follow the practices of the Eastern, or Byzantine, Rite. Unlike Eastern Orthodox believers, Ukrainian Catholics pledge loyalty to the pope in Rome.

"Though it's made with modern technology, our new church has an old-style, classical design," said Markewycz. The many arches in the architecture "are meant to sweep you up to God the father. This should be a place for a happy encounter with God. You're supposed to leave your mundane existence when you enter a place like this."

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