The history of the founding of St Mary’s Holy Dormition Church is not only a history of time and place, but also the people and descendants of those people who still today worship, work, and live the same as their ancestors who came here from Europe in the last part of the 19th century. Most of the faithful immigrated to this country from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Russia during the great age of immigration from 1880 to 1917. Many of them found themselves in Pennsylvania in the coal mines, and later found themselves migrating even further west to Colorado, to work in the steel mills in Pueblo, CO. In the last decade of the 19th century, the homestead act was passed, which gave these immigrants an opportunity to own their own land and to make their own way.
What they brought with them was not only a willingness to work the land, and the ability to make it prosper, but they also brought with them a vision of what their life could be and how good this land could be for them. The one thing that they brought with them that was always a part of them and could never be taken away was their faith. Their faith expressed itself in the Holy Orthodox Church. There was never a time when those who came here in the 1890’s, even when there was not a church or priest, forgot that they were Orthodox. They struggled and worked not only to build their ranches and farms, but to build a deep spiritual life that fed them as they fed our nation.
At the beginning of the 20th century it was clear that they needed to build a church and to have a priest. For a few years circuit priests from Denver had taken care of the needs of the faithful. Many of them knew that in 1903 Archbishop TIKHON had been in Pueblo and founded the church there. Archbishop TIKHON had done this while on his way to a visit to New York, during a time when the chancery was moving from San Francisco to New York City, where it is today in Syosset, NY.
Many from Calhan were present in 1903 when the consecration took place in Pueblo. This instilled in the faithful a hope that they could one day have the Archbishop come to Calhan and found the church for them. Their prayers were answered in 1905 when Archbishop TIKHON came to Calhan, turned the dirt, and blessed the ground that would become St Mary’s Holy Dormition Orthodox Church. It was also the beginning of a struggle and sometimes hardship for both this tiny church, the faithful who founded it, and the Archbishop who blessed it. This beautiful little church on a high hill would come to represent a microcosm of Orthodoxy in this country, and a struggle to maintain its identity in a land that often rejects what the faith has to offer.
At the same time, there was great turmoil in Europe that would affect all of Orthodoxy in this country. Archbishop TIKHON was recalled from Moscow to take up another episcopal see in Russia. In 1917 on the eve of the Bolshivek Revolution, Archbishop TIKHON was elected Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia. It became difficult for the faithful of Holy Dormition to get a priest, especially from 1918 until the early 1930s. Usually someone from the parish would write to the Metropolitan in New York and ask for a priest to be sent. Sometimes this took not only many months, but occasionally could take years.
Even though the faithful were occasionally without a priest, they would still gather every Sunday and have reader’s services, and have fellowship with each other. During this period of great strife in Russia, there were often problems in Calhan with Uniat and Living Church priests. The Church in Ramah dedicated to the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos was founded in the early 1930’s, and served the community in Ramah for many years. There was an unfortunate fire in the late 20’s which burned down the original church on the hill, which Archbishop TIKHON had founded. It was decided at the time to build a new church at the bottom of the hill, which is the present site of Holy Dormition. The church on the hill was later rebuilt but fell into disuse rather rapidly and was used mainly for a Russian School and later for storage.
In the summer of 1995, at the parish’s 90th Anniversary, His Beatitude, Metropolitan THEODOSIUS and His Grace, Bishop TIKHON rededicated the church on the hill as a chapel dedicated to St Tikhon.
St Mary’s had a succession of priests, many finding it difficult to deal with the isolation, and sometimes loneliness of being on the prairie. Many of the early priests could not drive and were unable to go much beyond their own rectory. This changed in 1956, with the assignment of a permanent priest. It was during this time that several things changed significantly within the life of the parish—the introduction of English language Liturgies, the establishing of a regular Sunday School program and adult education. There was also the advent of the Rose Marie Club, which is the ladies auxiliary of St Mary’s parish, which has reached out and become a charitable arm of the Church, taking care of the needs of those less fortunate. They did this by baking, quilting, sewing, crocheting, knitting, embroidering, and serving dinners to raise funds to do God’s work, which they continue to do. Today they reach out especially in helping to defray the costs of those men who study for the Holy Priesthood.
The parish of Holy Dormition and the Rocky Mountain Deanery will continue to endeavor to bring a wide variety of spiritual and educational events to the faithful. Holy Dormition will continue as it has in the past to be a witness for Orthodoxy in Eastern Colorado. Each of the varying ministries and organizations within the church have committed themselves to excellence in not only bringing the faith to those who are without a church, but also reaching out into the community with charitable works.
Today, the faithful of Holy Dormition are a constant witness of what Orthodoxy can be, not only in a small community, but in any community. The faithful know that God’s prayers and blessings on St Mary’s will continue to be able to make a significant contribution to the health and welfare of its community, and at the same time fulfill the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in helping those who are in need of help while growing spiritually by this effort. Holy Dormition in the last few years has experienced a rebirth and a new growth.