Our Church in Wichita
The founders of what would eventually become St George Orthodox Christian Cathedral began arriving in Wichita from the Middle East as early as 1895. Most of them came from the county of Marj'ayoun in south Lebanon (then a part of Ottoman Syria). The spiritual needs of these earliest immigrants were served by visiting missionary priests, most notably Father Nicola Yanney. Divine services and sacraments were celebrated in the homes of the faithful.
Father Nicola, a widowed priest from the village of Fi'eh in north Lebanon, was ordained to the holy priesthood in 1904 by Bishop St. Raphael (Hawaweeny), the head of the "Syro-Arabian Mission" of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America. He was assigned pastor of St George Church in Kearney, Nebraska, and missionary priest for the Midwest: from the Canadian border in the north to the Gulf Coast in the south; from the Rocky Mountains in the west to Ohio in the east. As the Wichita community grew, Father Nicola encouraged the local Orthodox Christians to purchase a building for use as a church temple. He was pleased when negotiations began in early 1918 for the purchase of a vacant white clapboard church building located at 218 South Handley St. Unfortunately, Father Nicola died during the flu epidemic early that same year.
St George Church's first building, located at the northeast corner of Handley and Burton on Wichita's west side, was acquired on April 5, 1918, from the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas for the price of $550. Signing the deed in behalf of St George Church were Jabour Ablah, Shaker Cohlmia and Nemetallah Farha. Though without the services of a resident priest, the community worked diligently to prepare the building for Orthodox worship in time for the celebration of Pascha on May 5, 1918. Visiting priests, including Father Shakrallah Shadid from St Elijah Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, continued to minister to Wichita's Orthodox Christian community through 1921. On October 20 of that year, the community elected a twelve-man Board of Directors (Jacob Bayouth, Shaker L. Cohlmia, Beshara David, Abraham Farha, Albert Farha, Aziz Farha, Nemetallah Farha, Mike Jabara, William Jabara, Albert Razook, Abe Swyden and Joe Wolf) and was formally incorporated as "St George Syrian Greek-Orthodox Catholic Society of Wichita." The St George Society then petitioned for and it received its first resident priest, Father Elias El-Khouri, who served the community until 1925.
Upon the departure of Father Elias, St George Church was again without a resident priest. During that difficult period, the spiritual needs of the community were again served by Father Shakrallah of Oklahoma City. In 1933, Bishop Emmanuel (Abo-Hatab), successor to St. Raphael who (d.1915), visited the city, ordained Wichita resident Father George Cohlmia to the priesthood and assigned him as the second resident priest of St George Church. In preparation for Bishop Emmanuel's visit, Samaan Ayesh presented St George with its first church bell. This bell is now in the north tower of the Cathedral.
During Father George's pastorate the St George Society was reincorporated on June 6, 1941, as "St George Syrian Orthodox Church" and a thirteen-man Board of Directors was elected (Adeeb Andeel, Ellis Bayouth, George S. Cohlmia, Lee Cohlmia, Eid Elkouri, Bahij F. Farha, Naseem Farha, N.F. Farha, William F. Farha, Ralph Jabara, Thomas Laham, B.E. Samara, and Harry Taylor). Father George served our parish until his death on December 1, 1947 - the very day that construction bids were opened for the parish's new church temple and fellowship hall. Following his death, the parish was served for a brief time by Father Athanasios Rihbani of Boston, Massachusetts.
In early 1948 the foundation for the new $80,000 parish facilities, located at 210 South Walnut (southeast corner of Walnut and Texas) was blessed by Metropolitan Antony (Bashir) of the Syrian Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, and in the summer of that same year, Father Antony Woolf of Niagara Falls New York was assigned as our parish's third resident priest. Father Antony served the first Divine Liturgy in the new hall on South Walnut on Christmas, December 25, 1948, and the first Divine Liturgy in the new St George Church on South Walnut the following Pascha, April 24, 1949. Father Antony departed Wichita in mid-1949.
For several months in 1949-50, St George church was served by Father Thomas Skaff until Father John Matthiesen was assigned as the parish's fourth resident priest. Father John served from 1950 until 1963. He was succeeded by Father Theodore Ziton (1963-66); Father Karlo (now Bishop Mark) Forsberg (1967), during whose pastorate Metropolitan Philip (Saliba) of the Antiochian (formerly Syrian) Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of New York and dedicated the new educational building; Father Elias Armistead (1967-68); Father Paul Nemr (1968-77) assisted by Father John Matthiesen (1974-75); Father Anthony Scott (1977-87), during whose pastorate the parish began discussions concerning new parish facilities, assisted by Deacon Peter Leigh and Deacon Christopher Howley; Father Basil (now Bishop Basil) Essey (1987 until his consecration to the episcopacy on May 31, 1992), during whose pastorate the community built its new church temple and fellowship hall on East 13th Street, assisted by Father Andre Issa (1992-93); and Father Paul O'Callaghan (1993 to the present), during whose pastorate the community expanded its fellowship hall, built the educational wing and completed the Chapel of the Unmercenary Healers, assisted by Father Stephen Ziton (1994-96), Father Paul Hodge (1997-2000), Father James Shadid (2000-2011) and Father Matthew Snowden (2011-15). Since his retirement from full-time parish ministry in 1998, Father Constantine ('Dean') Dimas, a priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, assists at the Cathedral.
Metropolitan Philip broke and blessed the ground for the new church temple at 7515 East 13th Street on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women, May 14, 1989. The last divine service in the Walnut Street Church was the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St Basil the Great on the morning of December 24, 1990. The first divine services in the East 13th Street church were celebrated at midnight for the Nativity of Christ on December 25, 1990. Metropolitan Philip returned to Wichita to consecrate the 13th Street church on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women, April 21, 1991, and at that time declared it the Cathedral for the Southwest Region. With the formal establishment of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America on December 15, 2004, St. George became the Cathedral of the Diocese of Mid-America and the seat of the Bishop of Wichita. Bishop Basil was enthroned then as the first bishop of the Diocese of Wichita.