From our parishioners and Priests who helped motivate this vision into what is today St. Lazarus Serbian Orthodox Cathedral Ravanica.
The original Ravanica in Serbia was built by the martyr and defender Czar Lazar, several years before the Battle of Kosovo. The relics of Czar Lazar were placed in her in approximately 1397. Three hundred years later, because of the Turkish oppression, they were transferred to the Monastery Vrdnik in Fruska Gora, which was then renamed after the original Ravanica. The third Ravanica was built by our Serbs here in America. Just like her predecessors in our fatherland, it was her duty to gather the Orthodox Serbs around her, to guard them from all evil, and to protect and preserve the Serbian name, brotherly unity and the unity of the Serbian faith and church for which the great Czar Lazar gave his life. After World War 11, the relics of the martyred Czar Lazar were removed from the Ravanica Monastery in Srem and placed to rest in the capital of Belgrade. There, before the altar in the Saborna Church, they now rest. Each Tuesday special services are served before Lazar’s tomb and thousands of the faithful congregate to pray to God, and to recommend themselves for Lazar’s interceding prayers to God, to liberate them from their present oppression – the rule of atheism and communism.
The history of our Ravanica Church here in the United States represents the history of our people in Detroit and its suburbs, for she was the center of their entire spiritual and social life. It would, therefore, be impossible to retrace all events in detail in a limited space. It is our aim to briefly outline some of the more outstanding moments of her existence.
Eighty-five years have passed since the day the organized religious life of the Detroit Serbs actually began. Until then, the Serbs of Detroit, as in many other cities, attended and used the services of our brotherly Russian Church. Christmas Day, January 7,1915, marks the beginning of the history of our church life in Detroit. Rev. Dusan S. Trbuhovich arrived in Detroit as the special missionary of His Grace Bishop Varnava, later, our Serbian Patriarch. His first missionary assignment was Detroit, Michigan, where a new Serbian parish was to be organized with the religious, faithful Serbs. Services were first held in a rented building across the street from our old Ravanica, but by May 20, 1917, property was purchased on which there were three small frame homes. One was remodeled to serve as a church, the second as a school, and the third as the parish residence.
Proto Trbuhovich left Detroit in October of 1918 for a parish in Steelton, Pennsylvania but was recalled to help build the Ravanica Church in 1927.
When Proto Trbuhovich returned, the homes were razed and the building of the first Ravanica Church in Detroit was begun. Due to lack of funds and the Great Depression, work on the church ceased. Those were bleak days, when it appeared the faithful Serbs would lose all they had hoped to achieve.
The Maccabee’s (a Michigan Corporation Mortgages) held a mortgage for $10,480.25 and gave notice that the property would be sold at sheriff’s sale on July 14, 1932, because of default. The Serbs rallied and, united with deep faith and determination, reached an agreement with The Maccabee’s. The women of the parish fervently peddled baked goods door-to-door to raise funds, sponsored teas and held bunco parties in private homes. Personal loans came out of nowhere. The property reverted to the Serbs and work continued. The church was consecrated on June 17, 1934, under the presidency of Jovo Chakara. Church Kumovi were Mateja and Anna Rudelich, and the church school Kum was Dave Muzljakovich. Our church was consecrated by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Mardarije Uskokovich. The leaders of the time included Alexander I of Yugoslavia, His Holiness Patriarch Varnava, His Grace Bishop Mardarije of America and Canada, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Governor William A. Comstock and Mayor Frank Couzens. The architect was Lancelot Sukert.
The iconostas (altar partition), with three rows of oil paintings in gold leaf ornate frames, was imported from Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, as a gift from Udruzene Srpkinje. Other paintings on the walls were the work of Cveta Popovich, Detroit Serbian artist. Udruzene Sestre, from Davison, purchased the altar chandelier and four smaller ones. Credit is also due the Serbian National Hall on Frederick, the Serbian School Hall on Grant, the S.N.F. Lodges Beograd, Bratska Sloga, Bratska Prosveta and Kosovo, whose boards and members exerted a lot of effort and concern, and gave financial aid as well.
The Ravanica Church Choir, directed by John T. Fill, the lsidor Bajich Serbian Church Choir of Akron, Ohio, and the Romanian Church Choir alternated in singing responses during the dedication and services. The Jugoslav Sokols (Falcons) acted as guards of honor inside the church and hall during the all-day celebration. Guest of honor was Radoje Jankovich, author, editor and then the Jugoslav Consul General in New York. Both he and Professor Dr. Mihailo I. Pupin were elected honorary church members at a previous church meeting.
It should be noted that the Serbian Singing Society Ravanica has earned its own recognition in this Serbian colony. They have not only embraced older members in their ranks but have welcomed the youth as well. The Serbian Singing Society Ravanica is not just a part of this colony, but a part of entire American Serbdom. It was the choir that inspired the creation of the Serbian Singing Federation, the preservers of Serbian song on this continent. Detroit served as the original and present national headquarters for the S.S.F.
It was in October of 1934 that the Sisters from Davison merged with a group of women from the immediate church vicinity, taking the name of Serbian Sisters Ravanica and, advised by Proto Trbuhovich, became the women’s church auxiliary group.
The Serbian Orthodox Church Congregation was incorporated and registered with the State of Michigan on September 27, 1932, in Lansing as an ecclesiastical corporation. Signatures appearing on the original document included. Andrew M. Kavaya, John Bayat, J. (Isa) Santovich, Sophie Reed, Vaso Kresojevich, Nicholas Bachevitch, Petar Licina, Stefan Uzelac, Stevan Welemirovich, Jovan Gavrilovich, Mike Glavas, John Jurich, Milan Dilber, Dusan Gvozdenovich, Alex Erdelian, Archie Peyovich, Trifun Pekija, Stanko Cakmak, Steve Milicich, Petar Radelic, Sava Varajon, Petar S. Glushac, Jana Glushac, Rada Gagich and lgnat Nesich.
Father Miodrag D. Mijatovich was elected parish priest without a Concourse and by unanimous vote on June 10, 1943, and served for thirty-three years until his untimely passing on July 11, 1976. With the arrival of every new leader, new ideas, renewed activity and more personal involvement by the members of the parish and congregation became evident. In time, the parish became too large and scattered. Father Mijatovich was instrumental in promoting “branches” in Windsor, Ontario, in 1946; Monroe, Michigan, in the early 1950s and Ecorse, Michigan, in the early 1960s with the assistance of V. Rev. Mateja Matejic. Thanks to God, they all have their own churches and have prospered.
There was an immediate need for a Sunday School, which was readily supervised by Sophie Hornovich and later by Helen lukov, who set up a capable teaching staff. Simultaneously, the Ravanica Mother’s Club was founded with the purpose of sponsoring the children for camp, meeting their expenses for outings, etc. The St. Sava programs began and made us all proud. Later in our church’s life, the children of our newcomers from Yugoslavia enriched the programs with their wonderful deklemaciias in Serbian. Our wealth is in our children!
We were the richest parish in the United States, with an abundance of pojci (cantors). Both pevnicas were full on Sundays and competition was great among them. Still very fresh in the minds of many over the age of fifty is the personage of Cika Milos “Penja” Penich, teacher and pojac. An extremely strict disciplinarian of the old school, he taught Serbian and Sunday school during Prota Trbuhovich’s tenure as priest. He tolerated none of the present day student antics, and if you survived his class, you were truly a survivor! After Prota Trbuhovich’s passing, Cika Milos took on the role of head cantor (pojac) in the church, priding himself on his knowledge of pojanjo and dedication. He was joined in this field of expertise by Jovan (Jocala) Gavrilovich, Cika Rada Gagich, Milan Cikarich, Petar Brkich, Milos Dragich, Dragomir Petrov, Tima Marianuc, LJros Mandich, Marko Golusin and the three dedicated stalwarts remembered by us all – Lazar Lambich, Walter Todorov and Milenko (Laia) Nedeljkovich. With the passing of Mr. Lambich in July of this year, it appears that the era of pojci has come to an end and, for the first time in Ravanica’s history, there is no pojac to sing the responses. They all sang to the Glory of God without compensation for “services rendered”.
The St. Lazar Club of Young Serbs was also organized in the latter 1940s with the foresight of eventually moving out of the area, which had begun to deteriorate. They were instrumental in purchasing a large new tract of land in 1947 at a cost of $28,000, which is the present site of our properties. It was earmarked for a new religious and cultural center to serve the Serbs of greater metropolitan Detroit and vicinity. An additional frontage on Van Dyke north of the existing hall was purchased in 1962 for $50,000.
The birth of our first church bulletin, “The Voice of Ravanica”, was inspired by the St. Lazar Club of Young Serbs and printed on a monthly basis. It was printed in a 5″ x 7″ magazine format. The first copy in January, 1946, shows Father Mijatovich and Ann Papich serving as Serbian and English editors respectively. It was one of the first church magazines in the country at the time and was applauded for its format and informative material. The Serbian Athletic Club, located on Van Dyke near Seven Mile Road, was also inspired by the St. Lazar Club and planned to be a source of revenue for the proposed building.
At this time, namely from 1947 through 1954, our Serbian population swelled by some 350 persons, who arrived after the Allied liberation of the concentration camps where they had been interned as prisoners of World War II. Many of the original pioneers had begun to pass away in the same numbers in which they had immigrated. The newcomers began to fill their ranks. Detroit became their second home and they blended their lives with those of the Detroit Serbs, finding warmth and hospitality.
The land on which our present American Serbian Memorial Hall now stands was consecrated in 1947 by the late Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, and in 1952 the ground-breaking banquet at the Hudson Union Hall on Mack and Connor brought in unbelievable donations totaling $47,000! With the first phase of our proposed building program under way, the League of Serbian Women was organized in October of 1952 to work together toward the goals set by the cultural pattern in conjunction with the Ravanica Church. They packed the hall the first Saturday in November with their unique programs and dinners. The Serbian Women’s Club branched out from the League in February of 1956 doing much the same thing, but with members who lived basically in a closer area of the parish. The Ravanica Mother’s Club focused on their annual fashion shows and the Church pushed its well-known “Cadillac” banquet and Serbian Day Picnic – all to benefit the building fund.
The church schism occurred in November of 1963 and disrupted our entire church life for many years to come. Everyone was saddened and we tried to get on with normal church life. We still pray and hope that one day we will again be one. The Ravanica Men’s Club was organized October 20, 1963, and intended to be a nucleus of a new, young, dynamic force in the Serbian community. They formed the first church ushers, solicited new church members and assumed responsibility for the clean-up of church grounds and premises.
With the work load increasing and momentum building up for the new church, Bishop Firmilian assigned Father Nedeijko Lunich, in April of 1965, to assist Father Mijatovich. At this point we were swamped with a new immigration of “refugees”. These were brother Serbs from Yugoslavia who had sought refuge in Germany, Austria, France and Italy. Under a special Refugee Relief Act, they were sponsored by our churches and individuals, and we here in Detroit resettled over 1,500 individuals and families. This was a colossal job and both priests worked full time to meet their needs making the final preparations for the building of the new Ravanica.
The ground-breaking took place April 11, 1965, with Bishops Firmilian and Stefan officiating along with Fathers Mijatovich and Lunich. The cornerstone was blessed on Vidovdan, June 27,1965, on the grounds which had previously been consecrated by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich. During the entire time of her construction, church services were held in the upper auditorium of our new hall, while the holiday services throughout the week were held in our old Ravanica. The improvised altar on the hall stage was built with the large wood-framed icons of the late Prota Djuro Vuckovich of South Bend, Indiana. He used these same icons in Germany, going from camp to camp on Sunday’s and serving his faithful. They were returned to him later when our church was built.
On the day of the ground-breaking, a seven-foot wooden cross was buried on the site where the altar would eventually stand. All parishioners signed their names on the cross as a symbol of the spiritual contribution each person had put into the building of the church.
Bishop Firmilian assisted by our two priests, Fathers Mijatovich and Lunich, blessed the three bells that soon after were hoisted in the bell tower. Two of the bells were a gift from the Udruzene Srpkinje, and the third was a gift from Bogdan and Djurdjina Ilicin. The blessing took place in November of 1966.
The weekend of November 25 and 26, 1967, marked the day of consecration and the new Ravanica shone in all her splendor as a brilliant ornament in our great city. Three bishops performed the rite of consecration: Their Graces Bishops Firmilian, Sava and Gregory, assisted by 27 priests. It was a great day for her Church President, Rudolph Kordich, Kumovi Mita and Milica Yovanovich and all the Detroit Serbs. The architect was Harold H. Fisher.
In October of 1956, the congregation purchased a parish home on Algonac Street in Detroit for $18,000. It was to serve as temporary housing because, at that time, it was believed that a parish residence would be a part of the building program on Outer Drive. The purchase became necessary when all of our parishioners moved out of the old church area which had deteriorated badly. Six months after the passing of Father Mijatovich, the deed to the parish home property was presented to his widow, Paulina, by the congregation in appreciation of Father’s thirty-three years of service.
In 1968 the Detroit Housing Commission purchased the old Ravanica Church under a condemnation order for a total sum of $120,000, which included dismantling the old iconostas and then reassembling it in the new church. Unknowingly, they chose April 13, 1969, to bulldoze the church, which happened to be Orthodox Easter Sunday. It was a sad day for us to see the “walls come tumbling down” and the many memories brought tears to our eyes.
Father Lunich was assigned to the Indiana Harbor parish and left in May of 1969 to be replaced in December of 1970 by Jaromonah Varnava Minich. Father Varnava stayed on as assistant until 1977.
The blessing of the beautiful marble and mosaic church name plate on the front lawn of the church occurred on October 17, 1971. The plate was a gift of Proka and Lena Olimpich, now both deceased.
On November 26, 1973, we succeeded in burning the mortgage on the church. A fifteen year mortgage was paid off in six years! The contracted work on St. Lazarus was paid on a monthly basis. Whenever we thought we couldn’t make the monthly payment we found a way to overcome the hurdle. First we exhausted our own Building Fund. Next the annual $100 “Cadillac” banquet became a tremendous success when, at its peak, we sold 286 tickets. Many parishioners came forth to help meet a payment by extending their personal loans. Then the Serbian Athletic Club on Van Dyke was sold so that each of these wonderful members could be paid back in full. Finally, memorial donations, sad but true, swelled the fund. It is no wonder then that after six years the mortgage was paid in full!
It is sad to note that after working so diligently helping construct the new Ravanica, Rudolph Kordich had but a short time to take part in its spiritual life., We would like to acknowledge the fact that Rudy held the longest term of office as President of Ravanica Church from 1957-1973. After just having given up the presidency, he passed away.
In the early morning hours of Sunday, July 11, 1976, Ravanica’s faithful were stunned by the news of the untimely and sudden passing of their spiritual leader, Proto Miodrag Mijatovich. Both he and our long-time president, Rudolph Kordich, had worked with their faithful church board to realize their dreams of a new church built to the Glory of God. Once consecrated and paid in full, they both departed this earthly life almost simultaneously, as though to say:
“Na crkvi Ravanici zlatni krsti sjaje, Zaduzbina moga Czara gotova je: Boga molec da ti Gospod duga veka dade, Crkvene kljuce pruza sluga Rade!”
Rev. Bozidar Draskovich, who was serving the Monroe, Michigan, parish at the time, applied for the -vacated position by Concourse and arrived with his family on February 1, 1977. A parish home was purchased on Martin Road in Warren, which they occupied. The transition period was difficult for everyone but Father Draskovich. He immediately reorganized the Friday evening cultural program, cramming the facilities with our youth and their parents. The facilities were crowded with Friday choir rehearsals, tambura classes, Serbian school, history classes, kolo dancing, Junior Choir, etc. A Sunday church bulletin was started and proved beneficial to those who came to worship. Plans began to materialize several years later for a new church school and cultural center, which originally was supposed to be built between the church and the existing hall. After hall catering began in 1977, the premises were inadequate to accommodate all the needs. It was finally decided to build an addition to the existing American Serbian Memorial Hall rather than a separate building, which would have been far more expensive. The building would house the Sunday School rooms, choir room, conference rooms, library, showers for the upstairs gymnasium, restrooms, etc. The project cost nearly one million dollars. The ground-breaking was in July of 1983, and the completed Cultural Center was dedicated on June 10, 1984, with Paul Papich serving as President and Mr. and Mrs. Mike Rogish and sons acting as Kumovi.
In March of 1987 Father Draskovich accepted the pastorate of the San Diego parish. Father Nicholas Ceko, a newly ordained priest, came to us from Steubenville, Ohio. It was the contention of our surrogate Bishop Sava that Detroit was one of several large parishes with enough potential to warrant having two priests. The search began. The shortage of clergy here in the United States took our search to Yugoslavia and, at the recommendation of Bishop Sava, Father Zivan Urosev arrived with his family on June 20,1988. They occupied a new, second parish home purchased on Whitehall Street in Sterling Heights. On December 1, 1988, Father Ceko was reassigned to the South Bend, Indiana, Parish and was replaced by Father Radomir Obsenica in April Of 1990.
The noted hospitality and culinary talents for which Detroit Serbs are famous have brought many visitors to our. Ravanica parish. Throughout its history, Ravanica has hosted numerous national Serbian sports and musical events, in particular, the SNF basketball and golf tournaments and SSF choral festivals. Our parish was honored and privileged to host several national Serbian Church events: the Church Sabor in the early 1960s; the 750th Anniversary of the Serbian Church in 1969; and the 600th Anniversary of the Battle Kosovo in 1989.
For eighty-five years our Ravanica parish has gathered Serbs and Americans of Serbian descent to uphold, foster, cherish and preserve our Serbian Orthodox religion. Ravanica has most certainly lived a glorious past and we look forward to a more splendid and prosperous future, God Grant!
Thanks to Protonica Paulina Mijatovic and Milan Zec in researching this material
Sources: News articles, Ravanica dedication book, Voice of Ravanica