Installing the new roof at St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church. The new church was to be consecrated Oct. 1. Photo courtesy of St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church

Brampton's St. Elias rises out of the ashes

  • September 29, 2016

BRAMPTON, ONT. – The material world is temporary, and the congregation at St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church knows this better than most.

People in Brampton still have vivid memories of watching their beloved church engulfed in flames. But now, two years later, the community has reason to celebrate. A brand new church building stands on the foundations of the old church, ready to reopen its doors on Sept. 30 for a thanksgiving vigil.

Oct. 1 is the main event, when more than 500 people are expected to celebrate the consecration of the rebuilt church with Toronto Ukrainian Catholic Eparch Bishop Stephen Chmilar and His Beatitude Sviastoslav Shevchuk, patriarch of the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church and archbishop of Kyiv and Halych.

“The anticipation is really, really great,” said St. Elias pastor Fr. Roman Galadza. “Certainly we’ve gone through a valley. But now seeing the church coming up on the horizon like this... It’s a whole uplift of spirits.”

More than 17 fire trucks responded to the two-alarm fire on April 5, 2014 that within a few hours destroyed St. Elias Church, leaving a charred skeleton of the building.

Galadza said it didn’t take long for the community to get back on its feet. Even as the fire was blazing, Galadza was fielding e-mails and phone calls from community members who wanted to organize an evening prayer service later that day.

“The process of rebuilding began pretty much almost immediately,” said Galadza. “We went back to our original designs and architecture plans. So the discussions began almost immediately.”

The original church was built in 1995 out of heavy Douglas fir timber with three dome-like structures that were inspired by western Ukrainian Boyko-style churches. Steeped in Byzantine Ukrainian style, the interior walls were covered with colourful images and iconography.

Galadza said it took almost 25 years for the community to raise $2 million for the original construction. But in rebuilding what people affectionately call St. Elias II, the costs have totalled more that $6.3 million.

Galadza said more than 70 per cent of the cost for reconstruction was covered by insurance. There were also some significant donations, but it has been a challenge.

“In that time (1995), things were simpler,” said Galadza. “Now, with each passing year... the building codes and requirements have become very complex.”

Within the past year, Galadza and his staff have worked on updating heating and ventilation systems, new accessibility features and expanding overall capacity.

Construction of the new church began in May 2015. Contractors, and their crew and even volunteers from the community worked year-round. Even in the last few days before the consecration ceremony, finishing touches were still being made inside.

“This is the gun lap,” said Galadza, describing the scramble on the Monday before the ceremony. “Nothing like pressure to create a diamond. I’m looking out there and they’re cleaning up and making room and finishing up all sorts of little things so that it can be presentable by Friday.”

The church walls are bare and white. Galadza said the ornate iconography that once lined the walls will take years to replace. But what is important now is for the community to finally have a place to call their own.

For the two years that the church was being rebuilt, services were conducted at St. Augustine Secondary School and St. Jerome Catholic Church nearby.

Protodeacon David Kennedy said despite being displaced these past few years, the community is stronger than ever.

“With the burning of the church, there was a lot of sadness at first, but the congregation realized more and more that the church is not the building,” said Kennedy. “The real heart of the Church are the people of God... It is still the same amount of people coming to our Sunday services. It has not decreased in number in any real way.”

Both Galadza and Kennedy agree that if anything, the rebuilding has inspired the community to become more active. Many parishioners pulled together to volunteer at the construction site, organize fundraising events and create more outreach.

“All things work out for the good,” said Galadza. “What has happened to us has made us wiser and made us appreciative of what we have.”

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