Another Chicago area parish, St. Demetrios in Elmhurst, IL celebrates a milestone anniversary this year. Learn about this dynamic Chicago area community.
50 years of St. Demetrios Elmhurst
By all accounts, The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Demetrios in Elmhurst, IL is still a young parish. Earlier this year, the West suburban community launched a yearlong celebration for its 50th anniversary with the theme, “Divine Protection”.
Many of the original families still call this parish home. And since that very first day, at the core of this community has been these values we hold dear: faith, family, and heritage.
The Early Years
In 1966, as many Chicago Greek families began migrating out of the city, they found themselves in the Western suburbs — and without a local church. About a dozen people came together to start a parish in the growing area. The group raised support and funds to build their community, with the potential names All Saints or St Sophia.
By 1967, the fledgling parish, now officially called St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church of DuPage County, received its charter from the Greek Orthodox Diocese of North and South America. Ted Dulles and his Founding Fathers Committee secured the very first home of St. Demetrios. They rented former building of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Bensenville, just north of the church’s current location. With a place secured, Bishop Meletios, presiding hierarch of the Diocese of Chicago, assigned the first priest. Father Dionysios Katsihtis celebrated the first Divine Liturgy on February 19, 1967. Already, the community was made up of approximately 120 families. Also in that year, they came together to establish the church’s popular festival, and the Philoptochos Ladies Society.
In 1968, Father Dionysios was reassigned, and Father Demetrios Leon served the parish briefly. It was also that year, that Father Louis T. Granias began his 6-year tenure. The choir was soon formed, and altar boys began to serve.
Finding a permanent home
Tragedy struck in 1970, when a fire destroyed the rented church. Undaunted, the church leaders quickly secured a new venue, across the street in the gym of a Lutheran church. Miraculously, the chalice set – a gift from Philoptochos Society – and the Kouvouklion that houses the Epitaphios survived the fire, and both are still in use today. Soon after, St. Demetrios found its permanent home in Elmhurst — the old Churchville Junior High School.
There were two buildings on the property; the west building was torn down, and the east building was swiftly renovated. It included classrooms for Sunday School and Greek School. The school was named “Pythagoras.” The south side of the building was reworked as a temporary church until a proper edifice could be built.
With a permanent home, there was a regular place for youth to gather. Basketball became a favorite sport of the youth of the community, and St. Demetrios began competing in the Greek Orthodox Athletic League (GOAL). Over the years, the team has won many championships.
The fledgling parish often hosted bingo, which sustained it during the early years.
Father Panagiotis arrives
Father Louis was reassigned in 1974, and on September 1, Father Panagiotis Malamis came to St. Demetrios. He became the first priest in the Chicago area to celebrate the 40-day Liturgies of the Christmas Fast. Additionally, Father Panagiotis began a tireless task — carrying on the tradition of the annual Epiphany custom of the blessing of the homes.
In 1974, under the guidance of Father Panagiotis and the parish council, the community made plans to build a church. Obtaining the initial loan proved a challenge, however, approximately 15 parishioners placed their homes as collateral to secure the construction loan.
The initial phase of construction was completed in 1975. The interior was not 100% completed; the stunning iconography, written by George Papastamatiou, pews, and marble work were installed later. Sergio Tonelli created the beautiful stained-glass windows that line the north and south walls. On October 29, 1979, Bishop Philotheos, presiding hierarch of Chicago, celebrated the Thiranixia, or “opening of the gates”.
In 1982, the youth began to participate in the Junior Olympics. Children learned Greek dance. The annual golf outing, now one of the biggest fundraising events for the church, debuted in 1984. That year, Father Ted Poteres was the first priest ordained in the new edifice, and was assigned to St. Demetrios as associate priest.
The late Bishop Iakovos of Chicago (later known as Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago) consecrated the new church on October 27, 1985, with participation from the Very Reverend Isaiah Chronopoulos (now Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver), Father Panagiotis, Father Ted, and other area clergy. His Grace presented icons to the 52 Godparents of the church.
The 80s brought more programs for the youth, including GOYA. By the 1990s, the parish hired its first youth director.
The late Father James Tsoulos became Assistant Priest in 1990. Father Jim was an integral part of the community for 11 years. When he fell asleep in the Lord in 2004, his funeral at St. Demetrios drew hundreds of mourners to pay their respects. Father James Doyle was assigned briefly to St. Demetrios, following the departure of Father Jim.
Construction of the school and community center, as well as the Holy Anargyroi Chapel, began on August 1, 1990, while Greek school classes continued in another location. Construction was completed by Christmas 1991. In the early 1990s, the community also built St. John the Baptist Chapel at nearby Arlington Cemetery.
The Young Adult League (YAL) was established in 1998. JOY (Junior Orthodox Youth) was also established that year.
Pythagoras Children’s Academy (PCA) opened its doors in 1998. Originally a preschool – 2nd grade school, PCA now serves students through 5th grade. Students receive a top-notch education, as well as instruction in the Orthodox Faith, Greek language and culture. The first 5th graders graduated in 2016.
Pythagoras Greek School continued to grow, and a second program, Pythagoras Saturday Greek School was established in 2012. Today, about 335 students attend Pythagoras Schools.
A young priest
In 2001, a young deacon named Andrew Georganas arrived at St. Demetrios. Ordained a priest in June 2002, Father Andrew continued to serve as assistant priest until 2006, when he became Proistamenos. Father Panagiotis officially retired that year, but he lives and breathes this community, and still actively serves.
Father Andrew’s magnetic presence captivated the youth. With a renewed energy and focus, programs were established with the goal to have something for every age group, and to keep the children actively involved in the church. New ministries, including Mommy and Me Playgroup (for parents and infants/toddlers), Good Friday retreats for kids, and family retreats at Christmastime were created.
Presbytera Dimitra Georganas launched Vacation Church School (VCS) in 2003. The weeklong summer religious education program for preK-8th grade draws more than 300 children and volunteers from the Chicagoland area. The program is educational and fun. At the end of the week, the kids don’t want to go home.
Greek dance remains a popular activity at this parish. The parish had student dance troupes throughout the years, but around 2008, it became the home to Dionysos Dance Troupe, under the direction of Jenny Sellis. She teaches dance to all Pythagoras students, and directions the junior and young adult dance troupes.
In 2010, a new youth director came to St. Demetrios, named George Lamberis, who helped further expand youth programming. In 2013, he became Father George. Immediately following his ordination to the priesthood, he was transferred to St. Haralambos in Niles, IL. St. Demetrios’ youth ministries continue to grow and thrive.
In anticipation of the upcoming golden anniversary, on the 45th anniversary, the parish embarked on a project called “All Things New.” The church was renovated and enhanced with new icons and adornments.
50th anniversary celebration
At 50 years young, this dynamic community continues to flourish. Serving some 600 families, comprised of parishioners of all ages, including a highly engaged youth, they remain steadfast. Earlier this year, the parish embarked on a yearlong celebration to mark its half century of service. On several Sundays following Divine Liturgy, the community honored the Founding Fathers, the Godfathers, parish council presidents, and Philoptochos presidents, plus all the priests and presvyteres. Other events included concerts by Basile the comedian and Greek singer Efi Thodi. In November, Father Andrew will lead the faithful on a pilgrimage to Constantinople and the Holy Land.
Father Andrew reflected on the milestone.
“It is the Lord our God, through the unceasing prayers of St. Demetrios, that has enabled our church of humble beginnings to grow and flourish in ways that seemed many years ago unimaginable. This is a hallmark moment. We’re grateful, and we honor our past. But now we pivot, and look to the future”.
The celebration will culminate on October 8 with a Grand Banquet at The Cotillion Banquets, 360 S. Creekside Drive in Palatine, IL. Join the community to toast to the next 50 years of faith, family, and heritage. Tickets are $100 for adults, $40 for kids 16 and under. Call 630.834.7010.
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