SHEBOYGAN – In the late 1800s, the founders of St. Spyridon’s Greek Orthodox Church came to the area to take advantage of opportunities on the Midwestern frontier. Many of them were single men and men who left their families behind with the intention of returning to their home countries with the money they earned.
As the community grew, its members found they needed a church. A community council, established in 1902, was established to provide governance for the Greek enclave of Sheboygan.
According to news clippings by Beth Dippel of the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center at this time, the Greek Consulate in Chicago arranged for a priest to travel from Chicago by train to perform services.
The decision was made to build a church and land was purchased by the consulate for the congregation. The consulate was listed as the first owner on the deed. In 1906, the church we see today on South 10th Street was completed and celebrated by the congregation. The steeple, however, was added 10 years later.
The first resident priest, the Reverend Nicholas Velonis, arrived in 1905 and, with the council, worked to secure the funds for the new church. The South 10th Street location was purchased because it was close enough to the Greek community and yet far enough from businesses and factories.
The 21 icons for the church arrived from Athens, Greece in 1911. These icons were restored by renowned art curator Tony Rager in the late 1990s. Rajer, who died in 2011, was born in Sheboygan and was known internationally for his conservation of murals and paintings.
In 1958, the church was consecrated. The consecration of a church is essentially a baptism of the church building which, by the grace of God and the Holy Spirit, transforms the building into the house of God, according to the beliefs of the Greek Orthodox Church.
The church’s namesake, Saint Spyridon, according to another news clipping, was born on the island of Cyprus and was a shepherd. Authorities at the time documented him as a miracle worker.
Saint Spyridon once brought a brick to the council session, turned to the heretical Arians and said, “You deny that the Three in One (referring to the Holy Trinity), but look at this brick, made up of the elements of earth, fire and water, but it is one.”
It is said that as he spoke, the brick fell into its constituent parts: the fire broke out, the water flowed, and the clay remained in his hands. In this miracle Saint Spyridon showed his belief in the Holy Trinity.
Every summer, the congregation hosts Greek Fest, which began in the backyard of the church. The annual Greek Culture event is held at Deland Park. Greek cuisine, dance and music immerse people in Greek culture.
Today the church is led by Father Leo Gavrilos and continues its mission for Sheboygan and the Greek community.
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