JOLIET – Even in its centennial year, All Saints Greek Orthodox Church of Joliet is growing and changing.
The church is home to third- and fourth-generation descendants of its original Greek founders, as well as converts: people who married into the church or those who converted to Orthodoxy, said Maria Meintanis, chairwoman for the anniversary year and lifelong member.
“It’s still a place to come together and celebrate,” Meintanis said.
Services are offered completely in English the fourth Sunday of every month and in Greek and English otherwise, said the Rev. Stephen Bithos, pastor. Byzantine-style iconography is gradually replacing the Western-style icons, he added.
Last year, lifelong parishioner Nick Macris spearheaded the purchase of a bronze and granite monument to honor parishioners who served in the armed forces. Bithos said All Saints is planning renovations and opening up ministry opportunities to its members.
He has a clear vision for the future.
“The vision for the church is to bring more people to Christ,” Bithos said.
A year of celebration
All Saints has hosted a number of activities this past year. In addition to an invitation-only banquet that will be held Sunday, Meintanis said the church will hold a shish kebab lunch Sept. 25 for anyone who ever was an altar server or choir member at All Saints.
The church also held a Greek version of Mardis Gras before the start of Lent, known as the Great Fast in the Orthodox church. Birthday celebrations honored members born in a particular month.
One Sunday school teacher had a reunion for her former students. An event, still in progress, is “100 Acts of Kindness.” It has engaged the 40 children in the Sunday school program and involved the entire parish.
“The acts have been as small as writing thank-you notes to the parish council members for the service to collecting items for MorningStar Mission, Guardian Angel and children’s hospitals,” Meintanis said. “We have other activities in the planning stages, but not finalized yet, like doing something to honor the seniors in our church.”
All Saints received its charter from the ecumenical patriarchate in 1916 and its state charter in 1917, Bithos said. Macris said Greeks owned many of the businesses along Bluff Street at that time, which is why they decided to build a little bungalow church at 102 N. Broadway St.
That original building was demolished in 1942. Later that year, the church broke ground in the same location for the current church. The actual cornerstone was laid in 1943, and the church was finished and consecrated in 1945.
“In 1949, the mortgage was paid off,” Macris said. “The remaining balance was to the tune of $11,162.50.”
In 1963, All Saints built an addition to house the office, the Sunday school classrooms, the library and the social hall, Macris said. The original social hall was smaller and in the basement under the original church, he added.
Macris said his father was 12 when he came to the United States. After earning his engineering degree at the University of Arizona, he moved to Joliet.
“He walked into the church at age 26, took one look at my mother who was 16 and said, ‘That’s the girl I’m going to marry,’ ” Macris said.
Macris’ earliest memories include serving as an altar boy and acting in a church play. Nevertheless, Macris lays no claim to his heritage and is pleased to see non-Greeks embracing the church.
“We have a great number of people who have converted to Orthodoxy,” Macris said. “They are some of the best Orthodox Christians in our parish.”
Members at All Saints Greek Orthodox Church in Joliet tell a story that’s become legendary. In fact, as recently as a month ago, a contractor placing a work bid at the church knew the story, Bithos said. Bithos himself heard the story when he came to the church 25 years ago.
It was 1943 and parishioners wanted to build the church from steel. But they couldn’t get steel because of the war effort, Bithos said. So several parishioners and the parish priest traveled to Washington D.C. to speak to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“[Roosevelt] said, ‘I can’t get you steel. We need it to save our troops,’” Bithos said. “And then the priest, in his broken English, said, ‘What if we save some souls?’”
Bithos said Roosevelt decided to divert a shipment of steel – bound for Chicago by military transport – to Joliet for the construction of All Saints.
“The steel that was diverted was supposed to go to Wrigley Field for lights,” Bithos said. “So if you’re a Sox fan you love us, but if you’re a Cubs fan you might not be too happy with us.”
For information, call the church at 815-722-1727 or visit www.facebook.com/allsaintsgoc/.