To try and capsulate 100 years of history in a few short pages is never an easy task. While we do not have many accurate records of the past 100 years, we do have the collective memory of the faithful and the historical connection to the development of this land.
Most of our faithful are descendents of those who immigrated to this country primarily from Czechoslovakia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1880 to 1917. Many first found themselves working in the coal and steel mines of Pennsylvania. Later many moved west, after the completion of the railroads in 1888, to take advantage of work opportunities in the steel mills of Pueblo, Colorado. With the completion of the railroad out West, land became available as a result of the 1862 Homestead Act. The Slovak immigrants were attracted to this land for two reasons. First, they were farmers and ranchers in the old country. Second, was that the land resembled the country side from which they emigrated.
As soon as a few Slovaks came out to what is now El Paso County, word spread quickly about the good farmland and that each settler would receive 160 acres to develop. To gain clear title to their plot of land they would have to be a resident of the property for five continuous years and pay a registration fee of $30.00. If the homesteader desired, the title could pass into his hands after six months residence and the payment of $1.25 per acre.
Life for the early Slovak settlers was difficult at best. The first "homes" were dug out of the earth or were made of blocks of sod and rock. Wells had to be dug by hand. Many found employment in Colorado Springs and had to leave their families for a week or more at a time in the dugout homes. Life on the prairie had an assortment of other challenges such as floods, hail, severe winter storms, drought, and the "dust bowl" and grasshopper invasions.
In the winter of 1913 a storm deposited 45.5 inches of snow on the days of December 4th-6th. Winds reached a high of 5Omph producing drifts up to 30 feet. Livestock valued at thousands of dollars perished and damage to buildings was devastating. Homesteaders shoveled snow to form paths
From the house to the barns and grain storage buildings tying ropes around their waists to make sure they could find their way back to the house. From that point, only 7.78 inches fell between December and April of 1914. The people of St. Mary's are certainly no strangers to drought as they endured the Dust Bowl and many droughts over the years. The drought of 2002 was the worst in recorded history. The community is still recovering from that difficult year.
These settlers not only brought with them a willingness to work hard and sacrifice for a better life, but they also brought with them their Orthodox Christian Faith. In 1903, Archbishop Tikhon (cannonized/glorified as St. Tikhon of Moscow in October 1989 consecrated the ground for St. Michael's Orthodox Church in Pueblo, Colorado. Many of the faithful from Calhan were present which inspired them to have their own church. By 1904, our ancestors organized themselves to build their own church. In 1905, Archbishop Tikhon traveled to the very isolated area north of Calhan on his way to New York and consecrated the ground on which the first St. Mary's Holy Dormition Church would be built. Fr.lna Kibikoff, the first priest to serve at St. Mary's, was also in attendance. The church was completed on July 4th, 1905 and dedicated on August 28th, 1905. The first church affectionately known as the "Church on the Hill" of course did not have electricity and a coal stove was used for heat. Two cemeteries, St. Mary's and St. Michael's were eventually established next to the church and across the road.
In 1917, on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution, Archbishop Tikhon who had previously been called back to Russia was elected the first Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia since Tsar Peter the Great abolished the Patriarchate in 1700. With the onslaught of the Bolshevik persecution the Russian Church suffered tremendously. The effects of the problems in Russia eventually reached America. The nascent Orthodox Church here in America faced hardships and confusion when almost all contact with the Mother Church was cut off. Even our little corner of the world was affected. Shortly after the Soviet backed "Renovated Living Church" was established in Russia, the same made claims of authority and property ownership to 115 parishes in this country including St. Mary's. In 1927, a fire, "which mysteriously started" shortly after the "living church" took control of St. Mary's, brought the church building to the ground. As a result of the fire and issues surrounding the "Living Church" the community split into two factions. By 1932, construction of the "Church on the hill" and the present church was completed about the same time. At that time the community reunited and continues to worship in the present day temple. The "living church," while laying claim to the original property ceased to function in Calhan. It is interesting to note that it was not until 1977 that St. Mary's legally gained title to the property on the hill, which had been taken illegally by then "Archbishop" John Kedrovsky of the "Living Church".
Throughout our history we had a succession of priests, some staying only a short while and speaking very little or no English. Services were in Church Slavonic and some of our older parishioners attended Russian School. Given the isolation and the revolving door of priests it was no secret that our community in Calhan, until recently, was not considered a "plum assignment" for many of these Russian Priests. During the height of the Revolution and shortly thereafter, it was difficult for St Mary's to get a priest, especially from 1917 to the 1930's. Sometimes people would write to the old country or New York looking for a priest. This process often took months and even years before a priest could be found. Priests from Denver would pass by and perform a necessary wedding or baptism. It was also not uncommon for our early founders to have their children or grandchildren baptized by an itinerant Roman Catholic Priest.
In 1956, Fr. Paul Fedec was assigned as Rector of St. Mary's. Fr. Paul dedicated the best years of his ministry to this community in serving here for 37 years. With Fr. Paul, a regular church life was established and the introduction of English as the primary language, church school and the establishment of the Rose Marie Club, a charitable arm of our community. In 1974, Fr. Paul and St. Mary's were the catalyst in starting SS. Constantine and Helen Orthodox Church in Colorado Springs. In 1982, St. Mary's switched to the Gregorian or "Revised Julian" Calendar by a parish vote of 61 to 40. In 1993, Fr. Paul retired and Fr. Paul Mayernick served for nine months until another permanent priest could be found. Fr. Nicholas Dotson became the Rector in 1993 and served until 2004. During Fr. Nicholas time the parishioners advanced in their understanding of Orthodoxy, many converts joined the church and the rectory was completed. In the summer of 1995, at the parish's 90th Anniversary his Beatitude, Metropolitan Theodosius and His Grace, Bishop Tikhon rededicated the church on the hill as a chapel dedicated to St. TIKHON, the founder of St. Mary's Holy Dormition Orthodox Church.
February 2004 to August 2012, Fr. Lawrence Gaudreau was assigned as Rector of St. Mary's and strived to strengthen its financial footing and envisions developing a strategic plan for the next five years of service to Christ and witnessing to the Holy Orthodox Faith on the high plains of Eastern Colorado. He then was relocated to St. Elizabeth's Church in Washington State. Fr. Simeon Johnson of Juneau Alaska is assigned as the new Rector.
With each challenge we have encountered, we became stronger in our faith. We may provide links to other sites that provide more detail on our church history or particular events in our past.
We invite you to become a part of the church today and a piece of its history tomorrow.