In 1912 the area of Woonsocket, Rhode Island had become the new home of a growing Romanian community. The result: Sfântul Ioan Botezătorul was founded in that year our of the community’s deep love for their religion and their culture. In a letter to draw attention and support for the church, the commitment to and the excitement over the event is captured:
“It is a great pleasure to bring to your attention that we have decided to call a meeting to discuss…building a Romanian Orthodox Church in Woonsocket. We think you share with us the desire of having our own church where we can hear the Holy Liturgy in our won language. We appeal to you to take part in the coming meeting… on Sunday, November 17, 1912, at at Butcher hall on Cumberland Street, Woonsocket.”
The announcement was signed by the following leading members of the church movement: Nicola Mara, (Sterie) Tegu Gartsu, Dimitrie Simu, Lambri Cutina, Vasili Bicki, Alexi Mara, and Dimitrie Belu.
Contributions at the successful first meeting in November generated $682.25. Mr. T Gartsu presided with the unanimous consent of participants. At the same meeting, a Parish Council was also elected: Micha Ianelu, President; Tusa Caranica and Nicola Bilerica, Secretaries; Hristullia Scudreanu and Dimitrie Simu, Treasurers; and Nicola Mara and Sterie Gartsu, Trustees.
One week later the Parish Council held its first meeting, when the name of Sfântul Ioan Botezătorul was chosen for the parish. The church’s special connection to this important patron saint is still reflected today in the church’s interior icons.
By February 1915 the parish had arranged for a temporary location in the city on Elbow Street. Father Marcel Gavrilescu was received as the first church priest to officiate the Liturgy.
Only three years after the initial church-funding-drive, Sfântul Ioan Botezătorul was registered in the state. The first baptism, Violet Rigia, took place on March 16, 1915. The first parish wedding, Costa Culetu with Stasula N. Mara, occurred on September 19, 1915. The first funeral, two months old Vasili Gartsu, son of Elisabeta and Vasile Gartsu, took place on September 22, 1916. Another crucial event happened the next year: the procuring of land for a cemetery on Mendon Road in October 1917.
Despise economic hardships during the war years in U.S., church members realized their dream for their own church with a groundbreaking celebration on September 24, 1922. (The new church was ultimately built at the “temporary” location – by the time the home of the parish for a decade). At this time, the cornerstone for the church was by Revered Ilarion Moloci from 1916, the parishioners’ sacrifice gave rise to the church which still stands today. Total cost of the church was $20,847.12. The keys to the door of the new church building were donated with a sum of $430 by Vasili Bicki, Petri N. Ghizari and Tolia N. Ghizari.
On March 25, 1923, Father Caleric Serboianu of Alliance, Ohio, blessed the church. A permanent plaque on the church doors commemorates the occasion.
The Reverend Ioan Popescu became the third parish priest of St. Ioan Botezătorul in October 1929. Serving the parish officially for thirty seven years, Father Popescu represented a life-long dedication to the Woonsocket Macedonian-Romanian community.
By 1937 a parish school of four classes with 52 students began meeting three times a week. During that same decade, the Reuniunea Femeilor (Women’s Auxiliary) was also established. A half century later, the organization remains a vital fixture of the church. In 1939, the first choir, under direction of Violet Rigia, was formed.
In the post World War II era, plans for a parish house and hall were achieved. Another important moment in the church’s history came on November 8, 1953, when Bishop Valerian Trifa- spiritual leader of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America at the time – officially consecrated St. Ioan’s. Since then, the church has regularly been honored with visits by national bishop representatives.
For a decade beginning in 1954, St. Ioan’s also responded to the interest of its parish youth for active church involvement with the establishment if Rhode-AROY.
After Father Popescu’s retirement in 1965, the following succession of priests have served St. Ioan: Fr. Mircea Marinescu(1966-1968), Fr. Gratian Radu (1968-1972), Fr. Anchidim Useriu (1972), Fr. Nicolae Marioncu (1972-1978), Fr. Alexandru Moissiy (1979 -1980), Fr. Remus Bleahu (1981-1990), Fr. Ioan Macaila (1990-1995). Since December 1, 1995, Fr. Morar Onisie has been the church’s priest.
Installation of all stained glass windows was a special project initiated by Ladies Auxiliary and personally supervised by various members. Parishioners in 1970 donated individual windows to complete the entire set presently visible in the church.
A medium-sized parish throughout its history, St. Ioan’s constant membership testifies to four generations of church community. Whit its proud legacy, the future of St. John’s now rests with yet another generation to carry on the Orthodox faith and spirit in Woonsocket.
Church history was written by Peter Vangel,, one of St. John’s ex-presidents, for the 75 anniversary and adapted by Fr. Onisie