A BRIEF HISTORY OF SAINT STEVEN'S CATHEDRAL
Toward the end of the 19th century, the earliest church communities in California were established at Jackson, San Francisco and Los Angeles. During World War II, a tremendous expansion of industry took place in California, bringing with it waves of people from throughout the United States. This increase in population had its effects on the Serbian Orthodox community, which doubled and in some instances, tripled in size. It was at this time that Saint Sava Parish in Los Angeles, was no longer adequate to handle the ever growing demands alone.
Saint Steven’s was officially organized on May 14, 1946. The first Board of Trustees consisted of Steve P. Rados, President; Lazar Samarzich, Secretary; Vaso Kurilich, Financial Secretary; Nicholas Basich, Treasurer; and members: Risto Basich, Tom Gogo, Steve Grubacich, Vido Kovacevich, Steve Kral, Arsen Milosevich and Todor Polich. The new parish grew quickly and gave every evidence of future success. In September of 1947, the new by-laws were approved by the Diocese, and Bishop Dionisije appointed the Reverend Vladimir M. Mrvichin as pastor of the new parish. Father Mrvichin arrived in Los Angeles on December 17, 1947, to begin his work with the community that was inspired to become one of the finest church communities in America.
Saint Steven’s Cathedral Choir was formed on February 15, 1948. As a pioneer choir on the West Coast, Saint Steven's Cathedral Choir was instrumental in many fund-raising campaigns to help build new churches, and has traveled extensively throughout the West to participate in the consecration ceremonies in Bisbee, Arizona; Butte, Montana; San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Fresno, San Diego and Moraga, California.
Also, in 1948, five acres of choice property on Garvey Avenue in the City of Alhambra were purchased. In March of the same year various members of the parish in the heavy construction business brought their equipment and manpower together and started the grading, leveling and general improvement of the church property.
On July 25, 1948, Saint Steven’s Women’s Auxiliary was established. Everyone at Saint Steven's has been touched by the sweet charity of the ladies of the Women's Auxiliary. The zeal and perseverance of this gathering of wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and grandmothers, have contributed so much to the Cathedral's success. The Auxiliary has unwaveringly given its steadfast support to all the Cathedral’s endeavors. In addition to the regular weekly Sunday luncheons, the Auxiliary prepares the meals for all the holidays celebrated at the Cathedral. The patron saint of the Women's Auxiliary is Saint Anastasia, the mother of Saint Sava and our Cathedral's patron saint, Saint Steven, Simon the Monk. The Auxiliary also has a Catering Committee, which beautifully prepares wedding receptions and other special occasions throughout the year. The standard of excellence in the Women’s Auxiliary established many years ago continues to this day. All of the active members participate by volunteering their time and talents to continue the good work of our Women's Auxiliary, which includes educational opportunities for women through its Tea and Study Fellowship and annual Christian Education Conference.
On January 28, 1949, construction of the first Cathedral building began. This was the Chapel and Social Hall Complex which was completed and dedicated with an impressive ceremony on October 9, 1949. On the same day, the cornerstone for the new church was laid and consecrated. With an established center, the Orthodox Christian witness of the new congregation became easier and more effective. The parish membership increased and the administrative area grew to encompass the entire Los Angeles County, as well as several neighboring counties.
On October 5, 1952, the new church was dedicated to the Glory of God by Bishop Dionisije, the Diocesan Bishop and two distinguished guest Bishops: His Grace, Bishop Nikolai of Zicha, (now Saint Nikolai) and His Grace, Anthony, Russian Bishop of Los Angeles, with many priests concelebrating. Because of its beauty, importance and the Orthodox Christian impetus given other parishes in the West, the new church was proclaimed “The Cathedral of the Pacific.” Saint Steven’s Cathedral is unique in its architectural detail. A mixture of artistic motifs taken from many Serbian Orthodox monasteries and churches built in the early Middle Ages, the Cathedral gives the impression of massive strength tempered by spiritual tenderness. The interior of the church is abundantly graced with murals and decorative effects of great beauty. It has now become a landmark of importance in Southern California.
With the establishment of the Parent Teachers Organization on June 27, 1958, and the increase in youth activity which followed, the construction of the Church School and Youth Center Building began in 1962. This building was dedicated on March 15, 1964. The three floors of this building contain eight classrooms, Diocesan and parish administrative offices, a museum and library that houses a growing collection of Serbian Orthodox literature and artifacts.
On May 10, 1963, the Holy Assembly of Bishops, established the American Western Diocese and designated Saint Steven’s Cathedral as the new Episcopal See. On August 3, 1963, the new Bishop, His Grace, Gregory, was consecrated in the Cathedral as the first Serbian Orthodox Bishop of the new Diocese which is made up of the American Western States.
On October 6, 1968, His Grace Bishop Gregory presided at a ceremony of historic significance in which two portions of the relics of Saint Steven, the First Crowned King of Serbia, Simon the monk, were placed in the Cathedral’s reliquary. Taken with tenderness, far from that time and land of Saint Steven’s birth, these Holy Relics will forever grace the Cathedral which bears his honored name.
The 1970s were marked by a tremendous growth in membership and parishioners. The PTO was expanded on May 1, 1970, into the Religious Cultural Association, which over the years has sponsored countless activities for our Youth. Members of this organization are primarily the parents of our Church School children, but also include others who have an interest in youth ministry.
On August 15, 1979, Saint Steven’s Senior Citizen’s Club was organized. Their membership has since grown to almost 200 men and women 55 years and older who meet on the first Thursday of each month. The organization supports the work of the Cathedral and provides fellowship opportunities for seniors.
The Cathedral’s endowment program had its inception in 1972, when Steve & Helen Kral contributed funds to create a “matching fund” campaign. Since then, the mission of the Endowment Funds has been to provide financial strength and stability to the parish by providing added support for its capital improvements as well as to advance additional ministries within the church. In recent years, the endowments have grown to over 140 funds enabling the Cathedral to regularly promote and support the ministries of the church; provide education in the Orthodox Christian Faith, Youth Programs and scholarships; maintain and beautify the Cathedral facilities; and to offer meaningful charitable contributions to those in need.
As the parish membership grew, a related problem of expansion was solved by purchasing the old Monterey Hills Motel to the east of the hall. The motel structures were removed and work started on the building of the pavilion which doubled the capacity of the existing hall. On November 11, 1979, the pavilion complex was dedicated with its adjoining park and placed in service for the congregation.
The 1980s was a time of transition. Father Dragoljub (Dennis) Pavichevich was appointed the Associate Pastor. With the retirement of our beloved Father Mrvichin in 1983, Father Dennis became the new Dean, and Father Mrvichin was given the title “Dean Emeritus.’’
Worship and education in the Faith were the major areas of growth during this time. The educational programs of the parish were expanded to include regular Adult Bible Study Groups which were established in different areas wherein the membership resided. In 1984, the Cathedral expanded its full-time staff with the establishment of the position of Director of Christian Education. The Director of Christian Education from 1984-1987 was George Gligich, who later was ordained and assumed the duties as pastor of Saint Peter’s Church in Fresno. From 1987-1993 the position was held by Jovan Pusara; from 1995-1996 by Amy Schlegel; from 1997-1999 by Aleksander Petrovic who later was ordained and assumed duties as pastor of a church in Serbia; and from 2000 to the present, Norman Kosanovich who, in 2004, also became the Cathedral Assistant priest.
On October 8, 1985, the Cathedral Community mourned the sudden death of Bishop Gregory. The widowed Diocese was served by two Administrators during this period: His Grace, Bishop Irinej of Nish (1985-1986); His Grace, Bishop Sava of Sumadija (1986-1988); until the election of His Grace Bishop Chrysostom as the new Diocesan Bishop in 1989.
Again, the people of Saint Steven’s were deeply saddened on June 27, 1987, with the death of +Proto Vlado Mrvichin. Proto Vlado had faithfully served the Cathedral for more than three decades and will always be fondly remembered. His life’s work was Saint Steven’s Cathedral and this community is deeply grateful.
The 1990s was a time of excitement, growth and change at Saint Steven’s. Bishop Chrysostom was appointed to the Diocese of Banat, and the Western American Diocese was administered by His Eminence, Metropolitan Christopher of the Midwestern Metropolis (1992-1994).
When Father Dennis Pavichevich transferred to Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Chicago, Saint Steven’s was administered by Father Ilija Dajkovich from the end of 1992 until January 1994. On January 28, 1994, Father Nikola (Nicholas) Ceko was appointed the new Dean of Saint Steven’s Cathedral. The appointment of the new Dean became an opportunity for restoration and beautification of the Cathedral facilities. The frescoes in the Cathedral Church were restored with additional lighting installed throughout the interior and exterior; The Social Hall was renovated, as were the North and South halls. The children’s playground area was expanded and a new Social Court was built in the area between the Church and Hall. All these renovations were completed in preparation for the glorious 50th Anniversary of the parish celebrated on September 7-8, 1996.
The 1990’s was also a historic decade with the visits of His Holiness, Patriarch Pavle, Archbishop of Pech, Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovac and Serbian Patriarch. The Patriarch visited Saint Steven’s in 1992, then in 1994 for the installation of the new Diocesan Bishop, His Grace, Right Reverend Bishop Jovan; and then again in 1996.
When His Grace, Bishop Jovan was transferred to the Diocese of Sumadija, the Western American Diocese was administered from 2002-2006 by His Grace, Bishop Longin of New Grachanica.
On October 6, 2002, the Cathedral dedicated the church Museum and the remodeled Mrvichin Memorial Library. This first decade of the 21st century was also a time of technological advancement for the Cathedral, which in 2003-2004, upgraded its office space, equipment and created its internet ministry. With this also came the creation and expansion of parish ministries in the area of worship, education, service, evangelization, fellowship and humanitarian outreach.
On July 30, 2006, His Grace, Bishop Maxim was enthroned at Saint Steven’s Cathedral. The Cathedral Dean and parish work closely with Bishop Maxim to advance the Diocese in many areas, including the creation of Sebastian Press, the Publication House of our Western American Diocese and the School of Iconography.
Saint Steven’s Serbian Orthodox Cathedral parishioners continue in the path of its founders, sacrificing their time, talent, financial resources, and selfless dedication all for the Glory of God and His Holy Church. It stands as a bright and illuminating beacon on a holy hill, witnessing to the Orthodox Faith and Orthodox way of life.