A BRIEF HISTORY OF ST. GEORGE CATHEDRAL
Although credible oral accounts put the arrival of the first Syrian immigrant in Worcester in 1888, written evidence speaks of the domicile of two Syrian brothers, who were Antiochian Orthodox by faith, on Oak Hill in the spring of 1890. Thenceforth more settlers arrived. In 1898 the Syrian Orthodox colony of Worcester numbered some 152 individuals or about forty families in the opening years of the twentieth century. Thereafter, its size increased rapidly. Before they could afford a church and the services of a resident priest, however, itinerant priests, most frequently Archmandrite Malatius Karrum or Rev. Michael Husson, ministered to them with services being held in private homes. Then, about 1902, a mission church was rented at 100 Wall Street. The community, having grown in number and material strength, bought the same mission church in 1907 under the leadership of Archmandrite Karrum. Having decided to return to Syria, Archmandrite Karrum tendered his resignation in mid‑1908 and was succeeded by Rev. Michael Husson in September of the same year. The latter kept his position until his retirement in 1937, thus becoming the longest serving priest in the history of St. George parish. The St. George Syrian Orthodox Church of Worcester was third in the United States chronologically speaking.
The 100 Wall Street church served the Orthodox community well until 1929. It was the religious center, the social center and the place where the youngsters learned their parents' native tongue. By the late 1920's, however, the community had grown larger, about 150 families or some 700 souls, and needed a bigger place. Since the community was still concentrated around the "Syrian Hill" area, the leaders of the church decided to buy the old St. Joseph's church at 34 Wall Street. The transaction was completed in 1928. The new church was beautiful and a source of pride to the whole community. In the words of the famous poet Iliyya Abu Madi, it was "truly one of the largest and most beautiful Syrian churches in this mahjar" (place of emigration).
Yet, growth knows no limits. Between 1929 and the 1960's the Orthodox community grew even larger. Furthermore, new generations of immigrant sons and daughters had been born, educated, married and made their homes away from the "Syrian Hill" area. Consequently, the old church location on Wall Street became inadequate. A new central location, one also conducive to the construction of a larger church, was needed. Options were considered and the choice finally fell on Anna Street. Plans were drawn for a complex consisting of a domed Byzantine‑type church, offices, Sunday School classrooms, multi‑purpose halls, a kitchen and other facilities. Construction of the complex began in 1968 and was dedicated by Metropolitan Philip Saliba on May 24, 1970. Because of the size and beauty of the new church, Metropolitan Philip proclaimed it a cathedral, the only Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in the New England region. Undoubtedly, it must have agonized some community members to move the church away from the "Syrian Hill" area. This was the place where their forefathers had first settled, congregated and talked about the "Old Country." It was the place of their first church, coffee‑houses and evening gatherings (sahrat). The community had overgrown the "Syrian Hill." It had expanded and spread out. Moreover, its growing spiritual and cultural needs could no longer be fulfilled on the "Hill." The parish still is housed at the Anna Street address and continues to show signs of tremendous growth, approaching 1,200 members. Having already celebrated our parish’s centennial, we look to the future but we also pay homage to the founding fathers whose arrival here in Worcester began more than a century ago. We reflect on their courage and achievement, having come to a strange land penniless, with nothing except their faith. Let their spirit, dedication and hard work be a source of inspiration as we face the challenges and uncertainties of the years ahead.