Katherine Karagianis, a 95 year-old grandmother, woke up on a recent Sunday true to a habit that lasts for 80 years. Many things have changed in her life and in Boston over the passage of the last decades, but as Karagiannis recounts, she never stopped to attend the Sunday liturgy of the historic Greek-Orthodox Cathedral of New England.
The Cathedral celebrated its 110th anniversary last month.
Through the years the Cathedral has become a symbol of unity for the Greek Americans, an immigrant community that has more than 80,000 members in Massachusetts.
Its location between the Northeastern University and Museum of Fine Arts, together with the unique architectural design, which interweaves classical and Eastern-Christian elements, led the National Register of Historic Places to classify the building among the Boston’s historical sites.
After the end of the Divine Liturgy, the church hosted a lunch and invited the Greek Consul General of Boston Ifigenia Kanara to address the occasion.
For Karagiannis, the speeches brought forth a lot of memories.
“I was 15 years old when I joined the Cathedral. I have seen this place growing piece by piece for more than 75 years,” Karagiannis said. “I feel very fortunate that I have lived through all this.”
Although Karagianis is among the eldest members of the Church, she is not the only one who feels nostalgia for the past and pride about the progress of the community.
Eleni Demeter is a second-generation immigrant who believes that her family is deeply connected with the Cathedral because of the tales about the sacrifices that her grandparents went through in building this community.
“This place reflects the story of my whole family; full five generations of being members of the Cathedral,” Demeter said. “My marriage, the birth and christening of my children and grandchildren, everything was always through the church.”
Demeter’s grandparents arrived as immigrants in Boston in 1907. It was the year that the community built the first chapel of the Annunciation of Virgin Mary, which was located on Winchester Street.
By 1915, the small chapel on Winchester Street had become overcrowded and could not continue to support the growing Greek population.
So, the members of the community decided to buy a new piece of land on which the church is located today. It took seven years of hard and collective work to make the dream of the Cathedral a reality.
The less privileged members of the community worked in the construction for $.025 per hour, while the most affluent ones, like Eleni Demeter’s grandparents, who maintained a downtown grocery store, guaranteed personally a mortgage of $120,000.
The project was finally completed in 1924 and the Greek community celebrated the success.
The golden age of the Cathedral arrived under the leadership of Father James Coucouzes, who later became the Archbishop Iakovos of America.
His became nationally known after deciding to become the first non-African American religious leader to support the civil rights movement and march with Martin Luther King Jr. in Alabama.
Father Koukouzes served as Dean of the Cathedral from 1942 to 1954. After the end of the WWII, he reinvigorated the institution of the Sunday school by deploying 20 buses that carried students from every corner of Boston to the Cathedral.
Katherine Karagiannis remembers that the buses were really significant back in the days because most immigrants did not have cars and the subway system was not yet fully developed.
The 110th Anniversary of the Cathedral was not only a celebration of the past but also an opportunity to look to the future.
Over the last year, the Church invested $1 million to renovate the grand hall, while building a small chapel, a playground, and a museum.
Father Cleopas expressed his belief that the renovation of the Cathedral prepares the church for welcoming the new generation.
Eleni Demeter, who continues to bring her grandchildren in the church, seems to agree with Father Cleopas.
“I feel now that we renovated this hall room we will go forward,” Demeter said. “Now it is ready for the next generation to appreciate it and keep up of what we did as our grandparents did.”