History & Focus
It was on May 25, 1958, a rainy Sunday afternoon, that the doors of St. Michael’s Home were officially opened. That year, May 25th also happened to be the Sunday on which the Church commemorates the memory of the “Holy Fathers” and it was no coincidence that His Eminence Archbishop Michael had come that day to dedicate a facility which would house the elderly fathers and mothers of the Greek Orthodox community. Assisted by Father Neophytos Spyros, the first President of the Board of Trustees, and Fr. Demetrios Frangos, President of the Archdiocesan District Clergy Syndesmos, His Eminence at 3:00 P.M. celebrated an Agiasmos Service, invoking the blessings of Almighty God upon this new endeavor. “We beseech You and ask You, embrace with Your all-powerful grace this institution which has been established to care for those encumbered by old age and to show love to our elderly pioneer brethren who have offered so much” (part of the prayer composed for that service).
Despite the inclement weather, hundreds of people, not only from the New York metropolitan area but also from other parts of the country, had gathered to witness this historic event…the opening of the first Greek Orthodox “old age home” in the United States. Another Archdiocesan institution was born, joining the ranks of its sister institutions, Holy Cross Theological School in Brookline, MA and St. Basil’s Academy in Garrison, NY. Individuals from all walks of life had gathered to celebrate this latest accomplishment of the Greek Orthodox community in its new homeland. Dignitaries in attendance included: George Melas, Ambassador of Greece to the United States; Chris Xathopoulos Palamas, Permanent Representative of Greece to the U.N.; Constantine Triatafillakos Consul General of Greece; Christian Christianson, Mayor of Yonkers; and, Mrs. Alexander of the Welfare Department of New York State. All had come to convey their greetings and best wishes. They had come to witness not only the beginning of a new facility but also the culmination of a dream…a dream which had been born a few years before.
St. Michael’s Home was conceived by His Eminence Archbishop Michael who had recognized the critical need for a facility which would care for the growing number of Greek Orthodox elderly in America. A man of spiritual depth, His Eminence was noted for his outreach to his flock (he was also the founder of GOYA) and he felt a deep sense of indebtedness to the elderly who were the pioneers of the Greek-American community. It was these early immigrants who had overcome their poverty and many hardships and through their hard work and selfless dedication had established churches, parochial schools, institutions and the Archdiocese. His Eminence cognizant of the debt owed to these individuals for what they had achieved in establishing the Church in this country, deemed it a sacred responsibility to provide for these people in their “old age”. He envisioned the “Spiti to Protoporou” (Home of the Pioneer) where these pioneers would receive the spiritual and physical care they so deserved.
Responding to the vision of their shepherd, the Clergy Syndesmos of the First Archdicesan District voted on January 10, 1957 to spearhead the establishment of this institution. Headed by the President of the Syndesmos, Rev. John Poulos, it was the clergy of the area who undertook this monumental task. Without a doubt, such an undertaking would involve great expense and while the treasury of the Syndesmos was small, the enthusiasm of its members certainly was not. Through the efforts of Fr. John, Mrs. Barbara Cosmetos of Lausanne, Switzerland became the first Great Benefactor when she donated the then great sum of $10,000 in memory of her husband, John.
With the blessings of the Archbishop, a group of individuals, who comprised the first Board of Trustees, gathered on May 8, 1957, to sign the “Certificate of Incorporation”. Within the contents of that certificate in which the name of the corporation was listed as “Institution for the Aged of the Greek Orthodox Church, Inc.”, they affirmed that the corporation was being formed “to supervise, operate and maintain a home for aged persons, and in connection there with to provide adequate and suitable facilities and services to meet the physical, social and spiritual needs of such residents”. Those individuals who assumed the herculean task of establishing the institution which would fulfill that mission were: Rev. John Poulos, Rev. Demetrios Frangos, George Diamond, Cleon Cosmetto, Rev. Neophytos Spyros, Nicholas Stevason, Thomas Batzos, Rev. Demetrios Stephanopoulos, Theodore Tsolainos, Costa Goulandris, Louis Dukas, Katherine Poulos, Demi Vagelos, Penny Chrisomales, Sophie Megdanes, Calliope Sapunakis and Rev. James Aloupis. On June 30, 1957, a charter was issued by the State of New York and the dream of Archbishop Michael grew closer to becoming a reality.
Having secured the necessary legal status and certification, a committee now began a search to locate an appropriate site to house this philanthropic institution of the Archdiocese. Within a short period of time, they selected a building located in a bucolic suburb of New York City. It had housed a B’nai Brith nursing home which was being relocated to a larger facility. Negotiations were undertaken and on July 17, 1957, the site was purchased for $125,000. A down payment was made and a mortgage was secured for $100,000. In an issue of the National Herald, the purchase was announced to the “Omogenia” and in the words of Fr. Poulos, “a simple hope now becomes a full reality”. (It must be noted at this junction that no other person has maintained a central role in the life of the Home as has Fr. John. From the days of its inception when he was instrumental in mobilizing the clergy to spearhead the establishment of the facility, to the obtaining of the first major gift from Mrs. Cosmetos, to the recent securing of a bequest of close to million dollars which helped complete the renovation and expansion project, Father served with distinction and was a member of the Board of Trustees until 1997.)
Having purchased an appropriate facility, attention was turned to preparing the building to receive its first Greek Orthodox residents. Applications were received from the potential residents: Victoria Bailos (76 yrs. old), Peter Cekourias (67 yrs. old), Peter Loutos (74 yrs. old), Vassiliki Katsigiannis (88 yrs. old), Mary Saytanides (85 yrs. old), Theodore Stergios (71 yrs. old), Nicholas Vasso (75 yrs. old), Anagnostis Alexiades (74 yrs. old) and John Calos. While it had been initially hoped that the institution could begin to operate by November of 1957, it took longer than expected to complete the renovations, and the commencement of operation was postponed until the following Spring.
To prepare for the official opening, a committee was formed to oversee this event. The members of this Dedication Committee included: Mrs. Katie Vlavianos, Chairwoman; Mrs. Louiza Zoulis, Co-Chairwoman; and, Mrs. Sophie Hatjiannis, Vice-Chairman. Preparations were completed to assure that the dedication of this institution would be held with the dignity and ceremony appropriate for a facility undertaking the sacred and critical mission of caring for the senior members of the community. People came from all over to share in this momentous occasion. They came to offer their moral and financial support. The list of donors that day included: Archbishop Michael ($1000); Theodore Tsolainos ($900); Sophie Hatjiannis ($2500 in memory of her husband); Annunciation Church and Philoptochos, Baltimore ($1691); Aris Kokolis, President of the Bridgeport CT Parish ($500); St. Demetrios Church, Jersey City ($200); the Kastorian Association ($150); the Philoptochos Society of Astoria ($300). Another achievement of the “Omogenia” had been realized, another critical ministry of the Church had become reality.
Begun as a simple dream of a pious servant of God, St. Michael’s Home, in spite of its humble beginnings, continues years later to fulfill its noble mission. It is a home no longer for the pioneers but now for the growing number of their children and it is truly a facility of which we can all be proud!