Lebanese and Syrian immigrants came to the new world with hopes and dreams of a better life. The Orthodox faith was the bond for just fifty families in the Louisville, Jefferson County, area during the first few years of the 20th century. They gathered in homes and at the “Neighborhood House,” a settlement house on South First Street. As their bond strengthened, they sought to build a spiritual home.
The women organized first, holding Bible studies under the leadership of Jaleelah Aboud. Visiting priests held services in homes, where small chapels were formed. However, a church in which to raise families in the Orthodox faith was desperately needed, the construction of which would require funds.
The women began to meet this need with the tradition of the “family dinner.” With the permission of the “Neighborhood House” and generous donations from area businesses, the faithful served their first meal and raised over five hundred dollars. These funds were used to purchase a building at 432 East Jefferson Street near downtown Louisville. The site was across the street from the “Louisville Haymarket” where many Syrian and Lebanese families had opened businesses. Originally the temple of the B’nai Jacob Jewish congregation, the building was dedicated to the protection of the Archangel Michael in November 1934.
During the early years of the growing parish, the services of the church were conducted in classical Arabic by such clergy as the Reverend Fathers Thomas Abodeely, Gerasimos Yerrid, George Trad, John Hakim, Elias Hajj, Nicholas Husson, and Elia Abi Karem.
Realizing the needs of the youth, a group of theologians was commissioned on the national level to translate the Divine Services of the Church into English. With the arrival of an English-speaking priest, Father Gregory Reynolds, youngsters began to learn and live their Orthodox faith.
Early in 1962, the parish both recognized the need to expand and experienced the loss of the church building on East Jefferson Street, which was demolished to make way for the construction of Interstate 65. Father Michael Howard and the parish council began negotiations for nine and one-quarter acres of land in Eastern Jefferson County. In 1963, under the pastorate of Father George S. Corey and the lay leadership of Anthony Thomas and Lee Farah, the property at 3024-28 Hikes Lane was purchased for $85,000.
In 1965, an educational building was erected (now used as the Parish Hall), and liturgies were held in what is now known as the Double Classroom. Ground was broken for the present church in September 1971, and it was consecrated on October 8, 1972.
St. Michael is the only Byzantine structure in Kentucky. It boasts a gold-plated chandelier made in Greece with over 250 lights. Under the spiritual leadership of Very Rev. Fr. Alexander Atty, the interior of the church was frescoed in Byzantine icons.
By the 1990s, St. Michael’s had tripled in size with not only traditional Orthodox Christians, but also converts from other faiths. After the fall of Communism, the parish became a beacon to the faithful from Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine and Yugoslavia. In addition, Orthodox Christians arrived from Egypt, Ethiopia, India and Palestine.
In 1999, St. George Chapel was built on the east side of the property and was made available for 24-hour worship. The Parish Hall was expanded to include new classrooms, a library and media center, and meeting halls to educate everyone in the Orthodox faith. The Holy Trinity Apartments, a residential facility for the elderly, was also built on the campus, as well as a facility to house special needs children and adults. The campus also has several single family homes, including a stone house that belonged to the Hikes family that dates to the late 1700s.
Today, St. Michael is a Pan-Orthodox parish with over 900 members from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds.