Cathedral school welcomes students from Ukraine

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Cathedral school welcomes students from Ukraine

Students at St. Nicholas Cathedral School in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village lead a vigil on March 21, 2022 to offer prayers for peace in Ukraine. Students from St. Pius V School, in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, St. Mary Star of the Sea School and St. Nicholas of Tolentine School, both located in Chicago’s West Lawn neighborhood, joined the students and staff for the service. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Paul Skomorosh leads the vigil at St. Nicholas Cathedral School in Ukrainian Village. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students light candles at the beginning of the prayer service. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Younger students at the school line up the front row holding their candles. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students from St. Nicholas of Tolentine School pray during the service. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
St. Nicholas students sing the Ukrainian national anthem during the service. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
St. Nicholas students sing the Ukrainian national anthem. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A student speaks before the rosary begins. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students lead the rosary. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students lead the rosary. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students pray the rosary. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A student from St. Pius V School participates in the service. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

For students at St. Nicholas Cathedral School, the war in Ukraine is not half a world away. It’s happening to their families and in their hearts.

“We feel helpless because we are across the ocean,” said eighth grader Daniel Fuchyla. “We want to help our relatives, help our family members.”

Daniel said all his relatives except his parents are in Ukraine. He and his middle school classmates at St. Nicholas Cathedral School organized a March 21 prayer service to pray for peace in Ukraine. Students from three Chicago Catholic schools joined them.

The school, a ministry of St. Nicholas Cathedral, the seat of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy, had accepted about 20 new students from Ukraine between Jan. 1 and March 21, with most of them coming in March, said Anna Cirilli, the school’s principal.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church is an eastern rite church in full communion with the Holy See.

Russia invaded its neighbor on Feb. 24, and by March 30, more than 4 million people, mostly women, children and elderly people, had fled the country, with a much larger number displaced within Ukraine’s borders.

The vast majority of St. Nicholas students are also Ukrainian, either immigrants themselves or the children or grandchildren of immigrants, and most of them speak Ukrainian as well as English. The newcomers are often coming to stay with relatives who live near the school in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood, where many houses and cars are displaying Ukrainian flags and trees are wrapped in blue and yellow ribbons.

At the prayer service, the students sang the Ukrainian national anthem with perhaps a bit more gusto than the U.S. anthem, and responded to repeated calls of “Slava Ukriani!” (“Glory to Ukriane!”) with “Heroiam slava!” (“Glory to the heroes!”)

At the prayer service, middle school students led younger students and guests in prayers and two decades of the rosary in the gym, which was decorated with large blue and yellow posters in Ukrainian and English calling for peace in Ukraine.

“We are here to pray for peace and to pray for the consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” said eighth grader Paul Skomoroch, who led the English-language portion of the service.

Speaking of the war, he said, “Families have been separated not knowing when they will see each other again.”

Skomoroch asked everyone in attendance to join in Pope Francis’ prayer for Russia and Ukraine to be consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

“I ask all of you to pray, to pray every day, but especially on March 25 at 11 a.m.,” he said.

Father Sergey Kovalchuk, administrator of St. Nicholas Cathedral, asked the students, “Who starts war?”

Some students responded, “Russia,” but Kovalchuk said, “It is the devil who starts war, working through his people. Who stops war? God, through his people.”

By praying together, he said, the students were helping bring an end to the war.

The prayer service was the second organized by the middle school students since the invasion. Students also have done things like walk to a neighborhood business to post Ukrainian flags — and get treated to ice cream — and the school received flowers from an organization that provides blooms donated by florists and other shops to people and organizations that might need some cheer.

St. Nicholas Cathedral School has been almost overwhelmed with the support it has been receiving, especially after media reports about students arriving from Ukraine. Those donations have been put to good use by the new families.

“It’s almost every day now,” said Cirilli, of new students from Ukraine coming in. When a new student arrives, she sends them to a room where everything is organized with an older student.

“They can go through the room and fill backpack with school supplies and get a couple of other things,” she said. “Then they are ready the next day to start school.”

The existing students have offered a warm welcome to their new classmates, she said.

“They really are trying to make it as comfortable for them as possible,” she said.

Now, Cirilli is asking people to donate to the Big Shoulders Fund’s special fund to help cover the new students’ tuition, and to help with other expenses, such as getting more help with social-emotional learning and possibly a new teacher.

The other schools who joined in the prayer service are also supported by the Big Shoulders Fund, a non-profit that helps Catholic schools with demonstrated financial need.

Msgr. Ken Velo, co-chairman of the fund, spoke, telling the St. Nicholas students to draw strength from their peers.

“They stand with you, as do all of your brothers and sisters around the city,” Velo said.

Eighth grader Roman Stashkiv said the middle school students were surprised at the amount of support they received, especially since the first prayer service they organized didn’t get any outside attention.

“It was just the school,” said Roman, who was born in Italy and then moved with his family back to Ukraine before coming to Chicago at age 5.

“It was really hard for me to get used to it when I came here,” he said. “So for the ones coming now — some of them are really young children. For them it’s got to be more difficult.”

Carolyn Majorowski, assistant principal of St. Nicholas of Tolentine School, 3741 W. 62nd St., came with her school’s eighth graders.

“We’ve been talking to the students about what is going on and praying for Ukraine every day,” she said. “They’re St. Nicholas too, so we wanted to come and support them.”

“I stand with Ukraine,” added eighth grader Gianni Luque. “I want to support them because of what they are going through.”

In addition to St. Nicholas, students from St. Mary, Star of the Sea, 6424 S. Kenneth Ave., and St. Pius V, 1919 S. Ashland Ave., came to pray with their peers.

St. Pius V Principal Melissa Talaber is also part of the St. Nicholas Cathedral School community, as her daughter attends there. She brought fifth and sixth graders to the service.

“For me, it’s personal,” said Talaber, whose husband is Ukrainian.

Her students, who are mostly from the Latino community, might not understand the long history between Russia and Ukraine, but they feel for people suffering from conflict and violence.

“I don’t know how much they fully grasp it,” she said. “But it was important for them to show their support.”


  • ukraine
  • ukrainian catholic eparchy of st. nicholas

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