90th Anniversary of Saint Andrew: Priests Assigned to Our Parish (Part IV)

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

THE REVEREND FATHER NICHOLAS J. VELIS, FIRST MARRIED PRIEST ASSIGNED TO ST. ANDREW

Father Nicholas J. Velis was born in Las Vegas, Nevada. Upon his graduation from the University of Utah, Father Velis entered the Greek Orthodox Theological School at Pomfret, Connecticut. He married Frances in 1943, his future Presbytera. He was ordained first a Deacon in 1943 at Pomfret and ordained to the Holy Priesthood in Bangor, Main. He and Presbytera Frances had three children, Demetra, George and Stanley.

Father Velis served at Saints Constantine and Helen church in Webster, Mass., the Assumption Church in Bayard, Nebraska, and Saint John Church in Omaha, Nebraska before coming to South Bend.

In preparation for the first married priest to be assigned to the parish of Saint Andrew, the parish purchased a parish home at 122 Wakewa Avenue. Since the parsonage was not ready when Father Velis arrived in South Bend, the Oliver Hotel served as his headquarters for several weeks, and it was from there that Father Nicholas addressed his first pastoral letter of July 5, 1957, to the stewards of the parish:

"My Dear Parishioners:

May I come into your home for a moment and introduce myself. I am Father Nick, your new priest.

I arrived with my family in South Bend for the purpose of leading the Parish of Saint Andrew as your pastor, your brother, and your confessor. As I assume my duties, I deem it proper to let you know of my plans, hopes and dreams.

I feel that the Orthodox Church of America is becoming a Church that the world looks to for guidance. It is devoting itself to the welfare and spiritual uplifting of its followers. With this in mind, I want you to know that I desire to become a part of you, to know you, to love you, and to work for you. As I do not know you at the present, I must depend upon you to contact me and let me know of your talents, of your ambitions, and of your desires. All suggestions for the welfare of our church will be acknowledged..."

Spiritually,

Father Nick

Having settled into our parish, Father Nick became involved in the Council of Churches of Saint Joseph County. On July 14, 1957, he was guest lecturer of the Council's open air meeting at Howard Park. Later he participated in the Council's morning prayer series. At Father Nick's urging Saint Andrew church joined the Council of Churches of St. Joseph County. Father Nick's active participation in the council advanced the acceptance and understanding of Greek Orthodoxy in Michiana.

Father also sought to promote the study of Orthodoxy by appointing Mary Demos (Mighion) as Sunday School Director in 1957. Sunday School enrollment and attendance in 1958 was at an all time high. Father Nick introduced the weekly bulletin, written in Greek and English, which was interesting and informative. He visited the Greek businessmen as did his predecessors. In Elkhart Father Nick found many elderly railroad workers and persuaded them to attend the Greek Orthodox Church. For many of these men it was the first Orthodox services in which they had participated since leaving their Greek villages for America.

The South Bend, chapter of Ahepa welcomed Father Nick by hosting a buffet dinner on September 15, 1957.

During Pascha Week, beginning with the observance of Palm Sunday on April 6, 1958, Father Nick spoke on radio and television. Every morning and evening he spoke about our Paschal holy services and Tradition. On Holy and Great Friday evening, the Lamentations Service was televised live from the church.

Father Nicholas J. Velis' stay in the Saint Andrew parish was destined to be a short one. Father Nick came here after our former priest, Fr. Glynos. Some parishioners did not approve of priests being married. They congregated in the Greek business places downtown, exchanging news, not about St. Andrew parish, but about Father Nick, Presbytera Frances and their three children, Demetra, George and Stanley. In due time, everything relating to Father Velis' family was being scrutinized. There was much strife, bitterness and turmoil dividing the parish into hostile camps with members of the same family choosing opposing sides with regard to the propriety of a priest being married.

On March 1, 1959, Father Nick announced from the pulpit that he was considering an offer from Spokane, Washington. The parish council tried to persuade him to reconsider leaving South Bend. However, Father Nickolas J. Velis' last service at Saint Andrew church was conducted on March 8, 1959. The church was completely full. What was unusual about this crowd was that they were whispering, even talking aloud. When the Divine Liturgy was over, there was complete silence. All eyes focused on Father Nick as he approached the pulpit. His sermon was unusually short:

"My dear parishioners, after due consideration of present existing conditions in our parish, and considering what is best for the well-being of my family and Saint Andrew, I have decided to accept the appointment which is being offered to me by Holy Trinity church in Spokane, Washington."

That Sunday night the Kouroubetis brothers, Milton and John, hosted a party for the Velis Family. Over a hundred people came to wish Father Nick, Presbytera Frances and their children good-bye and best wishes on his new assignment at Holy Trinity parish at Spokane, Washington.

Father Velis was parish priest at Holy Trinity for twenty-five years until his retirement in 1984. During an interview at the time of his retirement, he said, "I have no bitterness toward anyone or anything. I know you can never satisfy everyone."

(Source: The Greeks of Michiana by Milton Kouroubetis)

(To be continued)

In Christ,

+Father George