205.251.5057
© Copyright St. Elias Maronite Church • 836 8th Street South, Birmingham, Alabama  35205 • 205-252-3867

Detailed History of St. Elias Maronite Church

Saint Elias Maronite Catholic Church was established in 1910 in order to serve a growing population of people (primarily from what is now the country of Lebanon, and others from the Middle East countries) who had immigrated to Birmingham.  Maronite Catholics practice their ancestral Rite, yet maintain the same essentials as other Rites of the Roman Catholic Church.  The Maronite Church has consistently maintained its bonds with Rome and the Holy See.  The Maronites have their own Patriarch and Bishops and ancient traditions which include the use of Aramaic (the language of Christ) in its liturgy.  There was no church in Birmingham in which these Catholics could worship God according to their Rite and these rich traditions.  By 1906 there were about 150 Eastern Rite people in the city.  Father James E. Coyle, Pastor of Saint Paul's and chaplain to the group,  had invited Eastern Rite Priests to give missions at Saint Paul’s for the parishioners who were members of the Maronite (and Melkite) Rites. In 1907, Rev. Mobarek Bellama became a missionary to the Maronite Rite Catholics in the United States.  Father Coyle asked Bishop E. P. Allen for a Maronite Priest to serve the people of Birmingham, and in January of 1910, Father Bellama arrived in Birmingham.  He resided at Saint Paul’s Rectory and held the Maronite Rite Liturgy in a room at Saint Paul’s School while organizing a congregation and establishing the Saint Elias Maronite Catholic parish. Property was purchased on Sixth Avenue South, between 20th and 21st Streets, and the existing building on the property was remodeled and converted into the Church.  On February 14, 1914, Bishop Allen dedicated the new Church in honor of Saint Elias, "patron of the villages from which the faithful came."  The Maronite population had more than doubled to over 300 by then and attendance for the dedication Mass was beyond the capacity for the first Maronite Rite Church built south of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1917 Rev. Joseph Koury was named the second pastor of the Church and Bishop Allen administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to the first class at Saint Elias in 1919.  Rev. George Aziz became the third pastor in 1920 and rewrote the music and Arabic phonetically so the choir and parishioners could fully participate in the Liturgy.  Rev. Joseph Ghanem was named 4th pastor in 1923, Chorbishop Joseph Shebayah 5th pastor in 1925, Rev. Joseph Shaboth 6th pastor in 1926 Rev. Paul Rizk 7th in 1929.  . Rev. George Aziz was again appointed 8th pastor in 1929.   From 1935-1937 St. Elias was under the direction of Latin rite priests Reverend Edward Shea and Rev. Herman Cazalas. Rev. Joseph Yazbek was appointed 9th pastor in 1937.  Due to the financial hardships created by the Great Depression, the parish suffered greatly:  registered parishioners dropped to 61 and it was unable to sustain the operations of the Church.  By 1938 Rev. Joseph Schumtz, Pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, and Rev. Herman Cazalas, and others, including some Benedictine priests from St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, were appointed to serve Saint Elias part-time. In 1939 Saint Elias was temporarily closed.  In less than a year, Rev. Joseph Ferris Abi-Chedid was appointed the 10th pastor and tasked with reopening the church with a treasury fund of $7.87 and $311.00 raised by the Ladies' Altar Society (which had never ceased working to raise funds while the Church was closed).  Those funds were used to repair the Church and Rectory and plans were made for future expansion. By 1949 a new site had been purchased, a square block on Eighth Street between 8th and 9th Avenues South, for the relocation of the Church. In 1947, Father Abi-Chedid, Yousef (Joseph) Habshey and Sam Boackle traveled to Lebanon to obtain marble from the Habshey family quarry to be used for the cornerstones of the church. The structure was completed in December, 1950 and the first Mass in the new Church was offered on Christmas Day.  In 1958, ground was broken for the Church Hall. Saint Elias celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1960 and His Beatitude Paul Peter Meouchi, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and all the East dedicated the new Church and Church Hall.  Rev. Abi-Chedid was ordained Chorbishop. In 1962 the St. Elias church rectory was completed and dedicated. In 1966 Pope Paul VI established the Maronite Apostolic Exarchate in the United States.  Most Reverend Francis M. Zayek was named Exarch of the Exarchate of Saint Maron, with headquarters in Detroit, Michigan.  In 1970 Msgr. John Trad was named the 11th pastor.  In 1972 Rev. Richard D. Saad was assigned to Saint Elias as Assistant Pastor and then as Temporary Administrator and the Exarchate was raised to the rank of an Eparchy (Diocese).  In June Saint Elias Parish hosted the ninth annual National Apostolate of Maronites ("NAM") Convention, a first for Birmingham, with Archbishop Peter Sfair, representative of Pope Paul VI, in attendance.  U.S. Congressman Abraham Kazan of Texas served as banquet speaker.  The President of Lebanon, Suleiman Franjieh, addressed the convention via telephone connection during the banquet. Rev. Richard D. Saad was appointed the 12th pastor in 1976 and in July Archibishop Roland Aboujaoude and Bishop Francis Zayek attended and spoke at the Southern Federation Convention in Birmingham.  In 1980, Rev. Fahed Azar was ordained at the Church, the Order of St. Sharbel met at the Church (and subsequently conducted its winter retreat in Birmingham in 1984), and the Church hosted the Executive Board of NAM in 1980 and 1982.  Rev. Maron Abi-Nader was appointed 13th pastor in 1984, and Rev. William J. Decker was appointed 14th pastor later in 1984.  Rev. Richard D. Saad was reappointed 15th pastor of Saint Elias in 1985, the year of its Diamond Jubilee and Year of Spiritual Renewal and hosted Archbishop Francis Zayek, all living former pastors, Bishop Joseph Vath and Msgr. George Wehby, Vicar-General. In 1988 His Beatitude Nesrallah Peter Sfeir, Maronite Patriarch, visited the Church.  In 1989 Saint Elias held its second ordination for Rev. (Hikeael) Paul Peter Boackle.  In 1992 Rev. Richard Saad was elevated to the honor of Papal Chamberlain, with the title of Monsignor.  In 1993 Saint Elias hosted NAM for the second time.  In 1996 a multipurpose building with 3 classrooms and a reception hall was built on the north side of the church. In 2000 and 2007, respectively, Deacons Joe Stephens and Sam Wehby were ordained.  In 2000 Rev. John Paul Kimes became the third priest to be ordained in Saint Elias and is currently assigned to the Vatican in the Office for the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith.  In 2004 Monsignor Richard Saad was ordained Chorbishop. 2010 marks the 100th Anniversary of Saint Elias.  For the third time, Saint Elias will host the Maronite Convention.  Saint Elias is a vibrant, growing Church, committed to its Mission, its parishioners and the surrounding community.  Its parishioners continue to hold various leadership roles in NAM, religious education enrollment increases every year, and summers are filled with parish picnics, Wednesday Family nights, classes in Arabic and adult education, and lectures on family health.  For over 10 years Saint Elias has conducted its Lebanese Food and Cultural Festival.  Attendance at the two (2) day event has grown to over seven (7) thousand.  Traditional foods are made by the parishioners.  Over $195,000 in proceeds from the Festival has been donated to over 17 different local, national, and international charities. Under the leadership of Chorbishop Richard Saad, and in preparation for its Centennial Year, the Parish kicked off its first-ever Faith.Family.Heritage Capital Campaign in 2009.   A new covered side entrance to the Church and additional parking was created.  In addition, a complete renovation of the Church interior, and construction of a Grotto and Columbarium, was completed in 2009.  Saint Elias has grown in its 100 years to over 1200 parishioners, representing over 400 families.  The construction financed by the Faith.Family.Heritage Capital Campaign, and the establishment of a Foundation designed to fund the needs of the Church, will ensure the future of Saint Elias Maronite Catholic Church for generations to come. In 2010 St. Elias celebrated its Centennial Year with a number of special events.  One hundred consecutive hours of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was observed. A Lenten Mission was held with Monsignor Don Sawyer.  St. Elias hosted the 47th Annual NAM Convention July 7-11, 2010 with Mark and Kimberly Boackle as co-chairpersons. Bishop Robert Shaheen was here for the convention and for the closing of the Centennial Year at Thanksgiving, 2010.  Also in 2010 the area in front of the rectory was redesigned, adding limestone pavers, new steps from the 9th Avenue side and new landscaping. On November 10, 2012 Deacon Joseph Roberts Stephens, Sr. died.  He was the first permanent deacon to serve St. Elias and he had served for 12 years. In 2013 the 15th annual St. Elias Food and Cultural Festival was held April 12-13.  This was the most successful festival yet with additional television coverage.  A 5K run was added, benefitting the SUKI Foundation, which helps children with RETT Syndrome and their families.  In 2014 a kitchen renovation and expansion project was completed.  Chorbishop Richard D. Saad was named Vicar General of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon by the Eparchy’s third bishop, Bishop A. Elias Zaidan. A special Memorial in honor of the late Deacon Joe Stephens was built.   Bishop Zaidan visited St. Elias March 28-30, 2014 for the first time as bishop.  During his visit he ordained Subdeacons Mark Ferris and Jimmy Wehby and blessed the newly renovated kitchen and the Deacon Joe Stephens Memorial. On September 12-13, 2014 Maronite Patriarch Bechara Cardinal Peter Rai made a pastoral visit to St. Elias.  He was accompanied by his Vicar General, Archbishop Paul Sayah and our Bishop Elias Zaidan.  We had a full schedule of activities during his visit including a Divine Liturgy, an evening banquet at The Club, a presentation by the parish children, Safro and a parish Brunch. He also dedicated the Deacon Joseph Stephens Memorial. On December 7, 2014 Bishop A. Elias Zaidan visited St. Elias for the third time this year to install Paul Peter Bolus and Norman Edward Bolus into the Pontifical Equestrian Order of the Knights of St. Gregory the Great. This is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon laypersons by the Pope. On January 15, 2015 Deacon Samuel J. Wehby died.  He was the second permanent deacon to serve St. Elias and he had served for 8 years. From October 28-30, 2015 St. Elias hosted the relics of St. Sharbel.  Bishop Elias was here for the opening of the 3 day celebration.  There were special liturgies, time for confession and time for veneration of the relics.  At the St. Maron Banquet on February 6, 2016 we honored 15 parishioners who were 90 years old or older. Sources: Lovett, R. G. (1980).  Catholic Church in the Deep South (The Diocese of  Birmingham in Alabama). NAM Convention 1993:  St. Elias Birmingham July 28-August 1 (1993).
© Copyright St. Elias Maronite Church • 836 8th Street South, Birmingham, Alabama  35205 • 205-252-3867
205.251.5057

Detailed History of St. Elias

Maronite Church

Saint Elias Maronite Catholic Church was established in 1910 in order to serve a growing population of people (primarily from what is now the country of Lebanon, and others from the Middle East countries) who had immigrated to Birmingham.  Maronite Catholics practice their ancestral Rite, yet maintain the same essentials as other Rites of the Roman Catholic Church.  The Maronite Church has consistently maintained its bonds with Rome and the Holy See.  The Maronites have their own Patriarch and Bishops and ancient traditions which include the use of Aramaic (the language of Christ) in its liturgy.  There was no church in Birmingham in which these Catholics could worship God according to their Rite and these rich traditions.  By 1906 there were about 150 Eastern Rite people in the city.  Father James E. Coyle, Pastor of Saint Paul's and chaplain to the group,  had invited Eastern Rite Priests to give missions at Saint Paul’s for the parishioners who were members of the Maronite (and Melkite) Rites. In 1907, Rev. Mobarek Bellama became a missionary to the Maronite Rite Catholics in the United States.  Father Coyle asked Bishop E. P. Allen for a Maronite Priest to serve the people of Birmingham, and in January of 1910, Father Bellama arrived in Birmingham.  He resided at Saint Paul’s Rectory and held the Maronite Rite Liturgy in a room at Saint Paul’s School while organizing a congregation and establishing the Saint Elias Maronite Catholic parish. Property was purchased on Sixth Avenue South, between 20th and 21st Streets, and the existing building on the property was remodeled and converted into the Church.  On February 14, 1914, Bishop Allen dedicated the new Church in honor of Saint Elias, "patron of the villages from which the faithful came."  The Maronite population had more than doubled to over 300 by then and attendance for the dedication Mass was beyond the capacity for the first Maronite Rite Church built south of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1917 Rev. Joseph Koury was named the second pastor of the Church and Bishop Allen administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to the first class at Saint Elias in 1919.  Rev. George Aziz became the third pastor in 1920 and rewrote the music and Arabic phonetically so the choir and parishioners could fully participate in the Liturgy.  Rev. Joseph Ghanem was named 4th pastor in 1923, Chorbishop Joseph Shebayah 5th pastor in 1925, Rev. Joseph Shaboth 6th pastor in 1926 Rev. Paul Rizk 7th in 1929.  . Rev. George Aziz was again appointed 8th pastor in 1929.   From 1935-1937 St. Elias was under the direction of Latin rite priests Reverend Edward Shea and Rev. Herman Cazalas. Rev. Joseph Yazbek was appointed 9th pastor in 1937.  Due to the financial hardships created by the Great Depression, the parish suffered greatly:  registered parishioners dropped to 61 and it was unable to sustain the operations of the Church.  By 1938 Rev. Joseph Schumtz, Pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, and Rev. Herman Cazalas, and others, including some Benedictine priests from St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, were appointed to serve Saint Elias part-time. In 1939 Saint Elias was temporarily closed.  In less than a year, Rev. Joseph Ferris Abi-Chedid was appointed the 10th pastor and tasked with reopening the church with a treasury fund of $7.87 and $311.00 raised by the Ladies' Altar Society (which had never ceased working to raise funds while the Church was closed).  Those funds were used to repair the Church and Rectory and plans were made for future expansion. By 1949 a new site had been purchased, a square block on Eighth Street between 8th and 9th Avenues South, for the relocation of the Church. In 1947, Father Abi-Chedid, Yousef (Joseph) Habshey and Sam Boackle traveled to Lebanon to obtain marble from the Habshey family quarry to be used for the cornerstones of the church. The structure was completed in December, 1950 and the first Mass in the new Church was offered on Christmas Day.  In 1958, ground was broken for the Church Hall. Saint Elias celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1960 and His Beatitude Paul Peter Meouchi, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and all the East dedicated the new Church and Church Hall.  Rev. Abi-Chedid was ordained Chorbishop. In 1962 the St. Elias church rectory was completed and dedicated. In 1966 Pope Paul VI established the Maronite Apostolic Exarchate in the United States.  Most Reverend Francis M. Zayek was named Exarch of the Exarchate of Saint Maron, with headquarters in Detroit, Michigan.  In 1970 Msgr. John Trad was named the 11th pastor.  In 1972 Rev. Richard D. Saad was assigned to Saint Elias as Assistant Pastor and then as Temporary Administrator and the Exarchate was raised to the rank of an Eparchy (Diocese).  In June Saint Elias Parish hosted the ninth annual National Apostolate of Maronites ("NAM") Convention, a first for Birmingham, with Archbishop Peter Sfair, representative of Pope Paul VI, in attendance.  U.S. Congressman Abraham Kazan of Texas served as banquet speaker.  The President of Lebanon, Suleiman Franjieh, addressed the convention via telephone connection during the banquet. Rev. Richard D. Saad was appointed the 12th pastor in 1976 and in July Archibishop Roland Aboujaoude and Bishop Francis Zayek attended and spoke at the Southern Federation Convention in Birmingham.  In 1980, Rev. Fahed Azar was ordained at the Church, the Order of St. Sharbel met at the Church (and subsequently conducted its winter retreat in Birmingham in 1984), and the Church hosted the Executive Board of NAM in 1980 and 1982.  Rev. Maron Abi-Nader was appointed 13th pastor in 1984, and Rev. William J. Decker was appointed 14th pastor later in 1984.  Rev. Richard D. Saad was reappointed 15th pastor of Saint Elias in 1985, the year of its Diamond Jubilee and Year of Spiritual Renewal and hosted Archbishop Francis Zayek, all living former pastors, Bishop Joseph Vath and Msgr. George Wehby, Vicar-General. In 1988 His Beatitude Nesrallah Peter Sfeir, Maronite Patriarch, visited the Church.  In 1989 Saint Elias held its second ordination for Rev. (Hikeael) Paul Peter Boackle.  In 1992 Rev. Richard Saad was elevated to the honor of Papal Chamberlain, with the title of Monsignor.  In 1993 Saint Elias hosted NAM for the second time.  In 1996 a multipurpose building with 3 classrooms and a reception hall was built on the north side of the church. In 2000 and 2007, respectively, Deacons Joe Stephens and Sam Wehby were ordained.  In 2000 Rev. John Paul Kimes became the third priest to be ordained in Saint Elias and is currently assigned to the Vatican in the Office for the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith.  In 2004 Monsignor Richard Saad was ordained Chorbishop. 2010 marks the 100th Anniversary of Saint Elias.  For the third time, Saint Elias will host the Maronite Convention.  Saint Elias is a vibrant, growing Church, committed to its Mission, its parishioners and the surrounding community.  Its parishioners continue to hold various leadership roles in NAM, religious education enrollment increases every year, and summers are filled with parish picnics, Wednesday Family nights, classes in Arabic and adult education, and lectures on family health.  For over 10 years Saint Elias has conducted its Lebanese Food and Cultural Festival.  Attendance at the two (2) day event has grown to over seven (7) thousand.  Traditional foods are made by the parishioners.  Over $195,000 in proceeds from the Festival has been donated to over 17 different local, national, and international charities. Under the leadership of Chorbishop Richard Saad, and in preparation for its Centennial Year, the Parish kicked off its first-ever Faith.Family.Heritage Capital Campaign in 2009.   A new covered side entrance to the Church and additional parking was created.  In addition, a complete renovation of the Church interior, and construction of a Grotto and Columbarium, was completed in 2009.  Saint Elias has grown in its 100 years to over 1200 parishioners, representing over 400 families.  The construction financed by the Faith.Family.Heritage Capital Campaign, and the establishment of a Foundation designed to fund the needs of the Church, will ensure the future of Saint Elias Maronite Catholic Church for generations to come. In 2010 St. Elias celebrated its Centennial Year with a number of special events.  One hundred consecutive hours of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was observed. A Lenten Mission was held with Monsignor Don Sawyer.  St. Elias hosted the 47th Annual NAM Convention July 7-11, 2010 with Mark and Kimberly Boackle as co- chairpersons. Bishop Robert Shaheen was here for the convention and for the closing of the Centennial Year at Thanksgiving, 2010.  Also in 2010 the area in front of the rectory was redesigned, adding limestone pavers, new steps from the 9th Avenue side and new landscaping. On November 10, 2012 Deacon Joseph Roberts Stephens, Sr. died.  He was the first permanent deacon to serve St. Elias and he had served for 12 years. In 2013 the 15th annual St. Elias Food and Cultural Festival was held April 12-13.  This was the most successful festival yet with additional television coverage.  A 5K run was added, benefitting the SUKI Foundation, which helps children with RETT Syndrome and their families.  In 2014 a kitchen renovation and expansion project was completed.  Chorbishop Richard D. Saad was named Vicar General of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon by the Eparchy’s third bishop, Bishop A. Elias Zaidan. A special Memorial in honor of the late Deacon Joe Stephens was built.   Bishop Zaidan visited St. Elias March 28-30, 2014 for the first time as bishop.  During his visit he ordained Subdeacons Mark Ferris and Jimmy Wehby and blessed the newly renovated kitchen and the Deacon Joe Stephens Memorial. On September 12-13, 2014 Maronite Patriarch Bechara Cardinal Peter Rai made a pastoral visit to St. Elias.  He was accompanied by his Vicar General, Archbishop Paul Sayah and our Bishop Elias Zaidan.  We had a full schedule of activities during his visit including a Divine Liturgy, an evening banquet at The Club, a presentation by the parish children, Safro and a parish Brunch. He also dedicated the Deacon Joseph Stephens Memorial. On December 7, 2014 Bishop A. Elias Zaidan visited St. Elias for the third time this year to install Paul Peter Bolus and Norman Edward Bolus into the Pontifical Equestrian Order of the Knights of St. Gregory the Great. This is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon laypersons by the Pope. On January 15, 2015 Deacon Samuel J. Wehby died.  He was the second permanent deacon to serve St. Elias and he had served for 8 years. From October 28-30, 2015 St. Elias hosted the relics of St. Sharbel.  Bishop Elias was here for the opening of the 3 day celebration.  There were special liturgies, time for confession and time for veneration of the relics.  At the St. Maron Banquet on February 6, 2016 we honored 15 parishioners who were 90 years old or older. Sources: Lovett, R. G. (1980).  Catholic Church in the Deep South (The Diocese of  Birmingham in Alabama). NAM Convention 1993:  St. Elias Birmingham July 28- August 1 (1993).