The History of St. George’s Syrian Orthodox Cathedral

The story of St. George’s Syrian Orthodox Cathedral is a story of dreams. A small group of Syrian and Lebanese families who had emigrated from the old country during the first two decades of this century had a dream about having their own church and worshipping their native language. For many years they held Eastern Orthodox services only when a traveling priest would visit Toledo. Then they had to depend upon the indulgence of Protestant churches for a place to worship, or hire a meeting hall.

There was no controversy among them at this time. People from the towns of Aitha, Kafir, Damascus, Zahle, Beirut, Latakia, Tripoli and Kirby set aside clannish differences to worship God as their forebears did. And all dreamed of one thing- a church of their own.

Michael’s Hall, on Summit and Walnut Streets, in Toledo, was frequently used fro worship during the period of World War I. Among the priests serving the community at this time were Father George Kerbawi, Father Slaman Boulas, Father Nicholas Nahas, Father Michael Husson, and Philip Aboassally. 

Among the early leaders of the church were the families of George Merhab, John McKenna, Michael Nassar, Barbare Farris, Nicholas Nassar, Albert Jamra, George Kerbawi, Mose Kerbawi, Edward Tamber, Louis Darah, Mitri Darah, George Darah, Micheal Saba, Michael Bassett, Albert Corey, William Rayess, George Dahrooge, Sam Shaheen, Nicholas Skaff, Assad Haddad, Joseph Damas family George Hider, Salem Nessif, Naime Haddad, Habib George Elias, Charles Kallile, Thomas Ansara, Haddad, Oscar Joseph, Sam DeWood, Tom Howard, John Saba, Sam Abdo, Anthony Swaya, Bashara Habid, Michael Habid, David Anton, Joseph Skaff, Mike Shalhoup, George Ellis, Deeb Ellis, Louis Theab, Moses Theab, Alex Michael, Assaf Kallil, and Dr. Najib Sallume, who was the first President of the Church Board of Directors.

The Men’s Club was organized in 1910 and the Ladies’ Benevolent Society was established in 1915 with Mrs. Saidie Tanber, as President. For three or four years the efforts of the members was given to garnering enough money to add to the money solicited by the men to purchase the double house on the corner of Elm and Erie Streets for the site of the church.

The church was built in 1919 and formally dedicated and consecrated May 9, 1920. Unique in the church were the memorial stained-glass windows depicting the life of Christ donated by the following persons.

The first priest of the new church was Father Gerasimos Ghareeb, succeeded on his death by Father Samuel David, who served as priest and Archimandrite until he was elevated to Bishop of Toledo and Dependencies in 1936.

The early church was caught in the controversy concerning Russian and Antiochian jurisdiction. Germanos Shadadi, Archbishop of Zahle, was instrumental, in unifying the Syrian Orthodox churches under the jurisdiction. He was consecrated in 1924.

Although Father Nahas had a Syrian School in the days before the church was built, the first Syrian School in the church was established in 1924/25 by Father David for instructing students in the Arabic Language. Another “first” in the Toledo church was the organization of a girls’ choir in 1927 for the chanting of Good Friday lamentations. The Arabic words were transcribed phonetically so that the girls could sing them to sound like the original Arabic.

Upon the death of Bishop Victor in 1934, another controversy resulted in the consecration of two bishops in the Syrian Orthodox churches in North America on the same day, April 19,1936. Bishop Anthony Bashir was consecrated Bishop of New York and all North America, and Bishop Samuel David, Bishop of Toledo and Dependencies.

After the ordination of Bishop David, the church was served by the following priests: Father Michael Neked, Father Elias Ellis, Father Cosmo Ansara, Father Ananias Kassab, Father Michael Howard, Father Michael Haddad, and the present rector of the cathedral, Rev. Father George F. Shaheen.