Ukrainians in Montreal hope to preserve historic church in need of major repairs

St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Montreal has been around for decades, but a growing list of needed repairs has members scrambling to upkeep the historic building.

Church estimates repairs at $400K, members optimistic they won't have to relocate parish

Two people are standing.
Maron Figol, 82, left, got married at Montreal's St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church decades ago, and hopes the community will continue gathering inside the building for years to come. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

Maron Figol says he hasn't missed a Sunday service at Montreal's St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church in decades.

"Every single Sunday, including summer," the 82-year-old said, laughing, while standing next to his wife in one of the church's pews. 

"We got married here. We baptized our children in here. We married them in here as well. This is our parish."

The parish has existed for more than a century. The church in the city's Ville-Marie borough has been open since the 1950s, but an inspection has revealed serious structural problems.

The church estimates it would cost more than $400,000 to fix them.

In one room, there is a large hole in the ceiling. There's also the stonework on the church's bell tower that needs to be replaced within three years.

So far, attempts to raise the funds needed have fallen well short, raising the possibility that the community may have to eventually move.

"It jeopardizes the survival of the church," said priest Yaroslav Pivtorak, who spoke to CBC News through an interpreter. 

There is a church.
The church on D'Iberville Street in Montreal's Ville-Marie borough was built in the 1950s. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

Over the years, many longtime church members have left but lately an influx of newcomers fleeing the war in Ukraine has given the parish new life.

"The membership has increased but the new members, are they capable of supporting the church?" Figol said.

A spokesperson for the city of Montreal told CBC News that maintaining services for the Ukrainian community is important and it's monitoring the situation regarding the church closely.

"We're hoping to carry on for a quite a while," Figol said.

A person is standing in a church
Richard Bernier is confident the church community will stay together, even if its members are not able to stay in the building on D'Iberville Street. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

'The real heart of the community is the people'

Richard Bernier serves at the alter during Sunday service and has attended the church for several years. 

"They were welcoming when I first showed up even though I am still learning Ukrainian," Bernier said.

"Even though I'm not Ukrainian myself, it's a place where I found their way of praying — I should say our way of praying — to be quite beautiful."

Bernier and other members of the church say they're confident they'll be able to get the money needed to fix the church. If they don't, Bernier says he's confident the church community won't come undone.

"Even if the community had to relocate, we don't envision that happening, but even if it did, what's really important is the people," he said.

"The real heart of the community is the people."

WATCH | Ukrainians look back on 1st year in Montreal since war: 

Ukrainian refugees and their hosts in Montreal reflect on lives displaced by a year of war

10 months ago
Duration 6:06
On the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, those who fled their country look back on what they left behind. They talk about the pain they feel, their relief in being safe and the obstacles they face in their new life in Canada.


Antoni Nerestant has been with CBC Montreal since 2015. He's worked as a video journalist, a sports reporter and a web writer, covering anything from Quebec provincial politics to the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

With files from Rowan Kennedy