These Dedicated Parishioners Are Keeping Ukrainian Traditions Alive in Wheeling

After the war broke out in Ukraine in February of 2022, the country quickly received international attention and an outpouring of support. As this devastating war continues overseas, parishioners at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Ukrainian Catholic Church in South Wheeling are doing what they can to keep Ukrainian traditions alive and provide support to those fighting for their country’s sovereignty in Ukraine. 

I first discovered this church and its community in May of 2020. It was the first church I attended once the state lifted COVID restrictions for churches. Growing up Roman Catholic, I was familiar with many elements of the service held there, but it was still rather different from my own prior experience. Over the past two years, I have greatly enjoyed learning about it while being welcomed by this community. It has been the tightest-knit church community I have encountered. My experience there has taught me much about my own faith and spiritual journey. I decided to learn more about the history and presence of this hidden gem as a church and ethnic group in Wheeling. 

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church is located at 4136 Jacob Street in South Wheeling.

I first spoke with Mary Ann and John Myslewiec, who are both readers and parish council members. Mary Ann said her favorite aspect of this church was that it was where she met her husband, John. A local of Polish heritage, John joined this church after St. Ladislaus Polish Catholic Church merged with St. Alphonsus parish. “It was the closest thing to my church. The traditions were more similar here than any of the other Catholic Churches.” He is very glad to call this church community home and the place he met his wife. Another parishioner remarked that the Ukrainian community always got along with the Polish community in Wheeling.

Many in Wheeling know this church for its pierogies and cabbage rolls. I myself have enjoyed several of them in my time there. Mary Ann said that the funds from selling them pay the bills for the church and help with the priest’s stipend. Several parishioners help make and sell pierogies every week just like their parents and grandparents did. John Paluch, cantor and parish council member, said that the Ukrainian church ladies have been making them since the beginnings of the church in the 1910s. The parish still makes pierogis and cabbage rolls fresh every Tuesday and sells them every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

John Paluch had much to say about the Ukrainian community and his experience as a lifelong member. “My grandparents came to this country in 1906 and settled in Wheeling in the 30s. Ukrainians came to this area at that time because of the factories and coal mines. They went to the jobs they knew how to do.” John shared that his father worked in several local industries after serving in the military, including a chemical plant and steel mill. He eventually went on to work for the City of Wheeling as a construction engineer, building garages, retaining walls, and other needs for the city. During that time, his father played a large role in the parish, starting the annual Ukrainian festival in 1963 which continued until 2020 due to COVID. He also oversaw the parish bingo and built many things for the church, including bathrooms and the interior of the church annex. I asked John what motivated his father was so involved. John said, “we loved the church. He was very busy. He certainly could’ve done other things. But he liked what he did for the city and this church.” 

Our conversation then turned to John’s childhood in the Ukrainian community. “I was a dancer. In the 60s we had a children’s dance group like the Greek Orthodox Church. We had a picnic every year where the kids did Ukrainian dances and wore special outfits. We had everything the Pittsburgh people had. A lot of the people here came from the same village in Ukraine.” 

John and Mary Ann described how the church has changed with South Wheeling. John explained how the decline of Wheeling’s East European immigration impacted the church. “We’ve lost a lot of people. Wheeling was a smaller city, so there was less immigration than Pittsburgh. After the 1950s, immigration stopped due to the lack of jobs. In Pittsburgh, they’ve had smaller waves of immigrants still come in over the years. Many people who intermarried with Roman Catholics would go to the Roman churches instead of here. We didn’t start English services until 1965 after some people complained they couldn’t understand. My father convinced the priest to do them. He was the cantor.”

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Mary Ann touched on the loss of young families. “Younger families did not stay with the church. They either left the church entirely or went to the Roman parishes. It was more convenient for them. Much of the immigrant generation died off. A lot of the younger families went where there were activities for kids.” She also commented on how the shifting demands and priorities of today’s families make it more difficult to attend regular church services.

While it’s true that many churches are facing a decline in members, Our Lady of Perpetual Help is committed to sharing its traditions and customs with open arms and creating a true sense of community to anyone who is interested in joining them. This sentiment is reinforced by Fr. Jason Charron, who has been with the church since 2014. 

“Initially, I drove in from Pittsburgh once a week to fulfill my obligations to the parish, but as I came to see that the parishioners here centered their lives around their little parish I began to experience my assignment as a familial relationship instead of a diocesan obligation,” said Charron. “My experience here has been of a tight family where everyone knows your name.” 

Fr. Charron shared a beautiful insight as to what makes this parish unique. “In other churches, you can just show up, leave and not do anything. Each of my members contribute something to keep the church alive. They do groundskeeping, maintenance, and making pierogies. Everyone has a commitment. They’re a small,  but highly committed community. They are committed like no other parish I have encountered. Most parishes this size would have closed 30 years ago.”

While it’s clear that Our Lady of Perpetual Help is committed to serving its local community, Fr. Charron has also traveled to Ukraine several times since the war started to help orphans and refugees find new homes. “It has served as a catalyst for works of mercy,” said Fr. Charron. “We’ve been able to help people in Ukraine afford medical supplies and bulletproof vests. We’re trying to keep Ukrainian children from becoming orphans.” John Paluch mentioned how the Ukrainian war has made people more aware of the work they are doing here in Wheeling. “It’s made more people aware of us. It’s helped with donations to the church. We’ve been in the community for a long time, so people know we’re here.” 

If you’re curious about how you can help support the work of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church,  Fr. Jason said “They can best help by praying with us a couple of times a year to express their solidarity in Christ. They can support us in our pierogi project and outreach to Ukraine.” Mary Ann emphasized the importance of community and parish engagement, but this engagement requires more people. You can also learn more about supporting the church by attending a free concert on Tuesday, Aug. 16 at 6:30 p.m. The performance will feature the Shadyside Community Band and the church will be collecting donations that will go towards their humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine. 

Despite having no ethnic connection to Ukraine, I myself have been welcomed and embraced by this small Appalachian Ukrainian community. It has been my hope that others may discover and help to preserve this unique heritage of faith and culture. Whether you are looking for a new place to worship, or are simply curious about the traditions and teaching of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, you can consider attending divine liturgy, which is offered Sundays at 8 a.m., except the last weekend of the month when they are held on Saturday at 5 p.m. You can learn more about Our Lady of Perpetual Help by visiting their website

Adam Marquart was born and raised in Wheeling, WV where he attended Wheeling Park High school. He has been very involved in local theater and enjoys learning more about his hometown. He also enjoys reading, writing, singing, painting, talking with friends and family, and managing the Confraternity of St. Nicholas. He is currently a student of Finance at West Virginia University.