In the Beginning
On December 20, 1949, eleven Orthodox Christian visionaries, Mike Ajhar, Naheem Barjod, Naseem Bitar, Abraham Deratany, Reverend Spyridon Dora, Sam Kerge, Edward Neimy, David Orfaly, Mike Saikaly, Edward Saliba and Frank Shaker, met to share their dream of founding a Church for themselves and their children. At their request, Metropolitan Archbishop ANTONY Bashir, of Thrice Blessed Memory, sent a missionary Priest, Reverend Father Louis Secabe, to help them realize their dream. Father Secabe immediately identified and organized them in launching an official drive for the establishment of an Orthodox Church in Miami, Florida.
Organizational meetings were held at the Syrian Lebanese American Club. Shortly thereafter, a Charter was drawn and the Saint Anthony Society came into being. Its spiritual advisors were Father Secabe and Archmandrite Basilious Sedaoui. Religious services were originally held at the Club but eventually were held at various locations.
The mission was incorporated in 1957 by Attorney George J. Shamas as a Florida non-profit corporation. On June 22, 1957, the dream was fulfilled under the leadership of Edward Awad, President, William A. Zarick, Vice President, and Mike Asha, Secretary, with the purchase of a Church edifice from the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church located at 200 SW 8th Avenue, Miami, Florida at a purchase price of $35,000.
Undaunted by the lack of funds for the purchase price, these determined visionaries solicited the faithful as far north as West Palm Beach. Stepping forward was a benefactor, George Sydah, who donated the final $15,000, stipulating only that the name "Saint Anthony" be changed to "Saint George," not to honor himself, but the name of a dear friend, the Reverend Father George Kattouf. Fulfilling Mr. Sydah's wishes, this enlightened founding Orthodox community relocated to its new home which was consecrated and dedicated on February 2, 1958, by Metropolitan Archbishop ANTONY Bashir and Archbishop SAMUEL David as Saint George Antiochian Orthodox Church of Miami, Florida.
On September 20, 1958, Metropolitan ANTONY blessed the young Miami church with the assignment of an enthusiastic and dynamic young priest, the Reverend Father Michael Husson, from Wichita, Kansas, as the new shepherd of the growing Miami flock.
Upon being assigned to serve this new Saint George community, Father Michael was also directed to serve the Antiochian faithful throughout the State of Florida. Saint George, then being the only Antiochian parish in the State, he was well positioned to affect religious and social patterns of the Orthodox faithful. Through his leadership and dedicated guidance, numerous Orthodox organizations and activities were initiated including Sunday School classes, a choir, Ladies Auxiliary, Men's Society and missionary activities. With Father Michael's encouragement and leadership, the parish began to grow and expand. Simultaneously, his outside ministry also expanded; he was intensively involved in the creation of many new missions, two of which are now Saint Philip Antiochian Orthodox Church in Davie and Saint Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in West Palm Beach. In due recognition of his continued outstanding leadership, he was elevated to the esteemed stature of "Very Reverend Father Michael Husson."
The Cathedral of Saint George
With the increasing growth of the congregation, Father Michael and the Church Board determined it was necessary to acquire larger facilities and an improved location. Father Michel contacted a realtor, Louis Rahal, who searched for a new location and/or church facilities. In late 1964, Mr. Rahal suggested the purchase of the Temple Judea property at 320 Palermo Avenue, Coral Gables, whose congregation was then constructing its new Temple facilities. Current bids for the purchase of the Temple were then approximately $175,000. Negotiations ended when a majority of the Church Board felt the price was too high for the still small Saint George congregation and told Mr. Rahal to look elsewhere.
Thereafter, in March, 1966, Mr. Rahal advised Father Michael and the Board that the German American Club (the "Club") off NW 17th Avenue, Miami, was available in the desired price range. Believing that the Club's existing German-American restaurant could be converted into a Lebanese restaurant and the facilities could also be used for other fundraising activities, it was, despite its questionable location, overwhelmingly voted (11-1) to purchase the Club for the future Saint George Church site.
At a subsequent May, 1966, especially-called evening meeting of the entire Saint George congregation, requesting approval of the recommended purchase of the Club, an extensive debate was held concerning the potential advantages and disadvantages of the Club site and facilities. Although its purchase was not on the agenda, the opposing minority, led by Board President, George Elias, Jr., contrasted the Club facilities with the Temple Judea property in Coral Gables. The congregation, as a result, by a massive 95% majority vote, rejected the purchase of the German-American property.
Knowing that it still had not been sold, the Saint George Board, led by its President/attorney, George Elias Jr., and Father Michael immediately renewed negotiations for the purchase of Temple Judea. The Temple Board had been considering several proposals from service organizations which were offering to purchase the property at a price in excess of $175,000. However, the Temple Board, under the guidance of its president, the late Joseph Krefetz, and secretary/attorney, Richard Horwich, was not eager to sell its property to service organizations to be used for dances and parties. Even though the Temple itself was continually in dire need of additional construction money for its new facilities, it greatly desired that its property, if possible, be sold only to a purchaser who would use it for religious purposes. The Saint George Board, consisting of George Elias, Jr., President, George Esper, Vice President, James Peters, Secretary, Allen Perez, Treasurer, Nicholas Ajhar, Mike Asha, Frank Barjod, Dr. Richard Elias, Dr. James Makol, Joseph Mazloom, David Nimer (later Archdeacon) and Dr. Orlando Skaff, made a bold proposal. Briefly stated, Mr. Elias informed Mr. Krefetz that although the price of the Temple's outstanding purchase offers could not be met, he promised that for a substantially lower purchase price of $145,000 Saint George would convert the Temple's religiously dedicated facility into a wonderful sacred Orthodox Church, of which they would be most proud. In reliance on Mr. Elias’ verbal promise, the Temple Board, in a magnificent gesture of love and concern, agreed and turned down offers of purchases exceeding $175,000. On August 31, 1966, a momentous day in Saint George Church history, Temple Judea sold its sacred property at 320 Palermo Avenue, Coral Gables, Florida, to Saint George Church for $145,000.
Parenthetically, the month of August, 1966, was commemorative for both Saint George Church and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America (then known as the “Syrian Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of New York and North America”). Contemporaneously with the Saint George acquisition of the Temple Judea property, on August 14, 1966, at the Saint Elias Patriarchal Monastery in Dhour El Shweir, Lebanon, the Right Reverend Father Philip Saliba, our new Father in Christ, was consecrated Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of All North America.
Upon completing the purchase of the property, revisions to the facilities were undertaken: the Temple's sanctuary was converted into what later was renamed as the Saint George "Mike and Rida Asha Hall," and the Temple hall was converted into what became the Saint George religious sanctuary, including a new choir balcony, baptismal font, etc.
On February 26, 1967, a most blessed day in Saint George history, Metropolitan PHILIP, Primate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christina Archdiocese of North America, consecrated the new Saint George edifice as the "Cathedral of Saint George," the "Spiritual Oasis of the Americas," and, in recognition of the Very Reverend Michael's lifetime of service to the Church, elevated him as Dean of the Cathedral, and Dean of South Florida Antiochian Orthodox clergy.
Shortly thereafter, and during the next year, the Cathedral negotiated for and purchased three lots adjacent to the Saint George property, two of which comprise the parking lot on the east next to the Cathedral Hall and the other west of the brick fence toward Le Jeune Road. The purchase prices were $15,000 for each of the east lots and $12,000 for the west lot. On September 27, 1967, Saint George sold its original church facilities at 200 S.W. 8th Avenue, Miami, Florida to God's Missionary Church for $38,000 and applied the cash proceeds against the outstanding mortgage in favor of Temple Judea. The final payment to Temple Judea and issuance of the satisfaction of mortgage occurred on July 5, 1973.
Upon Father Michael's retirement in 1986, the Very Reverend Father George S. Corey was appointed to continue the pioneering work began by Father Michael. After eleven months of service, he organized Senior SOYO before being transferred to Brooklyn, New York, as Dean of Saint Nicholas Cathedral, the mother Archdiocesan Cathedral. Following Father George's transfer, Metropolitan PHILIP blessed Saint George with the appointment of the Right Reverend Archimandrite Demetri M. Khoury as Dean of the Cathedral who served Saint George faithfully for eight years until his elevation and consecration to the Holy Episcopacy.
Upon the departure of Bishop DEMETRI, the Cathedral was again blessed with the appointment of the Very Reverend Father Elia Shalhoub, as Dean. As a result of Father Elia's faithfulness of service and dedicated efforts in continuing the good works initiated by his brother clergymen, and bringing it to its glorious fruition under the guidance of the Building Committee consisting of himself as the Project Manager, Parish Council Officers: Dr. Maurice Bardawil, Chairman, Mr. Elias Ede, 1st Vice Chairman, Mr. Mike Asha, 2nd Vice Chairman, Mr. Anton Khoury, Treasurer, Mrs. Mary Bikhazi, Secretary, Mr. Maurice Barakat and other members of the millennium year 2000 Parish Council including Mr. Joseph Mazloom, Mrs. Donna Nimer, Mrs. Diana O'Brien, Ms. Josephine Shaheen, Dr. Don Shalhub, Mr. Antoine Zammar, Subdeacon George Michael Zacur, Mr. Jason Salem and Mr. Adnan Ferzli.
These dedicated individuals devoted countless hours in the Byzantine design and planning of the Church with Architect Luigi Vitalini, recommended by Salim Khoury, designer of our sister parish, Saint Philip Church in Davie, Florida. Upon completion of the design, construction of the edifice was undertaken by the General Contractors (Jad) Lahoud and (Nazih) Hardan, culminating in making the edifice a beautiful reality. Credit must also go to many of our parishioners without whose efforts, love, support and generosity, our Church would still be a dream.
On Sunday, November 10, 2002, a most blessed day in the South Florida Orthodox community, His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP, Primate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North American consecrated, on these hallowed grounds, the new Saint George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral of Coral Gables, Florida.
His wonderful goal having been achieved, Father Elia was succeeded in July 2004 by the Very Reverend Father Alexis Kouri, as the new Cathedral Dean. Father Alexis, through his love for worship and teaching, shepherded the flock until his departure for higher theological study in summer, 2007.
In August 2007, the parishioners of Saint George Cathedral were blessed with the arrival of the Very Reverend Father Peter Shportun from Montreal, Quebec, as the new Cathedral Dean. The faithful were imbued by the eloquence of his sermons applicable to everyday life and surroundings. Father Peter served the Cathedral until December 31, 2011, when he was appointed by Metropolitan PHILIP to Saint Mary Church in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Upon Father Peter's departure, on January 1, 2012, Saint George Cathedral reached another milestone and blessing with the appointment of Reverend Father Fouad Saba, from Saint George Church, in Cicero (Chicago), Illinois. Assuming his duties as Cathedral Dean, and God’s blessings, the parishioners of Saint George Cathedral immediately experienced the remarkable enthusiasm of our new spiritual leader in carrying forward the momentum and building upon the outstanding achievements of his predecessor brother clergymen. On January 10, 2016, a blessed day, our dynamic young priest was elevated to the pious dignity of Archpriest, and deserved title of Very Reverend Father Fouad Saba.
History Compiled by George Elias, Jr. and Elias Ede
Timeline and photos courtesy of Parishioners and Cathedral Archives