The Founding of a Congregation
There were few Serbian immigrants in the city of Milwaukee before the beginning of the 20th century, but by 1912 there were about two and a half thousand Serbian souls here. A great number of Serbs settled in towns surrounding Milwaukee and this number accordingly was much greater. The first institutions established by the Serbian immigrants were the fraternal benevolent Lodges. Four such lodges existed before the founding of the church congregation. A great need was felt for a church. The following people took the initiative to found a church congregation here: Rade Ostojic, Aleksa Klisanac, Mile Rausevic, Nikola Kordic, Obren Zdrale and Marko Novakovic. They called for an assembly of Serbians to take place on February 8, 1912 in the shop of Rade Ostojic, where the founding of the Serbian Orthodox Church took place. Seven days later they presented a petition to the city and county authorities for permission to found the church.
In addition to those who signed this petition, the following people participated in the initial founding of the congregation: Nikola Latinovich, Iso Agbaba, Trivo Bjelajac, Mile Drobac, Vaso Miljus, Luka Stojsavljevic, Milan Jovanovic, Dahcar Zoric, Petar Zoric, Rade and Mile Maricic, Nikola Ciganovic, Simo Bukvic and Dane Medich.
That same year, the house at 724 S. 3rd St. was purchased and transformed into a house of worship. The house was registered in the name of Rade Ostojic who acted as a temporary president. The house was purchased for $3,500.00. A down payment of $500.00 was made and the remainder was paid off monthly on a land contract. The first Divine Liturgy was served on Christmas Day, January 7th, 1913.
First Executive Board
On March 21st of the following year, the first election assembly was held and the first executive board of the church congregation was elected. Vaso Dragojlovich was elected the first president, Simo Ozegovich vicepresident, Mihailo Javorina secretary, Trivo Bjelajac treasurer, Jovo Goronja president of the auditing committee and Uros Sijan and Alex Klisanac as members of the auditing committee. The first elected church board was made of reputable and distinguished men. They succeeded in placing the congregation on a solid foundation.
Early Parish Priests
There were 12 parish priests at the Church of St. Sava during the first period: Dusan Bogich 1912, Ilija Kapidjich 1912, Arhimandrite Hadji Joanikije Markovich-Decanac 1913, 1915, Milan Jugovich 1914, Pavle Veljkov 1916, Janicije Kukuljevich 1917 and 1918, Prota Milan Mrvicin 1919, and 1924-and again in 1931, and 1936, Prota Filip Sredanovich 1925 and 1926, priest Marko Komnenich 1927-1931, at various times during Fr. Komnenich’s absence Fr. Matija Stijacich served, Prota George Petrovich from 1936 to 1942.
In November of 1942, Prota Milan Brkich was elected as parish priest. With his arrival at the St. Sava Church in Milwaukee there began a new era, filled with enthusiasm and excitement. The new pastor found good men and good Serbs in Milwaukee. This young, energetic visionary surrounded himself with men of good will, those who were constructive and well meaning, and with them he marched without fear or apprehension to create that which was aspired to for many years.
Earlier parish priests also put forth great efforts to preserve and improve the spiritual life of the congregation. Archimandrite Hadji Joanikije Markovich-Decanac was experienced and already in his old age. He worked in this young parish in the year of 1915 to acquire the things necessary for church life. He instituted the record books, which still exist today and are of immeasurable historical value.
It was not easy to preserve and uphold a newly founded congregation from which even as early as 1912, ninety seven men from Milwaukee returned to the old country to participate in the Balkan Wars, and in 1915, two-hundred and sixty-four volunteers returned to take part in the World War I on the front at Salonika. Joanikije Kukuljevich and Marko Komnenich put forth great efforts to uphold the faith and loyalty to the church.
Proto Milan Mrvicin deserves much credit for founding the school and caring for the spiritual and cultural education of both children and adults. Prota George Petrovich-Kordunas also is deserving of great credit for his care for the Serbian youth, especially the choir.
Laying Solid Foundations for the Future
Prota Milan Brkic, who was elected parish priest on Oct. 11, 1942, laid the solid foundations from which everything that we have today would rise. The land on 27th street which was bought in 1938 was sold, for according to the opinion of Fr. Milan it could not satisfy the needs of the congregation.
Fourteen acres were bought at 51st street and West Oklahoma Avenue. In 1946, a decision was made to build American Serb Memorial Hall. The hall was constructed with all of the interior furnishings and was completed and opened July l, 1950. The hall is dedicated to the Milwaukee Serbs, members of the church congregation who have their lives in defense of their homeland, America. The hall was consecrated by the late Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich and the kum was Robert Bob Susnar.
At this time many new immigrants began to arrive in Milwaukee from displaced person camps in Germany. This new immigration by its very nature brought in new potential power to the spiritual community in Milwaukee to enhance its progress. In its first year of operation Serb Hall was incredibly successful. Mike Potter was elected manager of the hall and when it became apparent that the mortgage on the hall would be paid off in two to three years, a special assembly of the church congregation was called in 1951 where it was decided to begin the preparations for the building of a new church. It was decided that each parishioner should contribute $100.00 into the building fund.
On August 25, 1955 it was decided to begin building the new cathedral church of St. Sava in the Serbo-Byzantine style.
The following day, August 26, 1956 saw the celebration of the first Serbian Day and the first shovel of dirt was taken at that time. The land was consecrated by Bishop Dionisije of the American-Canadian Diocese.
Construction of the Church, Sunday School and Parish Home
On October of 1956 work began on the construction of the church, school and parish home. The school was finished by the end of the year and was consecrated March 3, 1957. The kum for the consecration was the church sexton and very active worker, Jovo Devich. Work had gone along very well to the end of the year at which time the period of the spiritual life at the old church was brought to an end.
At a meeting on February 4, 1958, the president of the congregation, George Stojsavljevich, announced that the construction of the new church, school and parish house was complete. At this meeting the building committee was dissolved because it had finished its work, and at a meeting held March 3rd a committee for the dedication booklet was held and Peter Pavlovich elected to its presidency. Workers were in a frenzy to complete the preparations for the consecration which was supposed to take place in combination with the 3rd Serbian Days celebration to be held August 30th and 31st. The reputable church member Milan Prijic was elected to be kum of the consecration.