History of Our Church

History of St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church Fontana, California

St. Nicholas Parish had its start in June of 1958, when the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated by Fr. William Levkulic at the Newman High School classrooms in Fontana, CA.  Fr. Levkulic and the determined faithful members of St. Nicholas met for the next six months at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Fontana. 

A seven room house and garage on an acre and one-half of land was purchased on Athol and Oleander Avenues.  On Christmas Day, 1958 the First Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the living room of the house.  Much hard work was put into expanding the living room chapel into a larger church and converting the garage into a social hall.   Fr. Levkulic and the parishioners worked hard to complete the landscaping around the church. 

In June of 1963 Most Rev. Nicholas T. Elko D.D. rededicated and blessed the newly enlarged church with its new bell tower, vestibule, electronic bell system, larger altar area and vesting sacristy.  

Fr. Levkulic was transferred back East in December of 1963, but the parishioners of St. Nicholas always remembered how instrumental Fr. Levkulic was in the building of the physical and spiritual needs of the parish.

Fr. Joseph Ridella was appointed the second pastor of St. Nicholas in January of 1964.  During his time as pastor many projects were completed at the parish.  A four acre lot was purchased for investment purposes.  A three bedroom home was moved on to the church grounds, completely renovated and was used as the church office and rectory.  After many years of hard work and many sacrifices, the Mortgage Burning Celebration was held on January 31, 1971.  Bishop Emil J. Mihalik of the Eparchy of Parma concelebrated the Divine Liturgy of Thanksgiving with the priests of our West Coast Deanery.  Fr. Ridella was transferred to Parma, Ohio in 1975.  Through Fr. Ridella’s direction many fund raisers such as fiestas, bake and kolbasi sales helped to create the new social hall with a stage, classrooms and a larger kitchen.

Fr. Victor Herbeth came to St. Nicholas at the end of 1975.  During his tenure as pastor the parish became a tithing parish and remodeling occurred in the social hall and rectory.  Under Fr. Victor’s leadership the parish became actively involved in helping others.  Among the charitable works initiated were: The building of a school in Mexico for children who had no school, providing food and clothing on a monthly basis to the town of Colonias in the state of Baja California in Mexico and the parish instituted a charity fund to help those in need in St. Nicholas Parish. 

In April of 1981, Fr. John Kovach was appointed as the 4th pastor of St. Nicholas.  In December of 1981 an announcement was made that the Byzantine Catholic parishes in the Western third of the United States would become a new eparchy, named the Eparchy of Van Nuys with St. Mary Church of Van Nuys being named the cathedral parish for the new eparchy.  St. Nicholas parish now had a new bishop, the newly appointed Most. Rev. Thomas V. Dolinay. 

Fr. Kovach continued the charitable work done by St. Nicholas Parish and increased the knowledge of the faithful about their Byzantine Catholic worship and spirituality. 

In November of 1983, Fr. Kovach was transferred to Spokane, WA and the parish was in need of a priest.  Bishop Dolinay contacted the pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Fontana, Rev. Melvin Rebarczyk C.R. (Congregation of the Resurrection).  Fr. Rebarczyk was a bi-ritual priest and had helped out at other Byzantine parishes before.  Fr. Rebarczyk agreed to accept the assignment to be the pastor at St. Nicholas.  He continued to be pastor at St. Joseph’s and gave of his time to administer to the faithful at St. Nicholas. 

In May of 1989, the newly ordained Fr. Kurt Burnette became the pastor at St. Nicholas.  During his tenure as pastor Fr. Burnette made physical improvements on the property and commissioned local iconographer Mary Gerardo to write new icons for the 4 major icons on the icon screen in church. 

In January of 1998, Fr. Burnette was transferred to Portland, Oregon.  During Fr. Burnette’s pastorate we welcomed our new bishop, Bishop George Kuzma.

In January of 1998, Fr. John Bernardi was named administrator of St. Nicholas Parish.  Fr. Bernardi was a married priest who had converted from the Orthodox faith.  Fr. Bernardi remained at the parish until April of 1999 until health concerns necessitated a move. 

In April of 1999, the proto-syncellus of the Eparchy of Van Nuys, Rt. Rev. Wesley Izer, S.D.B was appointed administrator of the parish.  Fr. Izer traveled every weekend from Phoenix to administer to the needs of the faithful of St. Nicholas.  His dedication along with the hard work of several parishioners helped to stabilize the parish.   Fr. Izer continued commuting to Fontana every weekend until February of 2000 when Fr. Joseph Hutsko was appointed administrator.  Several years after Fr. Hutsko’s arrival the parish welcomed Most Rev. William Skurla as our new bishop.

Fr. Hutsko was the administrator of St. Nicholas from his arrival until August of 2015.  During Fr. Hutsko’s tenure, St. Nicholas Parish hosted the regional St. Nicholas Day Celebration each year with the faithful and clergy of the local Byzantine Catholic parishes participating.  Several physical improvements such as new roofs on the church and hall, refurbishing of the parish hall and the installation of icons for the deacon doors and a new Mystical Supper icon and new festal icons on the screen have been made possible by the financial support and working of fund raisers by the parishioners. 

In August of 2015, Fr. Hutsko was transferred to Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Phoenix Arizona. Father Matthew Alejo succeeded him as administrator and served the parish until his departure in October 2016.

Fr. Stephen Washko, pastor of Annunciation Parrish in Anaheim, CA, served the parish until Fr. Stephen Casmus was named administrator in February of 2017.  Fr. Stephen Washko, still the pastor of Annunciation Parish in Anaheim, CA, began serving as the administrator once again in early 2020 with the passing of Fr. Stephen Casmus. 

 The population size of St. Nicholas Parish in Fontana has decreased since the glory years of the mid-1970’s.  One thing that has not decreased though is the dedication and support of those who remain at St. Nicholas Parish.  Parishioners travel great distances from both San Bernardino and Riverside counties to worship in the Byzantine Catholic faith.  Through God’s Blessings, worship, prayer, and hard work St. Nicholas in Fontana remains to serve the Byzantine Catholic faithful of the Inland Empire of Southern California.