Copyright © 2011 St. John of the Desert Melkite Catholic Church. All Rights Reserved.
Our Melkite families headed by Dr. Ralph Herro were seeking to establish a Melkite presence in the Valley of the Sun. An invitation was extended to Fr. John Elya (now Bishop John), pastor of St. Joseph Church in Lawrence, MA who came and celebrated the first Divine Liturgy on Sunday of the Forefathers, December 11, 1983. That day, at St. Stephen Byzantine Catholic Church, almost one hundred persons were in attendance. This celebration was the beginning of Our Parish community. Fr. John’s first report to the Archbishop concerning the Phoenix community listed over seventy Melkite families, most of whom were attending local Catholic churches.
With the approval and encouragement of Archbishop Joseph Tawil, Fr. John returned to Phoenix each quarter of 1984 to serve the spiritual needs of the community. He met new people, worked at building community, celebrated the Divine Liturgy & Holy Mysteries and studied the feasibility of beginning a new Mission community.
The Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) held its 1984 Fall meeting in Phoenix, so that Archbishop Joseph could meet with community members and assess the possibility of beginning a Melkite Mission. Archbishop Joseph also thought that gathering the diocesan clergy and laity in Phoenix for this meeting would be encouraging to the Phoenix community. This proved to have good results as shortly afterwards Archimandrite Max Chalhoub, pastor of St. Anne Church in North Hollywood, CA was asked by Archbishop Joseph to make semi-monthly trips to Phoenix to celebrate the Divine Liturgy for the growing community. It was then that the community was placed under the patronage of St. John the Forerunner and given the name of St. John of the Desert Eastern Catholic Mission. The community was comprised, not only of Melkites, but also of faithful of the Maronite and Chaldean churches who subsequently formed their own communities.
During these early years the Divine Liturgy was celebrated at St. Stephen Byzantine Catholic Church and then at the Cedars Club. In June 1985 we began to worship at St. Joan of Arc Roman Catholic Church at the invitation of its pastor, Rev. Robert Skagen. When Fr. Bob was transferred in November 1985 to St. Thomas Church he extended the invitation to worship there – this we did until the purchase of our Osborn property in 1986. During this period Archbishop Joseph decided that the continued growth of the community warranted the services of a full-time priest and Fr. Max Chalhoub moved to Phoenix in December 1985. An apartment was rented to serve as Fr. Max’s temporary residence and office.
Under his loving care, direction, and missionary zeal, and with the support and assistance of Fr. Bob Skagen, the parish community continued to grow and flourish. Fr. Max immediately began looking for a church that the Melkites could call their own and in October 1986 that dream became a reality and the Osborn complex was purchased. At this time, having both a full-time priest and permanent place in which to worship, St. John of the Desert Eastern Catholic Mission was raised to the status of parish Church. According to the records of Fr. Max, the community consisted of about forty faithful and committed families.
Fr. Max directed the remodeling of the school building to serve as a House of Worship, and the house to serve as his residence, office, and meeting rooms for the community. Under his leadership a Ladies Guild and Youth Group were formed, and a program was begun for the religious education of the children.
In February 1990, our community was honored by the elevation of Fr. Bob to the dignitary title of Archimandrite for his support, encouragement, kind hospitality, and financial assistance. Fr. Bob regularly celebrated the Divine Liturgy with Fr. Max and assisted him in ministering to the needs of the faithful.
In early 1993, having long reached the age of retirement, and also due to poor health, Fr. Max submitted his resignation that he might enjoy a well deserved rest. In October 1993, he was succeeded by Archimandrite Adib Badaoui, a priest of the Basilian Salvatorian Order. It was during that time that Fr. Bob took a four month sabbatical from his pastoral responsibilities at St. Thomas Church. Desiring to grow in understanding of Melkite history, tradition, spirituality, and liturgics, he spent these four months at St. Gregory Seminary in Newton Centre, MA.
Not enjoying the best of health, Fr. Adib took a six month leave of absence while Fr. Bob served the community until he was able to return. Because of continued poor health, Fr. Adib submitted his resignation in early 1995. In March 1995, Rev. Basil Samra, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Lansing, MI was transferred to Phoenix to become the community’s third pastor.
During Fr. Basil’s time as pastor, both the rectory and church were renovated and painted. The Parish Advisory Council (PAC) was restructured and organized, and the Finance Council was formed so that the PAC may concentrate in dealing with the spiritual ministries of the community. During that time, it was voted and decided to actively and aggressively seek a more suitable church and community center.
In June 2000, Fr. Basil was succeeded by Rev. Samir Aboulail for a brief period of service in Phoenix. Then, Rev. Peter Boutros was assigned to start serving the community on October 1, 2001.