Building a congregation for generations

Byzantine Catholic Mission in Fort Mill, S.C. growing with help of Holy Spirit


By Andréa Kakuk
Fort Mill Byzantine Catholic Mission
Charlotte, N.C. Metro area

What does a Roman Catholic school, a Byzantine Rite Ukrainian priest, a few ex-Mormons and a group of devout Byzantines have in common? Not much unless you are talking about the Byzantine Catholic Mission of Fort Mill, S.C. (Charlotte Metro area).
The Holy Spirit is alive and well in this growing urban center.

Fort Mill, 25 minutes from downtown Charlotte, is one of only three Byzantine communities in the Carolinas. It was formed in 2016 by Ron Somich, alumnus of St. Steven’s Byzantine school in Cleveland, Ohio with encouragement from Father John Giuliani of All Saints Catholic Church of Lake Wylie, S.C.

A portable iconostasis, wooden altar and an industrial-sized HP laser printer adorn the worship held in a classroom at the St. Philip Neri Ministry Center. The unorthodox background disappears among the beauty of the liturgy and warmth of this close-knit community.

It takes devotion and dedication to start a mission but an eager populace to keep it going. Among the faithful are Mark and Rebecca LeRoy. Former Mormons in their 20s, Mark and Rebecca decided that lifestyle wasn’t for them. Mark was always interested in Eastern theology but hadn’t access to it until stumbling across These newlyweds decided to take a chance and found a home at the mission. Mark wanted to add something to the beautiful worship and soon the mission had its second cantor. Fast forward to 2023 and Mark is a second-year seminarian candidate at St. Cyril and Methodious Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pa. He calls cantoring “the gateway to the seminary.”

Cantoring is certainly a gateway to understanding. Leading the congregation in Prostopinije chant is an honor. Singing develops a deeper connection to liturgy. That is one reason Nick Peleponuk, a fellow cantor and Roman Catholic convert, attends every Saturday.

Fort Mill is a welcoming mission for all ages and walks of life. Retirees of Byzantine communities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York have not only found warmer weather in the south but a rejuvenation of Ruthenian customs they grew up with 50-plus years ago. The mission’s mission is simple: to engage new visitors, parishioners, Catholics (established and new) who will carry on the [Byzantine] faith with vigor.

Holden Marks is a new member who, like the LeRoy’s, found a home at Fort Mill.
“I was raised Pentecostal and went through several religious phases. After visiting the mission, I ultimately decided Byzantine Catholicism was for me. My fellow parishioners are my family. We are happy to see each other, pray during tough times and enjoy the happy moments together.”

The mission’s monthly potluck dinners have made an impact on Holden so far as to perfect Eastern cultural staples such as Borscht, a beet soup of Ukraine. This year, he is giving paska a try for the Pascha Blessing of Baskets.

The future of the mission holds the hope of more parishioners, a resident priest and a physical building. Celebrant, Father Vasyl Sokolovych makes a weekly four-hour drive from Cary, N.C. to be with this welcoming and devout community. The mission has been granted permission to purchase its own property, but a timeline has not been established. Until that time, Fort Mill continues to keep faith and attract newcomers, slowly but surely.

Byzantine Catholicism is not an intellectual exercise. It is one of mystery and faith discovered by so many in the Carolinas. We welcome you to worship with us and see a congregation for generations to come.