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By the 1920’s, more than 100 Greek-owned storefronts lined Greek Town’s streets, including coffee shops, drugstores, bakeries and groceries selling imports from the Mediterranean, such as olive oil, goat cheese, liqueurs, figs and dates. In the same decade, Holy Trinity parish had outgrown its original church and it was sold in 1920 to help finance the construction of a larger church nearby. Five years later, Holy Trinity Cathedral was consecrated.

Greek communities also took root in nearby mining towns, notably in the rural town of Ogden, 35 miles north of Salt Lake City, and in Price, the largest town in Carbon County to the southeast. In 1916, Greek Orthodox parishioners built Assumption Church in Price.

Greek immigration to Utah declined sharply in the late 1920’s, when new federal immigration laws based on nationality curtailed the number of immigrants coming from southern Europe. In the 1960’s, a new wave of Greek immigration to Utah began, lasting for another 20 years. In 1962, Greek Orthodox parishioners built Transfiguration Church in Ogden. In 1969, Greek families built Prophet Elias Church, the Salt Lake City area’s second Orthodox church.

The precise number of Utahans of Greek descent is difficult to assess. In the 2000 U.S. Census, nearly 12,000 state residents reported to be of Greek ancestry. Approximately 1,000 active families, or about 4,000 people, belong to the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake. While small compared to the larger Greek-American enclaves in the eastern United States, Utah’s Greek-American community is thriving. According to the 2000 Census, Utah ranks ninth in the nation with respect to the percentage of the population claiming Greek ancestry.

Preservation of identity. Today, the Greek Orthodox Church is the binding force for Utah’s Hellenic community. Father Matthew Gilbert, pastor of Holy Trinity Cathedral, describes the parish as very active, with no shortage of activities, especially for the youth. Still, says the priest, himself “Greek” by marriage, passing down the faith to the next generation remains a challenge.

“The hardest thing is the spiritual aspect. It’s nice to dance and to play basketball. We have Greek schools, dance programs, Orthodox Christian camps in the summer, Greek camp, Sunday school. We offer everything imaginable, but it’s up to individuals to cultivate their spiritual life. It’s always easier to cultivate the fun things, but a spiritual life is difficult. It takes a lot of work. Being baptized is the easy part. The rest is commitment.”

The parish offers Greek language classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. “We do offer Greek courses, but everyone nowadays has many different activities: sports, music and dance. I think it’s getting harder and harder for people to choose. And I think the language is placed on the backburner,” says Father Gilbert.

St. Sophia Hellenic Orthodox School in Holladay, a Salt Lake City suburb, also teaches Greek language and culture. Established in 1996 near Prophet Elias Church, St. Sophia provides a rigorous education to a diverse student body from kindergarten through grade six. There are plans to expand the curriculum to include grades seven and eight.

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Tags: Cultural Identity Immigration Orthodox Church of Greece Utah