FROM LEBANON TO THE U.S.
In the last two decades of the 19th century, Maronite Catholics had already established themselves on both coasts of the United States and throughout the country. Although deeply attached to their native land, the Maronites had little reason to remain there. Between 1900 and 1914, one-fourth of Lebanon’s population, about 100,000 people, most of them Christian, had emigrated. Large numbers of Lebanese and Middle Eastern Christians settled in the United States.
The first Maronite immigrants to the United States accepted whatever work they could find. Some worked in factories that produced textiles in New England, steel in Pittsburgh, Birmingham, Youngstown and Cleveland and Automobiles in Detroit. As a result, Maronite communities sprang up in these areas. Some Lebanese immigrants became peddlers in cities, towns, and mining camps. Others opened dry goods stores and groceries. A few quickly became wealthy.
Along with the immigrants came Maronite clergy from Lebanon and the Middle East. Some arrived from Lebanon with their relatives or fellow villagers. Of these, some served for a short time only and then returned. Others, however, were sent as missionaries or came on their own to stay.
Maronite priests were already active in New York City and Boston in 1890 and 1891. The Maronites of Boston had established a permanent church by 1898. The Maronites of Philadelphia were visited by Maronite clergy in 1892 and had a definite parish by 1901. There was already a priest celebrating the liturgy in St. Louis in 1898.
Maronite parishes originated in various ways, with no one pattern predominating. Often it was through the leadership of Maronite clergy. In some areas the laity formed clubs to raise money to purchase a building. In others, Latin bishops offered help. Nor was there a set pattern of building. Often private homes were bought and remodeled into churches. The second floor became the rectory. In other places, Latin Catholic or Protestant churches were bought and converted.
In the 1950s groups among the Maronite clergy and laity sought to establish a Maronite seminary in the U.S. Through their efforts, Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Seminary was established in Washington, D.C., in 1961.
Through the efforts of the clergy and laity of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, a national shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Lebanon and modeled on the famous shrine in Harissa, Lebanon, was established in 1965 in North Jackson, Ohio, near Youngstown. It quickly became a place of pilgrimage for Maronites and other Catholics from the Northeast.
In 1966, Pope Paul VI established the Maronite Apostolic Exarchate for the United States and appointed Bishop Francis Zayek as Exarch, with the Exarchial See in Detroit. At the time of the exarchate’s establishment there were 43 Maronite parishes. In 1971 the Exarchate was raised to the rank of Eparchy and seven years later, in 1978, the see was transferred to Brooklyn.
On 1 March 1994, as a sign of the progress of the Maronite Church in the U.S., Pope John Paul II established a second Maronite diocese. The new Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles incorporates all the territory west of the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. Bishop John Chedid, who had been Auxiliary Bishop of the Eparchy of St. Maron since 1980, was named Eparch of the new jurisdiction. Upon his retirement, Bishop Robert Shaheen was appointed Eparch and served as Bishop from 2001 till his retirement in 2013 His Excellency, Bishop A. Elias Zaidan succeeded Bishop Shaheen in 2013
It is difficult to estimate the number of Maronites living in the U.S. Maronites live in every state, most in areas where there are no Maronite parishes. An informal census was taken in 1961 estimated the number to be 200,000.