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Church

Protopresbyter George Tsoukalas Retires after 56 years of Service to the Church

September 27, 2022

BOSTON – Protopresbyter George Tsoukalas, presiding priest at the historic Greek Orthodox parish of St. George in Lynn, MA will celebrate his last Liturgy there on Sunday, October 2, 2022 after 56 years of diligent service to the Church and the Greek-American Community.

Fr. George, who is known as the ‘priest of the people’, was born and raised in Lowell, MA, the par excellence city of the Greek pioneer immigrants. He lived the martyrdom of poverty and deprivation from early age when a terrible accident in the leather factory where his father was working left him without a hand and as a result his mother and his three siblings didn’t even have food to eat.

When he was seven years old George was going to the Day Greek-American School of the historic Holy Trinity parish in Lowell with holes in his shoes. In his interview with The National Herald he said, “I was placing cardboard in my shoes to cover the holes but on rainy and snow days, by the time I arrived at the School the cardboard became waterlogged and water seeped into my shoes and my feet stayed wait all day.”

Despite the hardships this poor boy became one of the most prominent clergymen of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, having at his side his able coworker presbytera Francine.

Fr. George Tsoukalas with his loving presbytera Francine during a testimonial luncheon in their honor at St. George of Lynn. (Photo: TNH/Archive-Theodore Kalmoukos)

Fr. George opened his heart and spoke to The National Herald, which he has been reading for decades, both the Greek and the English editions. When we asked him how he feels now that the time of his refitment has come he said, “it is unbelievable how 56 years have passed – amazing. It seems like yesterday when we started. I was 23 years old when I started and next week I will be 80.”

He started as assistant priest at Saint Basil’s parish in Peabody, MA under the late Fr. Stanley Harakas, the then-Dean of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Then he served at Annunciation parish in Nashua, NH, Annunciation in Woburn, MA, Holy Apostles in Haverhill, MA, and for a few years he was chancellor in the then-Diocese of Boston.

When Fr. George was growing up in Lowell, as he said “Lowell was a small Greece – we only spoke Greek. In the building in which we lived there were eight families, all of whom were Greek. The four stores downstairs were all Greek, the superette, the coffee shop, the press store, the barber store, everything was Greek.”

Fr. George Tsoukalas is holding his granddaughter at the St. George’s Greek festival. Shown are presbytera Francine and his son Daniel with his wife Melissa. (Photo: TNH/Archive-Theodore Kalmoukos)

He is fourth generation Greek-American but he knows Greek so well nobody can tell that he wasn’t born in Greece.

He reminisces about life in Lowell when he was growing up and tears come to his eyes. He repeats time and again, “I am grateful that I grew up in the city. Those people helped me and they contributed to my advancement.”

He also said, “from the age of 7 years old when I was an Altar boy helping Fr. Demetrios Sgouros of blessed memory at Holy Trinity church in Lowell I wanted to become a priest. I am grateful to my teachers at the Day Greek-American School from which I graduated in 1953.”

Protopresbyter George Tsoukalas officiates at the resurrection service at St. George of Lynn, MA. Shown is Fr. Peter Chrysafidis. (Photo: TNH/Archive-Theodore Kalmoukos)

Fr. George shared the story of the family tragedy during his childhood. “Those were very difficulties times because on October 26, on the Feast Day of St. Demetrios, my father had a terrible accident at the leather factory and he lost his right hand. I was seven years old, the oldest child of the four. There was also my sister Eleni, followed by my two brothers Panagiotis and Andreas. Our father was in the hospital, my mother was taking care of us, you understand the situation. Our neighbors were helping us, but we grew up in great poverty. We didn’t have food to eat. My mother used to give me 25 cents and I would go to the Olympos bakery and bough a roll of bread, which she cut it into small pieces like antidoron. She put it in the oven with some sugar and cinnamon on it and we had it for dinner. We couldn’t buy clothes to wear, but the people were giving us clothing. At that time there was no insurance, nothing. The leather company closed its establishment in Lowell and they moved to southern states.”

Fr. George Tsoukalas speaks enthusiastically about the Greek language and the traditions of our heritage. (Photo: TNH/Archive-Theodore Kalmoukos)

Fr. George entered the Theological School in 1960. He remembered that “Fr. Ioannis Papadopoulos was the Dean at that time. He was the brother of the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Chrysostomos Papadopoulos. Fr. Ioannis of blessed memory was a very good man. He loved us, the students. He wanted students with good character. He often told us that we want priests to serve our people here. Everything at that time was done in Greek. It was purely a Theological School. In 1967 Hellenic College was established but I don’t see any advancement of the College after fifty years of its existence.”

When we asked him how he met presbytera Francine he smiled and said that, “one evening some 16 students escaped from the campus and went to a Greek dance at the Brockton parish. Because we wanted to get out a little. At that time only on Thursdays and Sundays were we allowed to go out. But we escaped secretly and that is where I met presbytera. It was February, 1964 and from the first moment I realized that… [we would live] our lives together. It was a struggle to convince her. My mother-in-law was more sympathetic to me than Francine. Bishop Gerasimos of Abydos who was the bishop in Boston at that time, would give me the Diocesan car and I went to see Francine.”

Asked what is the secret of his pastoral successes in the parishes he served he said, “the secret is to love the people. I always remember the saying “my strength is the love of my people” and he added that, “I always loved Christ and His Church, the Greek traditions, the customs of our culture.”

Fr. George prays fervently in front of the icon of Christ the bridegroom. (Photo: TNH/Archive-Theodore Kalmoukos)

Fr. George was in the front lines of Greek Independence parades and demonstrations for the national issues of Greece and Cyprus.

The late Archbishop Ezekiel of Australia was Fr. George’s uncle. He said, “my grandfather and Archbishop Ezekiel’s father were brothers. He was a man of prayer and deep faith, dedicated to the service of Christ and the people. He inspired people with his sermon and his example. He died in Athens in 1987 during that terrible heatwave.”

When we asked Fr. George where our Church in America is headed today based on his many years of experience he said, “those who are responsible know where the Church is going, but let us stop here…”.

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