Fr. Philip Abo-Assaley of Grand Rapids

Fr. Philip Abo-Assaley

Fr. Philip Abo-Assaley

Fr. Philipous (or Philip) Abo-Assaley was an early Antiochian priest who served under St. Raphael and, later, Bishop Aftimios Ofiesh. He founded St. George Orthodox Church in Grand Rapids, Mich. and served as its pastor for many years. Recently, I stumbled onto this very nice little biography of Fr. Philip from the 1918 book Grand Rapids and Kent County, Michigan: Historical Account of Their Progress from First Settlement to the Present (Ernest B. Fisher, ed.):

Rev. Philipous Abo Assaley.—Through the earnest and unselfish labors of its pastor, St. George’s First Syrian Orthodox Church of Grand Rapids has been placed upon a self-supporting basis, and since its organization, in 1908, when it was an uncertain venture, has grown into a religious body that today wields a great influence for good.
Rev. Philipous Abo Assaley, its pastor, was born at Rashaya-Ellwady, State of Damascus, Syria, in 1870, son of Georgious and Rose (Mallick) Assaley, natives of the same place, where the family had lived for generations. He was educated in private schools, and in his native land taught in parochial schools for seven years, then spending one year as an educator in the town of Balaabeck and nine years in Russian schools. In 1906 he came to the United States and settled at Grand Rapids, where a number of his countrymen lived.
While engaged in the work of gathering together a congregation, he worked in the Sligh Furniture Company’s factory, but in 1908 resigned his position and went to Brooklyn, N. Y., where he was ordained into the ministry. In that same year he returned to Grand Rapids and organized St. George’s First Syrian Orthodox church, and started the erection of the church edifice, at No. 219 Williams street, the building being completed at a cost of $5,000. Each year the parish has grown, until today it includes fifty families. In Reverend Assaley is found a wholesome and human philosopher and a most courageous ethical teacher. The fragrance of his faith, the encouragement to be found in his business success, the strength and dynamic power of his utterances from the pulpit, and his maintenance of the truth in which he believes and for which he has ever been ready to make war when attacked, unite in the making of a career of more than average purpose and usefulness.
Reverend Assaley was married Feb. 1, 1903, to Yamna Zekaib, daughter of Ferris Zekaib, born in the same place as her husband. They have had the following children: Olga and George (1), who were born in Syria and died there; George (2), also born in Syria; Alexander, the first child born in the United States; Ben, who is deceased; Toofic and Shafic.
I don’t know much about Fr. Philip beyond what’s in that biography. He may have been somehow related to Archbishop Victor Abo-Assaly — besides the common surname, they were from the same region of Syria/Lebanon — but I can’t confirm that. Fr. Philip appears on clergy lists as the priest in Grand Rapids as late as 1924, but I’m not sure what happened to him after that. If you know more, please let us know.

2 Replies to “Fr. Philip Abo-Assaley of Grand Rapids”

  1. Fr. Phillipous Abou-Assaley was the priest in charge of St. George Michigan City. He came often and performed services at the home of Tanous Abu-Allam Farah, the future first resident priest. If you look at our consecration picture of Sept 1914, Fr Phillipous is standing on the left of St. Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny. Link to his grave.
    I was told he still had relatives in the Grand rapids area. We had a woman who was a distant cousin of his Toufiqa Salhaney nee Abou-Assaley living here in Michigan City, Indiana
    Hieromonk Timothy Tadros, St. George Orthodox Church, Michigan City, Indiana

    1. Much of the family of Fr. Phillipous Abou-Assaley direct descendants have moved out of the Grand Rapids area, but his grand daughter still resides in the area.

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