Carpatho-Rusyns are one of the major ethnic groups of Pennsylvania. From the time they settled the state’s small towns and cities in the late 1870s until the present time, Carpatho-Rusyns have left an indelible mark on the state, and their story should be told. This blog is about a project that will do just that. Read more

Friday, February 10, 2017

Author to speak in northwestern Pennsylvania, Feb. 25, 2017

The Youngstown/Warren/Sharon Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society
will sponsor a lecture by Richard Custer:

"Uncovering and Publishing the History of Pennsylvania’s Carpatho-Rusyns"

St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church
2230 Highland Road, Hermitage, PA

Saturday, February 25, 2017 -- 1:30 PM

"Through the collection and research of chain migration data, parish histories, church and civil records, immigrant newspapers, photographs, oral histories, and memoirs, the author is writing a history, in words and in pictures, of the Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant communities of the state of Pennsylvania. He has amassed a collection of source material that he is assembling into the most comprehensive look at the history of Carpatho-Rusyn communities anywhere in the world.

He will speak about this project and also about the unique situation of Rusyns in northwestern PA, where farming became the primary occupation of Rusyns.

Mr. Custer was a founder of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society in 1994, and Editor of its New Rusyn Times newsletter until 2016. He is the author of scholarly and popular articles of Rusyn history and the blog “The Carpatho-Rusyns of Pennsylvania” ( He co-authored the book Príkra (Prešov, Slovakia, 2006), a history of his Rusyn maternal grandmother’s village in eastern Slovakia. He holds master’s degrees in Business and Eastern Europe studies from the University of Pittsburgh.

Our Chapter is truly honored that Mr. Custer will come and speak at our Chapter and we wish for every member to attend and bring a friend."

I look forward to meeting you there!

Original material is © by the author, Richard D. Custer; all rights reserved.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Dedicating this blog to +Msgr. John T. Sekellick

A week ago today, the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church in America and the Carpatho-Rusyn community in the U.S. lost one of its most loyal sons and dedicated, though quiet, proponents.

The Rev. Monsignor John T. Sekellick went to the embrace of his creator on Friday, January 20, 2017.

In the earliest days of the work that would become the future book on the Carpatho-Rusyns of Pennsylvania, I wrote a letter to the pastor of the historic St. Mary's of the Assumption Byzantine/Greek Catholic Church of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, asking for a copy of the recently-published centennial anniversary book.

The pastor of St. Mary's, Monsignor John Sekellick, sent me not only the book I requested, but a kind letter of encouragement, an invitation to visit any time, and a personal check for some seed money to support what neither he nor I knew would be a decades-long quest to tell the story of a people in one state whose heritage he and I shared.

Eventually I met him in person, and he was as welcoming and accommodating as anyone could have wished for. Quickly we became friends, but also he would be for me a mentor, confidant, and patron for nearly 30 years. Whenever I found the time to come to northeastern Pennsylvania for research, usually but not only over Memorial Day weekends, I would always have a welcome place to stay and time to share meals, small talk, and the deepest questions of life with a gentle yet strong soul and advocate. He was a patriot of his people -- 100% Carpatho-Rusyn of grandparents from Subcarpathian Rus' and Lemkovyna -- and a stalwart defender and caretaker of the people of the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church in the United States and the European homeland.

A finer priest and finer human being you could have never met. I simply don't know what I will do without him, except with the faith that he will still be present but in a different way. Вѣчнаѧ тебѣ памѧть, dear priest of Jesus Christ, Msgr. John.

It is in tribute, and to his memory, that I dedicate this blog.

The Reverend Monsignor John T. Sekellick J.C.L., a priest of the Eparchy of Passaic, N.J., Judicial Vicar and pastor of Holy Ghost Church in Jessup and administrator of St. John the Baptist Church in Forest City fell asleep in the Lord about 5:15 a.m. (EST) on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 in Scranton after a brief illness at the age of 73.

He was born Sept. 18, 1943, in Philadelphia to John D. Sekellick and Veronica Verbosh Sekellick. He was baptized and christened at St. Nicholas in Minersville on Oct. 10, 1943. He served as an altar boy at his hometown parish SS. Peter and Paul Byzantine Catholic Church Minersville. Monsignor attended Cass Twp. Schools, Nativity B.V.M High School, Pottsville.

He graduated in 1965 from Duquesne University and Byzantine Catholic Seminary of SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Pittsburgh where he was awarded his B.A. degree. He lived at the Russicum in Rome, Italy, and received his theological training at the Gregorian University, Rome, Italy. He was granted a Bachelor of Sacred Theology Degree from the Gregorian in 1969. He received an advanced graduate degree, the Licentiate of Canon Law (J.C.L.), at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C., in 1978.

He was ordained to the priesthood July 13, 1969, at the Cathedral of St. Michael in Passaic, N.J., by Bishop Michael J. Dudick. His first pastoral assignment was as assistant pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Hazleton, July 30, 1969. Other pastoral assignments included: Holy Spirit Church, Mahwah, N.J. (1973-1976); studied at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. (1976-1978), and was awarded the Licentiate Degree in Canon Law in 1978; pastor of SS. Peter and Paul Church in Elizabeth, N.J. (1978- 1987); St. Mary Church in Wilkes-Barre and administrator of St. Michael in Glen Lyon (1987- 1999). His Solemn Investiture as Chaplain to His Holiness, Pope John Paul II (which carries the title of Reverend Monsignor), took place on Sunday, Nov. 6, 1988, at St. Michael's Cathedral in Passaic, N.J., by Bishop Michael Dudick; pastor of Holy Ghost Church in Jessup and administrator of St. John the Baptist, Forest City (1999-2017).

He was active in youth ministry, serving as youth director in the Hazleton Deanery; Vicariate Director for Youth Activities in New Jersey/Passaic District; dean of the Northeast Pennsylvania Deanery; judge on the Matrimonial Tribunal of the Eparchy of Passaic; Judicial Vicar for the Eparchy of Passaic; and Diocesan Director of Family Life.

Monsignor wrote a column titled "Seasonal Reflections" published regularly in the eparchial newspaper, Eastern Catholic Life. He was an active member of the Knights of Columbus, the Canon Law Society of America (CLSA), the Eastern Regional Conference of Canonists, and served as the chaplain to the Pennsylvania State Sheriffs' Association in Jessup.

Monsignor Sekellick was predeceased by his father, John D. Sekellick. He is survived by his mother, Veronica Verbosh Sekellick; sister, Irene, and her husband, John D. Gombola, of Chantilly, Va.; sister, Therese, and her husband, Bret Bennett, and their two children, RJ and Valerie, of Dallas, Texas; and numerous aunts, an uncle, and an abundance of cousins.

First Night of the Priestly Funeral and Divine Liturgy were conducted in Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church, Jessup. A viewing took place Tuesday in SS. Peter & Paul Byzantine Catholic Church, Minersville. Divine Liturgy is scheduled for today, Jan. 25, at 10 a.m. in SS. Peter & Paul Byzantine Catholic Church. Immediately following, interment will take place at SS. Peter & Paul Parish Cemetery, Llewellyn.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Byzantine Catholic Seminarians Education Fund, 3605 Perrysville Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15214. In Blessed Repose (Vichnaya Pamyat).

Original material is © by the author, Richard D. Custer; all rights reserved.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Historical Tribute to Our Carpatho-Rusyn Cantors/Teachers & Choirs

Liturgical and secular music has been an integral aspect of the culture of the Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant community in the U.S. Within the Rusyn churches, congegational and choral singing provides a spiritual and artistic outlet that enriches the lives of the singers and members. The musical leadership in a parish, whether provided by a cantor, choir director, or both, in many instances extended into educational leadership within the parish and even into secular Rusyn cultural activities such as plays – predstavlinja, concert performances, and strolling caroler groups – jasličkari/Betlehemci/gubi/zvizdari.

"Russkij Chor" (Rusyn Choir), Lansford, Pa., 1924. Seated, left of center: Very Rev. Gabriel Martyak, former administrator of the exarchate; to his right, Mr. Andrew Doboš, supreme president of the United Societies; to his left, Mr. Andrew Vapensky, teacher/director.
Choir of St. Mary Greek Catholic Church in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., 1909.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Carpatho-Rusyn Cultural Development (video)

An excellent short talk by John Righetti, President Emeritus of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society. He discusses the next steps for Carpatho-Rusyn cultural development.
Produced by the John and Helen Timo Foundation.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

History Mystery: The McKeesport "Serbian/Russian Church"

Once upon a time I acquired the valuable centennial history of Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago. Among the interesting items therein was this table referring to Orthodox parishes in the eastern U.S.:
Source: Bezkorovainy, Anatoly, ed.,
A History of Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Chicago, 1892–1992. 1992.
Wait, an Orthodox parish in McKeesport, Pa., with not just a large number of Serbian members, but "12 Galician and 19 Ugro-Russian" members? I thought there were no Rusyn Orthodox churches there until the late 1910s. Hmm...

Monday, January 2, 2017

"Prjaševcy in America": Father Andrew Slepecky's Chronicle of Our History

Father Andrew Slepecky (1894-1976) – in Rusyn, Андрій Шлепецькый/Andrij Šlepec’kŷj – was a prominent Orthodox priest in the United States, born in Velykŷj Bukovec’ (now Bukivci/Bukovce), Zemplyn County, arriving in the U.S. in 1912 and ordained in 1916. He served (in one case also established) Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox parishes of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America:
Reading Eagle, Sep. 4, 1966
  • Manville, NJ: Ss. Peter & Paul (1916-1917)
  • Allentown, PA: St. Michael the Archangel (1917-1918)*
  • Alpha, NJ: St. John the Baptist (1918)
  • Urey, PA: Ss. Peter & Paul (1918-?)
  • Dixonville, PA: St. Mary (~1920)*
  • Olyphant, PA: St. Nicholas (?-1921)
  • Nanticoke, PA: St. John the Baptist (1921-1929)
  • St. Clair, PA: St. Michael the Archangel (1929-1975)
*Very little is written, even by Fr. Andrew himself, about the Allentown and Dixonville parishes. If a reader has any information about either one, please get in touch with me.

From 1951 to the 1960s he was head of the "Carpatho-Russian Administration" within the Metropolia, until that "Administration" was dissolved and most of its parishes were reintegrated into the Metropolia. (Some joined the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Diocese, or would end up there eventually, as did his longtime charge, St. Michael's in St. Clair.)

His obituary in the Shenandoah, Pa., Evening Herald of November 2, 1976, read:

Right Reverend Andrew Stephen Slepecky, 81, pastor emeritus of St. Michael's Orthodox Church, St. Clair, died Sunday [October 31, 1976]. He had been ill the past year.

Born in Czechoslovakia, he came to the United States in 1912 and entered the Orthodox Seminary at Tenafly, New Jersey, and was ordained in 1916 at New York City. He served parishes in New Jersey, Allentown, Uray, Dixonville, Oliphant, Nanticoke and at St. Clair from 1929 until 1975. Rev. Slepecky was an organizer of the United Orthodox Brotherhood of America and wrote many articles for the Russian Messenger Newspaper and for Swit and Pravda. Since 1949, he had been administrator of the Orthodox Church of America and spiritual advisor of the Federated Russian Orthodox Club and Frackville Deanery.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Presentation: "Carpatho-Rusyn Village Consciousness as manifested by immigrants in the U.S." (ASEEES 2016)

ASEEES, the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, held its annual convention from November 17-20, 2016 in Washington, D.C. This author was honored to be a participant in the scholarly roundtable "The Carpatho-Rusyn Global Village".

This roundtable discussion took place on November 17, and the context for it was the following.
When Marshall McLuhan popularized the concept of the global village in the 1960s, he anticipated that the rise of new media would allow for the instantaneous communication among individuals on all sides of the globe and bring about village-like networks in a virtual space. Similarly, Benedict Anderson has emphasized the role of the proliferation and circulation of print media, in particular, the newspaper, in constructing the concept of the nation. While the Carpatho-Rusyns have never had a nation-state of their own, they have maintained strong global networks among individual villages spread out in several countries through the production of newspapers, magazines, almanacs, books, and – most recently – websites and social media pages. As such, this roundtable will investigate how Carpatho-Rusyns in the late 19th and early 20th centuries used print media to create international networks between home and abroad, explore the influence of religion on their maintenance of a transnational community, and examine the virtual village-like mentalities and behaviors present on the Carpatho-Rusyn internet today.
I gave one of five presentations that made up the roundtable. The slides and my commentary follow here.

Over the past two decades, in my research of the Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant settlements of the U.S. -- primarily Pennsylvania, but also New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Ohio, etc. -- in which I especially focused on chain migration from homeland villages to American towns, I have discovered many examples of "village consciousness" as expressed by Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants, and I would like to share them, and my interpretation of them, in the hopes that other scholars may find aspects of this topic that warrant and inspire further study.