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

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Annual Memorial Day Week Research Trip – The Big Photo Hunt!

In just a few short weeks it will again be the Memorial Day holiday, a time I've dedicated for many years to field work in northeastern Pennsylvania -- the oldest and one of the largest historical settlement areas of Carpatho-Rusyns in the United States. (See my post about my research last year during this holiday week.)

Even though this year I will concentrate my research time, nearly a week's worth, on the same area, my emphasis will be a little different. Feeling the pressure of my quickly-approaching self-imposed deadline to complete and publish this book, I'm now trying to gather as many final artifacts as possible over the next few months, especially old photographs.

Yes, I'll be doing a fair amount of photography, as usual, perhaps even gaining access to a handful of parishes' metrical records I have yet to work with, and visiting libraries, archives, and courthouses. But more than anything I hope to learn who might have those wonderful historical photographs from the life of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant communities in the region.

Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant funeral, Mayfield, 1920s/1930s.
The funeral aspect of the photo was obscured when it was used as the cover photo for the parish centennial journal; if I can locate the original photo I would like to use it in its complete state in my book.
I'm going to describe my trip plans and show some examples of the kinds of photos I'm hoping to find (and scan), and demonstrate why it's so important that I be able to find the actual photos.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Picturing Pascha (and Paskas!)

Father Aleksij Tovt/Toth blessing Paschal food, location = ?
Хрістос воскрес! Воістину воскрес!
Christos voskres! Voistynu voskres!
Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!

Anyone who follows Carpatho-Rusyn Facebook groups such as Carpatho-Rusyns Everywhere! and Lemko Rusyns and Friends would have seen a deluge over the last two weeks of wonderful photographs of food preparation for Easter -- paskas, hrudka/sŷrec/jaječnyk, butter lambs, chrin; the elaborately assembled baskets of the foods taken for blessing; the moving vigils at the Tomb of Christ, and photos and videos of the services and the blessing of the Paschal foods.

It occurs to me that despite these beloved traditions of Carpatho-Rusyns' observance of the Feast of Feasts, the summit of the Christian liturgical year, the photo record of various Rusyn communities' observance of these customs is fairly scant once you go back as recently as World War II.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Amazing (Rusyn) World of Local Newspapers

Since being introduced to the website a few months ago, I've saved dozens of articles from old newspapers from towns and cities all over Pennsylvania. It's astounding how much local Carpatho-Rusyn community news can be found there.

I always knew an essential source for my history writing would be the Rusyn immigrant press (in all its ethnonational and political incarnations), but now having easy access to the secular local press of decades past has revealed an entirely new wealth of source material.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

An edifying read: "Fr. Alexis Toth, Bishop John Ireland, and the Grace of Reconciliation"

I thought I would give this post (new to me) a boost.

Fr. Alexis Toth, Bishop John Ireland, and the Grace of Reconciliation
May 18, 2016

The history of the "two lungs" of the Catholic Church in the United States has been marked, at times, by acrimony, misunderstanding, and controversy.

Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.

Left: Bishop John Ireland (1838-1918); right: Fr. Alexis Toth (1853-1909).

Christ, before his Passion, said to his apostles, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.”1 He was about to enter the garden to pray, and his disciples would soon fall asleep, flee him, and become divided. Christ’s agony in the garden envisaged the entire history of the Church; perhaps one of the Church’s most enduring traditions, unfortunately, has been division. William Blake (1757-1827) once wrote that, “It is easier to forgive an enemy than a friend.”2

One of the more ill-fated examples of division in the Church is the antagonism between the Eastern Catholic priest, Father Alexis Toth (1853-1909), and the Roman Catholic bishop of Minneapolis, John Ireland (1838-1918). According to several sources, when Toth and Ireland met on December 18, 1889, their brief exchange planted seeds that matured into an intra-ecclesial antipathy resulting in the departure of thousands of Catholics into Eastern Orthodoxy. Toth recalled that after handing the bishop his papers:

[N]o sooner did he read that I was a “Uniate” than his hands began to shake . . . .
“Have you a wife?” “No.”
“But you had one?” “Yes, I am a widower.”
At this he threw the paper on the table and loudly exclaimed, “I have already written to Rome protesting against this kind of priest being sent to me!”
“What kind of priest do you mean?” “Your kind.”
“I am a Catholic priest in the Greek Rite, I am a Uniate. I was ordained by a lawful Catholic bishop.”
“I do not consider you or this bishop of yours Catholic.”3
After Toth had returned from his audience with the bishop, Ireland directed a local Polish Latin Rite priest to “denounce Toth from the pulpit” and published a decree summoning all Catholics to renounce Father Toth.4 Ireland was not acting alone; many of his fellow bishops in America shared his interest in expurgating Greek Catholics, and their married priests, from the United States.

Not only did this encounter precipitate the exodus of many Greek Catholics, but Father Toth’s long friendship with his fellow Ruthenian priest, Father Nicephor Channath (d. 1899), was likewise strained. The story of Toth and Channath is, in the end, perhaps the most hopeful spark of Christian charity and reconciliation that emerges from the tragic incidents that transpired after Toth and Ireland set the stage for decades of disputation and division between Western and Eastern Rite Catholics in America.

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!
A lecture by Richard Custer titled ‘Uncovering and Publishing the History of Pennsylvania’s Carpatho-Rusyns’ at St. Michael's Byzantine Church in Hermitage, Pa was attended by sixty people. Jim Basista, president of the chapter, presented Rich Custer with a print of an original painting of the Vatras that our chapter commissioned.

(From Carpatho-Rusyn Society Youngstown Warren Chapter on Facebook)

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.