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

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The 2019 Memorial Day Weekend Research Trip (The Last One?)

Another Memorial Day Weekend has come and gone, and as has become my custom, I extended it a few days and made a research trip out of it. Again as per custom, I began in central PA and wound up in northeastern PA for a few days, also attending the Memorial Day Pilgrimage at St. Tikhon’s Monastery. With a conveniently located motel in Dunmore as my base, my activities were mostly in the Scranton and Wilkes-Barre area, followed by a few visits around Pottsville to close out the trip.

But back to the beginning. Heading north to PA from DC typically leads me to Somerset, Cambria, Indiana, and Huntingdon Counties. I began this trip with a stop in Wood (once upon a time known as Woodvale) in Huntingdon County. I wanted to take some new and hopefully better photos of the inside of the vintage St. Michael's Orthodox Church, and parishioner Susan Pawuk graciously met me there and opened the church.

She also provided me with the parish's 2017 centennial booklet, which had some valuable photos inside. Susan's brother Ronald has been a Facebook friend for a while, so I was glad to make a personal connection with the family, who are now among only a few local parishioners of St. Michael's.

I then headed to Patton, Cambria County, near my mother's homestead in Barnesboro (now known as Northern Cambria), to meet with the current pastor of Patton's Ss. Peter & Paul Byzantine Catholic Church and our family parish, St. John's Byzantine Catholic Church in Northern Cambria. Father Vasyl Polyak is a Carpatho-Rusyn native of Užhorod and came to the U.S. to serve our churches several years ago.

Again taking "improved" photos of the inside of the Patton church, Fr. Vasyl also supplied me with a DVD to commemorate the parish's history, and later emailed me a digital copy of the historic old photo of the parish and its congregation, which was taken from a newspaper.

The hamlet of Dixonville in northern Indiana County was my next stop; parishioner Maureen (Betsa) Cornman, while unavailable to meet me there in person, graciously arranged for the church to be open, for a copy of the parish's 1915 centennial booklet to be set out for me, and for a bounty of historical photographs available for me to scan. It was encouraging to see a parish that's in a fairly out-of-the-way place still active and clearly proud of who they are. (Although most of its history has been as a Ukrainian Orthodox church, it was originally a Greek Catholic church tied to the mainly-Subcarpathian Rusyn St. Michael's Church in neighboring Clymer, and was actually a parish of the Pittsburgh Greek Catholic Exarchate until the mid-1920s. Most of its families, though, came from transitional Lemko-Bojko villages of Lisko County in southeastern Poland—within Carpathian Rus' but whose American descendants and those who remained in the homeland mostly came to consider themselves Ukrainians.) As part of the "circle of life," it was Maureen's parents George and Ann Betsa whose home at the base of the hill where the church now stands and whose porch I sat on and with whom I first discussed the history of St. John's parish way back in the 1990s when just beginning this project. George and Ann have gone on to eternal life, but their legacy lives on in a wonderful way.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Let's Get Reacquainted!

Just because it may be a long time between blog posts doesn't mean things aren't happening. It's just that these last few months it has been easier for me to post quick updates, and share interesting relevant content, on the Carpatho-Rusyns of Pennsylvania Facebook page.

A few months ago I added the Facebook gadget in the right-rail of this blog so hopefully, dear readers, you have noticed that there is activity happening on my end, just not in the form of full-length blog posts.

My recent activities have included the following:
  • I'm continuing to work on building my databases of fraternal benefit society (and similar organization) lodges, and perhaps most importantly, of the places in Pennsylvania Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants settled, by county and region.

  • On April 20, Great & Holy Saturday for most Byzantine/Greek Catholics in America, I took a ride across a portion of the cradle of the Carpatho-Rusyn immigration in the U.S. — Schuylkill and Luzerne Counties. Some, not quite most, of the churches of Carpatho-Rusyn origin were open that day for services or for people to spend time in prayer at the “grave” where the burial shroud (плащаница - plaščanica) of Jesus is displayed until the Resurrection services in the evening/night or Sunday morning. I posted quite a few of the photos on the Carpatho-Rusyns of Pennsylvania Facebook page.

  • I applied for the Grant-in-Aid Award of the Immigration History Research Center Archives at the University of Minnesota so I can soon, I hope, return to the IHRC Archives for one more visit to do research with early Carpatho-Rusyn (and Ukrainian / Slovak / Russian) periodicals. (The IHRC Archives has much of this sort of material not available anywhere else, and much of that was published in Pennsylvania; their collections are not only related to Minnesota!)

  • I'm continuing to discover new and fascinating articles and go down rabbit holes on, and occasionally readers are sending me their discoveries too, for which I'm very grateful!
  • Again this year I'll be on a panel at the Annual Convention of the Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies (ASEEES), this time in San Francisco in November. The panel title is "Documenting Lives of Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Neighbors in Subcarpathian Rus’ and Beyond" and my paper will be "A Carpatho-Rusyn Village’s American Conversion to Orthodoxy: Statistical Analysis Reveals Life Narratives." This paper draws on my research and experience of giving the St. Alexis (Toth) Lecture in 2018 at St. Mary's Orthodox Cathedral in Minneapolis.

  • And last but not least, I'm actually writing text for the book. Finally. I'm preparing the introductory essays that will present an overview of Carpatho-Rusyn life in Pennsylvania, and a synopsis of Rusyn history in each of the state's regions that will form the sections of the book.
I did go on my usual Memorial Day Weekend research trip last month, which I will blog about in the next few days. 

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

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Russian Aid Society of Allentown

Original St. Michael Greek Catholic Church
at Green St. & Ridge Ave.
Carpatho-Rusyns settled in Allentown, Lehigh County, in the late 1890s, but were not present in large numbers until around 1905. Two Greek Catholic parishes were founded in the Sixth Ward, in 1907-08 (St. Michael the Archangel), at Green Street and Ridge Avenue, and a Galician offshoot founded by Lemkos and Ukrainians in 1909-10 (St. Mary's Immaculate Conception) on Front & Furnace Streets, shortly thereafter building a church on Fullerton Avenue. This was a neighborhood largely made up of Central European immigrants, not just Carpatho-Rusyns and Galician Ukrainians, but also Slovaks, Poles, and Hungarians.

In the years to follow, Carpatho-Rusyns would also be involved in founding a short-lived Russian Orthodox parish (also named for St. Michael), and later an independent Greek Catholic parish (St. John the Baptist, on N. 2nd Street). That church eventually left the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese and joined the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic as St. Andrew Byzantine Catholic Church (the story behind this is an unfortunate one, the details of which I'll leave for my book); a portion of its members founded Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary Orthodox Greek Catholic Church which established itself in a former synagogue at the prominent corner of North 6th and Tilghman Streets. Meanwhile, St. Mary's Immaculate Conception (Galician) Greek Catholic Church would lead a movement to establish a Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the U.S. in the 1920s, and today the parish is known as St. Mary's, Protection of the Holy Theotokos Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Other than lodges of fraternal organizations like the Greek Catholic Union and the Russian Brotherhood Organization, the main Carpatho-Rusyn social organization in this community was the St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Russian Aid Society, founded in 1919. I knew about this group and its club building, but did not know its history. A few days ago I searched newspapers-dot-com to see what kind of articles there were about it. It yielded no less than 40 articles about the organization, many of which provide a very useful body of information on its history and activities. (I only wish the accompanying photos were better.)

For example, this article provides a few details of its founding.

The Morning Call, October 28, 1945

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

History Comes Full Circle: Homeland–Pennsylvania–Homeland

Many Carpatho-Rusyn villages in the European homeland have historical monographs covering the origins, life, and culture of the village and its people. Many of them are extremely well done, and some of them include what from my perspective is essential to telling the whole story – the life of the village natives in emigration. I've been able to make a significant contribution to that in the monograph on one village dear to my heart. And now I can say I've played a small part in helping with another.

Petro Trochanovskij's recently-published Book of Bilcareva (Книга Білцаревы), about Bilcareva/Binczarowa, old Grybów County in the Lemko Region of Austrian Galicia, present-day Poland, is hands-down the best Carpatho-Rusyn village history that has ever been published. The contents – almost entirely in Lemko Rusyn – are extremely detailed and comprehensive, and the book is beautiful to look at and compelling to read.

The contents of this magnificent book include:
  • Village history: topographical maps with the native names of hills and sections; the earliest metrical records; a list of residents in the 1770s-1780s; and much more.
  • Life of the village (before WWII) in images: people, life and death, the church, chapels/wayside crosses, etc.
  • Life of Bilcareva natives in emigration, especially the United States.
  • Life of Bilcareva villagers in exile in Poland, return visits to Bilcareva, creation of a memorial cross, and the compilation of the book.
  • Culture of Bilcareva and the life and works of notable Bilcareva natives throughout history and their artistry – music, poetry, woodcuts, woodwork, etc.
This book stands out from most village histories in the amount of attention given to the village natives' "diaspora" experience. As with the book about my Rusyn grandmother's native village, I played a part in this one.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Labor Day Weekend 2018: Into the Heart of the Coal & Coke Region

Every Labor Day weekend since 1988, one could find me among the pilgrims at the pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help at Mount Saint Macrina in Uniontown, Fayette County. This year was not really any different. Except that I usually tack on a few extra days for fieldwork in that area of the state, whereas this year I only did fieldwork on Friday and Monday. Still, some of that activity is worth sharing here.

I arrived in the area mid-afternoon on Friday in order to make my long-awaited first visit to the Coal & Coke Heritage Center at the Penn State University Fayette Campus near Uniontown (and Leisenring, a pivotal place in the history of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants in that region). Greeted by the archivist, Amanda Peters, I had about 90 minutes to peruse the attractive and informative museum as well as some of the center's archives and library.

The place of immigrants in the local communities that supplied the workforce for coal & coke was appropriately highlighted.
And fortunately Carpatho-Rusyns are acknowledged, as they were one of the primary ethnic groups in the region.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Late Spring Research Trip to Central & Northeastern PA

Memorial Day weekend and the days following will usually find me doing research around northeastern Pennsylvania. I combine it with spending Memorial Day at the long-running pilgrimage at St. Tikhon's Monastery in South Canaan. This year was no different.

My trip started in central Pa., with visits to the Broad Top Area Coal Miners Museum in Robertsdale, Huntingdon County, and Madera, Clearfield County and Philipsburg, Centre County. The Robertsdale museum had a few items of interest related to the mining industry and immigrant communities in Woodvale (now called Wood) and Robertsdale, where many Carpatho-Rusyns settled in the early 20th century.

Replica "coal mine" in the museum basement

Friday, May 25, 2018

Overview of April 2018 Research Trip to the Pittsburgh Area

Working full-time, my study and writing about Carpatho-Rusyn immigration has been limited to being a hobby, albeit one that I have spent much time on in these many years. Only a few times a year do I have the opportunity to devote a few days full time to fieldwork. Fortunately, I can see that only a few more of these research trips will be necessary before I can be satisfied that the information I've gathered is thorough enough (if never quite "complete"). These occasional research trips take many days to plan and do not always go accordingly. My first such trip of 2018 took place in April, and I'm glad to share the highlights — and glimpses of what I collected — with you.

In case you didn't know, I have started posting about my project on Facebook at this page: The Carpatho-Rusyns of Pennsylvania. I already posted about this research trip there; this is an adapted consolidated version of several Facebook posts.

(Posted "live" on April 21, the first day of the trip)

This research trip is starting out exceptionally well. Thanks to two of my clerical contacts in Somerset & Cambria Counties, I got access to valuable records and made some joyful finds today:

Early minutes of the St. Mary's Holy Assumption Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in Central City;
St. Mary's Holy Assumption Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, Central City, Somerset County: First parish meeting minutes, 1917.

Some of the old Carpatho-Rusyn prayerbooks in the kliros of St. Mary's in Central City used by the cantors of days gone by...

St. Mary's Church, Central City: "Izbornik" book of divine services used by cantors, published in Užhorod, 1925.