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, June 24, 2017

“Dido was a member of the Spolok”: Figuring Out Fraternals

Membership ribbon of St. Nicholas
Brotherhood of Shenandoah,
founded 1885
Fraternal benefit societies, or more generally, fraternal organizations, were usually the first community institution established in the Rusyn immigrant settlements, in most cases preceding even a church. These were built on the model of similar organizations in the homeland and the United States, in part as a replacement for the American insurance that was not usually available to Slavic immigrants, and out of a need for an organization to rally the immigrants on an ethnic basis. (Some Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants joined existing American fraternals, especially the Woodmen of the World, whose distinctive tree stump-shaped headstones can be seen in various older Rusyn cemeteries in this country.)

The “brotherhoods” (later also sisterhoods) or burial societies would pay benefits to the surviving family members of miners killed or seriously injured in the all-too-frequent mine accidents. The first, the St. Nicholas Brotherhood, was founded in Shenandoah, Schuylkill County, in 1885. Within two years there were a total of seven, and they had come together as the Union of Rusyn Societies. However, that Union dissolved in 1889, and some of these brotherhoods affiliated themselves with the fraternal benefit societies that had already been established by Slovak immigrants, particularly the Roman Catholic “First Catholic Slovak Union,” popularly called “Jednota.” Recognizing the danger of assimilation posed by membership in Slovak Roman Catholic societies, a group of six Greek Catholic priests, all of Subcarpathian Rusyn origin from Hungary, along with fourteen Greek Catholic parish brotherhoods, met in Wilkes-Barre in February 1892 to establish the Union of Greek Catholic Russian Brotherhoods (Sojedynenije Greko-Kafolyčeskych Russkych Bratstv), later known simply as the Greek Catholic Union.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Memorial Day Week Research Trip: Followup Report

Having recently completed one of my periodic lengthy research trips, one that like most of them was many weeks in the making, I'd like to share some of the results and highlights.

Ss. Peter & Paul Church, Mt. Union
(photo: orthodox-world.org)
I began the trip on a late May Saturday morning heading to central Pennsylvania, but having gotten a late start I skipped what was to be my first stop, the Broad Top Coal Miners Museum in Robertsdale, Huntingdon County, and went directly to Mount Union. There I was finally able to see and photograph the interior of Ss. Peter & Paul Russian Orthodox Church, founded in 1916 with the support of Tsar Nicholas of Russia, but evidently not with Carpatho-Rusyns among the founders. Father Christos Patitsas, the current pastor, was gracious in his welcome and explanation of the colorful yet troubled history of the parish in the last few decades and how it came to its current home as part of the Genuine Orthodox Church of America. [Here's an interesting video about the parish history.] The cornerstone is in both Russian and Romanian, and most of the parishioners seem to have been either Romanian, Ukrainian, or Macedonian. But Mount Union and this church have some interesting intersections with Rusyn history in Wood (aka Woodvale) and Ramey, so it's going in the book. Soon I hope to visit the miners museum in Robertsdale to see what they might have about Rusyn immigrants in that area, especially Wood and St. Michael's Orthodox Church there. (I do wish they had responded to my email inquiry about such things. I guess I'll just have to show up in person.)

I then hurried west to Boswell, Somerset County. I had just gotten word that Saints Peter & Paul Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church there would be having its final Divine Liturgy the next day and then would close. It was founded by Carpatho-Rusyns in 1913 and survived the death of the local mining industry and then a fire in 1998. Despite being able to restore the church interior after the fire, for years the parish hung on with only a handful of members, and the church building had deteriorated to a precarious condition. After the last registered member of the parish had passed away last year, and without any funds to repair and insure the structure, there was no choice but to close the church.

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 newspapers.com 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” (rusynsofpa.blogspot.com). 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!
---------------------
UPDATE:
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.