|A woman walks past an abandoned school|
in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania.
Eastern Christians cling to their faith as time runs out on the former coal towns of Pennsylvania, reports Jacqueline Ruyak with photographs by Cody Christopulos
CNEWA World, March-April 2004
(Reprinted/excerpted with permission from the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. NOTE: This article described the social conditions prevailing in several Eastern Christian parishes, all founded by Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants, of northeastern Pennsylvania's anthracite coal region. With the recent campaign to save the structure that was the first Greek Catholic Church in the U.S., in Shenandoah, we felt it useful to present the portion dealing with Shenandoah.)
...Some 40 miles southwest of Kingston and Edwardsville lies the town of Shenandoah, which is situated along the Mammoth coal vein. Called the “most magnificent coal bed in the world,” this vein produced over two-thirds of the anthracite mined. Shenandoah was founded in 1866, four years after the first colliery opened, bringing in settlers, eating houses, saloons and more.
|A plant near Shenandoah belches out smoke.|
In 1915, at its peak, Shenandoah had about 30,000 people. Ripley, in his famed “Believe It or Not” column, once called the town the most congested square mile in the United States. The population is now about 6,000; almost 70 percent are over 60 and 14 percent live below the poverty line.
All the hills surrounding the town have been mined. Massive banks of culm, the waste left after coal screening, are everywhere. Thanks, however, to three cogeneration plants, designed to clean the waste of whatever energy it contains, trees now grow here and there on the culm. In winter, at least, downtown is a disconcerting mix of shabby, sometimes boarded-up buildings and unexpected promise – a ghost perhaps of what used to be.
|Shenandoah, which sits on the Mammoth coal vein, is home to the gold-domed St. Michael's – the first Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the United States.|
That afternoon Father Petro Zvarych from St. Michael’s is visiting with three of his parishioners: Nancy Sawka, a recent widow and former bakery owner in nearby Frackville; Andrea Pytak, a retired nurse who volunteers at the rectory; and Samuel Litwak, fresh from a meeting of Downtown Shenandoah Inc., a local group dedicated to the revitalization of downtown.
|An early 20th-century house in Shenandoah sits abandoned.|
He has childhood memories, too, of coming to church and not being able to get a seat. The parish now has about 150 families, including about 30 children. Says Ms. Pytak, “In the past three years, we have buried 112 parishioners, and there have been only two or three births a year.”
As in other coal towns, many people have left, while others commute many miles a day to work in Harrisburg, Allentown or Reading.
Father Zvarych, who hails from a small town in Ukraine not unlike Shenandoah, has been at St. Michael’s for less than two years. “It’s a small town, but somehow people are enjoying their lives. What’s nice about this area is that people actually live as a community. They go to church together, they share things together. Something happens and they come to each other, not like in a big town or city.”
The full article is available at cnewa.org.
Original material is © by the author, Richard D. Custer; all rights reserved.