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

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Fate of the Shenandoah Mother Church: Update

We posted a few days ago about the coming demolition of the building that was the original Greek Catholic church in the U.S., of the parish of St. Michael the Archangel in Shenandoah, Schuylkill County, Pa., which belongs to the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.

After this news became public, some Ukrainian Americans started a petition drive to save the building and "convert the church into a Ukrainian museum."

As I wrote at the end of my blog post, the day before this petition was launched:
This is very sad. In a better world, the original church would have been restored and perhaps turned into a museum.
Not existing in that "better world," I accept that this is not going to happen. I would not support any kind of "Ukrainian museum" in this location, but for anything of this building to remain is highly unlikely. These photos of the original church were taken last week by reader Nick Kupensky, who graciously provided them for our use here.

In a Facebook thread about this petition, I commented:
Have any of you ever even BEEN to Shenandoah? I think it's very telling that not one signer of this petition is from Shenandoah or the surrounding area. I wish this building would be preserved, but who's going to pay for it, not just now but long-term?
One of the promoters of the petition responded:
Yes I have been to Shenandoah. Gave a lecture there at Luzerne college on Ukrainian immigration last year. A preservation fund could be established (and UNA) is willing to set up permanent fund to collect donations and fundraise for the maitenance. Certainly other organizations could partner in this effort as the burden to local parish much too high.
Call me a skeptic. As Rusyn American cultural activist Maria Silvestri wisely remarked,
People currently holding positions of power in ethnic communities seem to think that future generations are going to want to inherit these old, broken buildings and continue to use them as a starting point for cultural activism.
She continued:
That poor parish, which has 100 families on a good day, has been maintaining it for over 100 years, and really, I give them kudos for deciding that the financial burden isn't worth it to them. How many of our parishes have to do all kinds of ridiculous fundraising for minimum maintenance on their beyond aging physical plants? And who's even going to go there to visit this proposed museum? Maybe it can be a package deal with the [nonexistent] Mrs. T's factory tour...
-- Agreed!

In my next post I'm going to demonstrate some of the absurdity of establishing a "Ukrainian museum" in Shenandoah.

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


  1. I just signed the petition Rich (I've been to Shenandoah many times since I returned back to my coal region roots). I don't think it necessarily should be preserved solely as a Ukrainian museum, but a few buildings (including churches) in the PA coal region have been turned into multi-use community centers. One in particular that I'm thinking of has kept the sanctuary (and/or nave) intact and can still be used for any denomination church services, weddings, etc., while the other rooms are used for community functions, meetings, craft fairs, food distributions, and even small concerts. This allows the history of the church to be retained, as they have many of the church's original historical items, pictures, books, etc. on display in the rear of the nave. Turning the church into a multi-use center actually helps educate almost all who go into the building about its history because you can't help but go into the beautiful sanctuary and thus learn about the church's history and the people who built it. Perhaps it's too late for the church members and people of Shenandoah to get together and look into any possible state funding to preserve the building (and perhaps they did and I just don't recall reading about it in the newspaper), but I felt I had to sign it if for no other reason than the sadness I feel about losing such a treasured, historic building.

  2. Some more details about what the Archeparchy of Philadelphia is doing /intends to do with this site:

    "I was very appreciative that Archbishop Soroka immediately returned my call. He also clarified some issues. He explained that the razing of the building was a conditional term made by the archdiocese for the parish to procure the monies needed for the extensive renovations needed by the current functioning church. There were no plans to sell the site. The archdiocese, however determined that the maintenance costs and the need to bring the old building to code to its former use as a banquet facility were too great for the parish to endure. The decision was made to raze the building.

    Archbishop Soroka indicated that they would place a commemorative plaque on the site to mark the first building, but preserving the site for its historic value and converting it to a museum, or obtaining historic designation was not being considered. Nor was it up for a discussion. He had little faith that this building was of interest to the general public. As such, further community involvement was not warranted and any discussion with other organization or organizations, as I suggested, was not on the table."

  3. I guess the Archbishop failed to tell you that he didn't let the people of Saint Michael's Church know of his plans of the First Church. That when we did find out of razing it, that a member offered to buy it. How about that, somebody offered to buy it which would have given the Archbishop a profit, instead a cost of $41,0000 to raze it.
    The trustees had the church for 96 Years and the Archbishop for 35 Years and would not let the parishioners know ahead of time so we would be able to do something. Also ,did the Archbishop tell you that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvanian Historical and Museum Commission Bureau for Historic Preservation sent him a letter on August 20 ,2015. That they would work with the new buyer (which we had one) and the parish, the borough , community organizations etc. Probably not, they tell you what they want .What hurts the most is that he should have told his plans to the parish and not have his spokesman just have a parish counsel meeting, after the contract was signed to raze it . This is the other side of the story


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