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, September 17, 2015

St. Michael’s Church of Shenandoah: Founded by Ukrainian Immigrants?

In recent weeks, news has circulated among certain ethnic and religious communities that the original church building of St. Michael’s Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, is in the process of being torn down. In efforts on the part of the Ukrainian community to save the building, it has also been proposed to turn it into a Ukrainian museum. St. Michael’s, identified on that original building as the “First Greek Catholic Church in America,” has also been referred to as:
  • the first building of the organized Ukrainian diaspora in the U.S.A.;
  • the very first building the Ukrainian immigrants built in America;
  • the first building of the Ukrainian immigration on U.S soil;
  • the first Ukrainian Church in the Americas;
  • where the organized Ukrainian American community began;
  • where the first Ukrainian brotherhood in the U.S.A., St. Nicholas of Shenandoah, was established;
  • the church, which was located in the town known as the cradle of organized Ukrainian American community life.
The first building that served as St. Michael’s Church in Shenandoah. Still standing (as of this writing), a sign identifies it as the “First Greek Catholic Church in America.”

A historical marker placed by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (originally in 1970, restored and replaced in 1984), states that the parish was “founded by Ukrainian immigrants.”

The parish website states “Founded by Ukrainian Catholics in 1884, St. Michael's is the first parish of the Greek Catholic Rite in America.”

The parish belongs to the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, a jurisdiction that has roots in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Exarchate of Philadelphia (est. 1924) and before that the "Galician Greek Catholic Ordinariate" under the administration (1916-1924) of Father Peter Ponjatyshyn. Prior to the death of Bishop Soter Ortyns'kyj in 1916, St. Michael's, as did all Slavic and Hungarian Greek Catholic parishes in the U.S., belonged to the same jurisdiction, referred to simply as Greek Catholic or Ruthenian Catholic. What is the background to this history in Shenandoah in particular?

The popular conception of this church's place in the history of the Greek Catholic Church in the U.S. and the associated Slavic peoples is exemplified by this recent item in a Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic parish bulletin in the Washington, D.C. area:
Historic Church to be Demolished. The first Greek Catholic church in the United States was constructed in Shenandoah, PA, under the title Saint Michael the Archangel in 1884, serving Ukrainian Catholics. (Two years later, Ruthenian Greek Catholics in Freeland, PA asked Father John Volansky, pastor of Saint Michael church, to come to Freeland to organize a parish. The first Ruthenian Greek Catholic parish, Saint Mary Church, Freeland, PA, was founded in 1886 by Father Volansky.) Meanwhile, in 1908 the Ukrainian Catholics in Shenandoah built a second Saint Michael Church and used the first historic structure as a hall. When this second church burned down in the 1980’s the first church was used again until a new church was rebuilt. It is the first church in the United States for Ukrainian Catholics from 1884 to 1908 and again in the 1980’s, that is being prepared for demolition by Saint Michael’s parish. (Aug. 30, 2015)
Projecting today's distinction between the Ukrainian (originally "Galician") and Ruthenian (originally "Podcarpathian") jurisdictions all the way back to day one in 1884 distorts the situation at the time not only in Shenandoah, but in Freeland and almost every other parish established until at least 1899 when the first distinctly "Galician" parish was founded (in Yonkers, New York) after another (Slavic, Rusyn) Greek Catholic parish already existed in that place. Every other Greek Catholic parish in existence prior to that was mixed between faithful from Galicia and Hungary/Subcarpathia. And the faithful referred to themselves as Rusynŷ or Rusnacy/Rusnakŷ. On what basis, then, is St. Michael's Church of Shenandoah described as, among others, the church "founded by Ukrainian immigrants" in "the town known as the cradle of organized Ukrainian American community life"?

Who Were the Founders of St. Michael’s?

According to one account of the history of the parish,1 in 1882 there were about 60-70 Greek Catholic families in Shenandoah. The other parish histories agree that the first such immigrant was Osyf Zoljak / Joseph Zoliak, born in Vŷsova, Gorlice County, in the western part of the Lemko Region of Galicia (present-day southeastern Poland).2

Most of the literature in English about the history of St. Michael’s Church is rather vague about the founders, except for their names:
When the people learned that a priest would arrive in America in a short time they were very happy and began plans for raising money for his passport. Members of the first committee appointed for this purpose were: George Huretyak, Paul Matyash, Andrew Kosar, Stephen Shwetz, Michael Kushwara, Simeon Kotsur, Andrew Bishko, Simeon Kuryla, Alex Fedorchak and Wasyl Mizik.3
The 75th anniversary history of St. Michael’s is the only extant publication from the parish that names any European locations that members came from:
The first couple married by Father Woliansky on Jan. 9, 1885 were Michael Pringel and Maria Yanko, children of John Pringel and Maria Fedorowa, and Simeon Ivanko and Dorthy Nyahaj, from Ruska Nova county of Saros, Hungary [that is, Ruská Nová Ves, today in the Prešov district of Slovakia; however, this couple resided not in Shenandoah, but in Mahanoy City]. The first Funeral services were on Jan. 25, 1885 for a child named Maria Fedorczak, daughter of Alexander and Maria Fedorczak, immigrants from Ripky Sanok, Galicia.4
These names were retained in the 100th anniversary history, but the villages/counties were omitted.

Another reference to the places of origin of the founders is the letter from Cardinal Sylvester Sembratovyč to those in Shenandoah petitioning him for a priest:
Beloved in Christ, my dear Ruthenians, faithful of the Greek Catholic Rite in America! Praised be Jesus Christ! Having been invited for the blessing of a church in Krynytsi [sic], I visited that mountainous region near Horlicy [sic], Yaslo, Zmyhorod, Duklia. I was also in the towns of Zegestiv [sic], Mushyna, Nova Wes, Rozdil [sic], Bodnarka, Perehrimtsi [sic], Doshnytsia, Mshana and other towns and village, and there I heard that many of our people had gone away to find work.5
Some of these villages seem to be specific references to the places of origin of some of those who in Shenandoah would have contacted him with their request.

A list of the original parish trustees (kuratorŷ) names the following men.6 Consulting various primary sources (metrical records, fraternal organization deceased members data),7 I have added their birthplaces where available.

Original Trustees of St. Michael’s Church, 1884
NameVillage & County of Origin
Štefan ŠvecBlichnarka, Gorlice
Andryj BiškoBlichnarka, Gorlice
Zymun/Seman KrajnjakKvjaton’, Gorlice
Andryj KosarTŷlyč, Nowy Sącz
Jurko HurejtjakUstja Ruske, Gorlice
Aleksander FedorčakRipkŷ, Gorlice
Kondrat FecicaKvjaton’, Gorlice
Seman RusynMuchnačka, Nowy Sącz
Makaryj SymočkoHančova, Gorlice
Vasyl’ Myzak/Mizik? (possibly Blichnarka, Gorlice)
Pavel MatjašČertižne, Zemplyn
Nykolaj DemjančykTŷlyč, Nowy Sącz
Mychal KušvaraMšana, Krosno
Seman KocurBlichnarka, Gorlice
Seman KurylaVŷsova, Gorlice

The first cantor was Mychal Kušvara, who actually lived in Shamokin.

With reference to the metrical records8 we can gather much more detail about who the early members of St. Michael’s were and where in Europe they were from.

Baptisms in St. Michael’s Church, 1884-1885 (Shenandoah residents only)
Parents of Child BaptizedVillage & County of Origin
(parents from Mahanoy Plane)
Nykolaj Durnjak
Kataryna Vovčuk
Hančova, Gorlice
Seman Krajnjak
Teodozija Mamroš
Kvjaton’, Gorlice
Hančova, Gorlice
Seman Kocur
Marija Roman
Blichnarka, Gorlice
(parents from Mahanoy City)
(parents from Mahanoy City)
Aleksander Fedorčak
Helena Didyk
Ripkŷ, Gorlice
Osyf Rybovič
Anna Tebeljak
Jakubjanŷ, Spiš
(parents from Centralia)
(parents from Mahanoy Plane)
Stefan Pavlič
Anna Pavelko
Komloša, Šaryš
(parents from Centralia)
Symeon Kuryla
Uljana Sysko
Vŷsova, Gorlice
Aleksij Perun
Anna Rizko
Hančova, Gorlice
(parents from Mahanoy City)
(parents from Jersey City, NJ)
Stefan Petrik
Zuzana Dušnjak
Kŷjov, Šaryš
Antonij Matakevyč(?)
Kataryna Pogreba
Tŷlyč, Nowy Sącz
(parents from Catskill[sic], NY)
Adam Hamernik
Viktorija Žegestovska
Tŷlyč, Nowy Sącz
(parents from Shamokin)
(parents from Excelsior)
(parents from Kingston)
Juraj Liguš
Anna Kakoš [Girardville]
Topolany, Zemplyn
Andrej Trojan
Zuzana Vikta
?, Spiš
(parents from Centralia)
(parents from Hudsondale)
Pan’ko Matjaš
Eva Hamaš
Čertižne, Zemplyn
Jan Durnjak
Teklja Medvid’
Cigelka, Šaryš
Ivan Kopčak
Matrona Dzjubyn
Blichnarka, Gorlice
Jan Gapštur
Eva Mindala
Jakubjanŷ, Spiš
(parents from Mill Creek)
Petro Jažembjak
Aleksandra Švajka
Labova, Nowy Sącz
(parents from Jersey City, NJ)
(parents from Jersey City, NJ)
(parents from Jersey City, NJ)
(parents from New Boston)
(parents from Shamokin)
(parents from Centralia)
(parents from Hazleton)
(parents from Mahanoy City)
Jurko Hurejtjak
Marija Dudyk
Ustja Ruske, Gorlice
Klymkivka, Gorlice
Andryj Biško
Helena Švec
Blichnarka, Gorlice
Michal Urban
Vinne, Už
(parents from Lansford)
(parents from New Boston)
(parents from Gowen)
Ivan Pejko
Sofija Pejko
Ustja Ruske, Gorlice
(parents from Excelsior)
(parents from Sibley Shaft)
(parents from Jessup)
(parents from Sibley Shaft)
Ivan Jankovyč
Agrypyna Galyk
Svjatkova Velyka, Jaslo
(parents from Centralia)
Andrij Lypčak
Antonina Pichocka
Sukiv, Zemplyn
Antonij Šemrak
Marija Petro [William Penn]
Malčice, Zemplyn
Nagy Szaloncz, Už
(parents from Hickory Ridge)
(parents from Mahanoy City)
Luka Perun
Anastasija Žovnirčŷk
Hančova, Gorlice
Mychal Žmynka
Petruša Volja, Krosno
Akŷm Chovanskij
Ulja Krynycka
Ustja Ruske, Gorlice

Weddings in St. Michael’s Church, 1885-1886 (Shenandoah residents only)
Bride and GroomVillage & County of Origin
(couple from Mahanoy City)
(couple from Delano)
Jurko Hančovskyj
Anastasija Halutko
Petrova, Šaryš
Cigelka, Šaryš
(couple from Centralia)
(couple from Mahanoy Plane)
(couple from Hazleton)
Jan Čapura
Maria Manjak
Tulčik, Šaryš
Prešov, Šaryš
Jakov Moroch
Marija Pyroh
Regetiv, Gorlice
Ustja Ruske, Gorlice
Vasyl’ Mychalo
Anna Fučyla
Rokŷtovec, Zemplyn
Volja Nyžnja, Sanok
(couple from Shamokin)
(couple from Big Mine Run)
Jan Varga
Anna Hamernik
Okružna, Šaryš
Tŷlyč, Nowy Sącz
Akŷm Dzjubyn
Petronella Telech
Blichnarka, Gorlice
Ripkŷ, Gorlice
(couple from Mt. Carmel)
Panko Sembrat
Teodora Marčak
Bodnarka, Gorlice
Gladŷšiv, Gorlice
Seman Labaš
Akvylyna Humecka
Vŷsova, Gorlice
Ustja Ruske, Gorlice
Ivan Kocur
Uljana Roman
Blichnarka, Gorlice
Blichnarka, Gorlice
(couple from Kingston)
(couple from Plymouth)
(couple from Plymouth)
(couple from Plymouth)
(couple from Kingston)
(couple from Shamokin)
(couple from Shamokin)
(couple from Nanticoke)
(couple from Alden Station)
Ivan Kozir
Marija Cjupak
Dubne, Nowy Sącz
Leljuchiv, Nowy Sącz
(couple from Mahanoy City)
(couple from Wilkes-Barre)
(couple from Kingston)
(couple from Kingston)
(couple from Hazleton)
(couple from Alden Station)
(couple from Pottsville)
(couple from Excelsior)
(couple from Jersey City, NJ)
(couple from Mt. Carmel)
(couple from Mahanoy City)
(couple from Shamokin)
Štefan Hanys
Zuzana Ščesljak
Liviv, Šaryš
“Kamjonka, Šaryš”
(couple from Centralia)
Matej Chovanec
Lucija Romc’o
Vŷsova, Gorlice
Ustja Ruske, Gorlice
(couple from Alden Station)
(couple from Glen Lyon)
(couple from Minooka)
Teodor Oleksyn (Oleksa)
Marija Kost’
Ščavnoj, Sanok
Javirnyk, Sanok
(couple from Lansford)
Martin Volovsky [Lost Creek]
Zuzana Sedzmak [Lost Creek]
Modra, Zemplyn
Velka Kamenica, Zemplyn
(couple from Frackville)
(couple from Excelsior)
(couple from Shamokin)
(couple from Freeland)
(couple from Centralia)
(couple from Centralia)
(couple from Alden Station)
(couple from Shamokin)
(couple from Buck Mountain)

Burials from St. Michael’s Church, 1886 (Shenandoah residents only)
Name of Deceased, AgeVillage & County of Origin
(deceased from Mahanoy Plane)
(deceased from unknown locale)
Nykolaj Pidanŷj, 35Komloša, Šaryš
Jan Sabolik, 45Komarov, Šaryš
Ivan Stančak, 30Regetiv Vŷšnij, Gorlice
(deceased from Buck Mountain)
Jozef Piško, 28Kudlovce, Zemplyn
Fevronija (Myljan) Baran, 22Sorovycja, Sanok
Teodor Malynčak, 25Moščanec, Sanok
Mychal Myhal, 30Hančova, Gorlice
Jurko Senda, 20Blaživ, Šaryš

Who Made up the Parish and Where in Europe Were They From?

The parish was ethnically described in several conflicting ways. According to a 1905 census of Greek Catholic parishes, only twenty percent of parishioners were from Hungary, with eighty percent from Galicia9. Another account described the parish as having “a majority of parishioners from Transcarpathia, who still [referred] to themselves as ‘Russians.’”10

My analysis11 of the entire immigrant membership of St. Michael’s parish from its founding through the late 1930s resulted in an overall profile of their geographic origins that must inform our discussion and assessment of their ethnicity.

Primary Villages of Origin of East Slavic Immigrants to Shenandoah, Pa., 1884-1938
(In approximate descending order of number)
Village, County
Hančova, Gorlice
Ripkŷ, Gorlice
Tŷlyč, Nowy Sącz
Volja Nyžnja, Sanok
Vŷsova, Gorlice
Kvjaton', Gorlice
Volja Vŷšnja, Sanok
Kŷjov, Šaryš
Škljarŷ, Sanok
Ustja Ruske/Gorlycke, Gorlice
Nastasiv, Ternopil’
Jakubanŷ, Spiš
Volja Synkova, Sanok
Regetiv Nyžnij, Gorlice
Lukiv, Šaryš
Berest, Grybów
Muchnačka Vŷsnja, Nowy Sącz
Krynica, Nowy Sącz
Biloveža, Šaryš
Gerlachiv, Šaryš
Bodnarka, Gorlice
Dubne, Nowy Sącz

Data includes residents of Shenandoah borough, William Penn/Shaft, Lost Creek, and Saint Nicholas, who were members of St. Michael's parish.

Notwithstanding the remark about majority “Transcarpathian” membership, according to my analysis, the parish was majority Galician with a sizeable minority from Hungary. Indeed, the parish was incorporated into the Galician jurisdiction (later the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia) of the Greek Catholic Church in 1916 when separate jurisdictions for Greek Catholics from Galicia and Hungary were established in the United States. Whatever the proportions, the Ukrainian ethnic element in St. Michael’s was always small, mostly limited to a number of families from the village of Nastasiv in Ternopil’ County. There were other Galician Ukrainians living in Shenandoah, who were among the later immigrants to arrive there, but in 1923 some of them joined a new Galician/Ukrainian parish in nearby Mahanoy City, where parishioners were primarily Galicians from Zalishchyky and Dobromyl’ counties.12

So clearly most of the above villages are within the Lemko Region; with one exception, the remainder are in the Prešov Region of eastern Slovakia. The Lemko Region and the Prešov Region are considered by some scholars to be Ukrainian ethnographic territory. Other scholars consider both to be part of Carpatho-Rusyn ethnographic territory. These distinctions are not new ones, but at the time of the immigration of the vast majority of these people to Shenandoah, and the years that followed, what did they consider themselves to be? We can't exactly go back and ask them (although many of their children and grandchildren could probably tell us how their immigrant ancestors described their ethnic identity), but we can examine the evidence the immigrants left us, especially their fraternal organization membership and the way they identified themselves and their community, within that community and to the society at large.

How Did the Members of St. Michael’s See Themselves?

Cornerstone of the second St. Michael’s Church, built in 1908: “Russka hr. kat. Cerkov’”
Fraternal Organizations

In 1885, members of this immigrant community in Shenandoah formed the Brotherhood of Saint Nicholas, which existed as an independent entity until 1892 when it became one of the charter lodges of the Greek Catholic Union of Russian Brotherhoods (“Sojedinenije” or GCU). A second brotherhood, St. Michael, founded in 1889, was also among the charter lodges of the GCU.13

In 1894 the St. Nicholas Brotherhood transferred to the new Russian National Union / Ruskij Narodnŷj Sojuz (RNS) which had been founded in Shamokin that was less clerical, anti-Magyarone, and heavily Galician in membership. The St. Michael Brotherhood, Lodge 8, founded in 1889, remained within the GCU. Its membership in later years was made up primarily of people from Spiš, Šaryš, and Zemplyn Counties. It changed its name to the Saints Peter & Paul Brotherhood, and remained within the GCU. In 1894 it had 59 members. Death claims from this lodge from 1926-1944 and from 1953-1974 showed death benefit claims for 35 members.14

The RNS held its 1898 convention in Shenandoah. Another lodge of the organiation was founded in 1899 first as the Brotherhood of St. Michael, Branch 6, later the Brotherhood of St. Volodymyr, Branch 98, with 12 members. Its founders were Ivan Čornyj, Mr. Sulyma, Mr. Onysyk -- all eastern Galicians. Its first officers were Mr. Demčko, Mr. Dudyč, and Osyf Koval’15 (all of whom were Lemkos). The Russian National Union in 1914 changed its name to the Ukrainian National Association (UNA). The St. Volodymyr Brotherhood remained affiliated with the UNA to the present time. In 1934 the officers were Mykola Maksymčuk, Taras Hevčuk, and Ivan Čornyj16 -- eastern Galicians, not Lemkos. Its membership, particularly in later years, was mostly immigrants from eastern Galicia where the Ukrainian national identity was well developed. Shenandoah also had a low profile within the national organization; for example, only a handful of the RNS/UNA's national officers were from Shenandoah, and those who were held relatively minor positions.17

Deceased Members of Shenandoah UNA Branch 98,
1914-1917 and 1921-193218
YearName of DeceasedVillage & County of Origin
1917Akŷm ChovanskijUstja Ruske, Gorlice
1921Seman DemčkoVŷsova, Gorlice
1921Seman KrestynyčVŷsova, Gorlice
1922Teodor BuryjNastasiv, Ternopil’
1923Vincentij MenkevyčBerbysky, Vil’no, Russia
1923Ivan KrupaBeneva, Pidhajci
1923Izydor DudyčVŷsova, Gorlice
1925Mykola SulymaKryve, Skalat
1925Hryhorij HevčukHorodnycja, Skalat
1926Marta KasijanPiznanka, Skalat
1927Kazimir Sukovs’kyjShenandoah
1927Stefan PočynokBeneva, Pidhajci
1929Stefan Dac’kivHorodnycja, Skalat
1927Kateryna KrestynyčShenandoah
1929Hnat CikotRipkŷ, Gorlice
1929Stefan KasijanKryve, Skalat
1931Andrij Dyšel’Starjava, Mostys’ka
1932Hryhorij MučkaKvjaton’, Gorlice

The Russian Brotherhood Organization (Obščestvo Russkich Bratstv)

Some of the GCU and RNS lodges changed their affiliation yet again. In 1900 individuals and lodges gathered in Mahanoy City, just south of Shenandoah, to form a new fraternal organization, the Russian Brotherhood Organization (RBO) that would resist clerical domination and “stand for the principle of Russian identity” among its members. Of the six original national officers, four were from Shenandoah:19
  • Pavel Matjaš, Vice President
  • Hryhorij Vretjak (Heorhij/Jurko Hurejtjak), Treasurer
  • Antonij Onuščak, Secretary
  • Andryj Kosar, Inspector
In Shenandoah the RBO had, by far, the largest membership of any of the Greek Catholic/Eastern Slavic fraternal societies, and its presence in the Shenandoah community was to remain strong for decades.

Analysis of Local Russian Brotherhood Organization Membership20
Lodges: 4
Branch 4, Brotherhood of St. Dymytrij, Shenandoah
Branch 7, Local Brotherhood, Shenandoah
Branch 181, Shenandoah
Branch 182, Brotherhood of St. John the Baptist, Shenandoah
Death Claims, 1900-1959283
Origin of Members Who Died in that period
Austria - Galicia2
Austria - Russia1
Galicia (Austria)1
Galicia (Poland)1
Galicia - Poland2
All Austria/Galicia19569%
United States3211%
Not given/illegible2810%
County of Origin of Members Who Died in that period
Nowy Sącz4215%
Jasło 10%
Religion of Members Who Died in that period
Greek Catholic (235) / Russian Greek Catholic (8)24386%
Russian Orthodox / Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic2810%
Roman Catholic72%
not specified52%

Advertisement for Jurko Vretjak's (Hurejtjak)
grocery store, in the 1913 almanac of the Russian
Brotherhood Organization.

Some important takeways from these data are:
  • The vast majority of Shenandoah's RBO members were from Galicia;
  • The Galician members were overwhelmingly from the Lemko Region;
  • Although there was a Russian Orthodox parish in Shenandoah since 1916, 86% of members indicated their religion as Greek Catholic, i.e., almost certainly members of St. Michael's Church;
  • The number of Galician, non-Lemko members was negligible, indicating a marked difference in ethnic feeling between them and their Lemko co-religionists;
  • Of the pioneer settlers and first church officers in Shenandoah, Osyf Zoljak, Pavel Matjaš, Jurko Hurejtjak/Vretjak, Stefan Švec, Zymun/Seman Krajnjak, Andryj Kosar, and Nykolaj Demjančyk were members of the RBO.

A community leader and businessman, Hryhorij Savuljak/Harry Savulak (a native of Midžilabirci, Zemplyn County), was active in Rusyn secular affairs as national treasurer (1910-1914) of the Greek Catholic Union, president of local GCU Lodge 8, parish president, and as an advocate for a Rusyn Greek Catholic bishop for the United States. After the arrival in the United States of Bishop Soter Ortyns’kyj in 1907, who was widely rejected by Subcarpathian (“Uhro-”) Rusyn clergy and secular leaders for his Galician origin and Ukrainophile orientation, Savuljak was involved in a number of church congresses calling for a Subcarpathian Rusyn bishop to be appointed for the Subcarpathian Rusyn parishes. Savuljak served as a delegate to the Congresses of American Greek Catholic Uhro-Rusyn Parishes, ostensibly representing only himself rather than the parish.21

Invitation from the St. Michael’s
church committee to the “first pilgrimage”
in the “first American [Rusyn/Russian]
parish in Shenandoah, Pa.”,
published in GCU's Amerikansky
Russky Viestnik
in August 1919.
In 1916, the last year of the Galician Ukrainian Father Levyc’kyj’s pastorate, the parish suffered a minor schism, when a handful of Lemko Rusyn families and some immigrants from the Russian Empire left St. Michael’s to establish the Holy Ghost Russian Orthodox Church. The reasons for this break are not clear, but there is evidence that it was in reaction to Father Levyc’kyj’s Ukrainian orientation.22 It may also have been prompted by a much larger schism in nearby Maizeville and Frackville the previous year. Unlike other Rusyn communities where such schisms were typically larger, and helped to polarize identities into "Russian [Orthodox]" and (typically) Ukrainian, this event seemed to have only a minor effect on the community in Shenandoah and its self-identification.

How Has St. Michael’s Parish Presented Itself to Others?

Officially the parish seemed to shy away from specific ethnic identification; for most of its lifetime it was known simply as St. Michael’s Greek Catholic Church, having a “Greek School,” “Greek Band,” and the “Greek Catholic Citizen’s Club.” The town’s centennial anniversary booklet in 1966 referred to St. Michael’s simply as a Greek Catholic church and the historical sketch spoke of the immigration of “Greek Catholic people.”23

Aside from the Shenandoah centennial anniversary booklet, the earliest extant publications in English distributed to the general public is the 75th anniversary book (1959). The history of the parish in the book described its ethnic origin as follows:
Our Greek Catholic people migrated like others from Europe to America… They came from Galicia and Carpatho-Rus’. They were all of the same Eastern or Byzantine Rite of the Catholic Church.24
There was no description of these people as Ukrainians.
Advertisements in Fr. Voljans'kyj's
Ameryka newspaper (Feb. 22, 1886)
for the Shenandoah Rusyn cooperative
store, “Ruska torhovlja”/“Greek Store”

In the parish centennial anniversary publication in 1980, that situation changed considerably, while still giving some acknowledgement to the portion of the parish that originated in Subcarpathia, while explaining away the non-Ukrainian identification of most of the rest of the parish that originated in the Lemko Region:
Our immigrants came from Western Ukraine and Carpathian Rus/Ruthenia of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Although the first immigration came from various regions of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the common bond was their Greek Catholic Faith.

Ukraine, precariously independent for only a few years following World War I, had long been under Russian, Polish, and Austrian domination; today it an autonomous republic within the Soviet Union.

Because of these historical factors, Ukrainians were and are often referred to incorrectly as Russians, Poles, or Austrians. Various other names have been used for Ukrainians: Little Russians, Malo-Russians (Russophile political connotation); Ruthenians, Russniaks (refers more specifically to those from the Carpathian region); and Rusins (since the Ukrainian equivalent of this term was in common use among the Ukrainians during the period of the first settlements in America).25
A casual survey of naturalization documents filed between 1932 and 1941 by individuals born in Rusyn villages and living in Shenandoah and the immediate vicinity reveals that for the most part, they filled in the blank marked “race” with “Russian” (primarily those from the Lemko Region) or “Slovak” (primarily those from the Prešov Region). Just a handful identified themselves as "Russniak" or "Ukrainian."26

An elderly community member, the son of Lemkos from Hančova and Vŷsova, reminisced in 2001 about how Shenandoah’s Eastern European immigrants were able to communicate with each other:
They didn't speak good English at all ... no, they got along. And I wanna tell you something. Take for an example, you're a Polish fellow, right, say I’m Slavish, or Greek, or Car-, Ukrainian [sic]. The languages are pretty close. You can talk to me and I'd understand what you're sayin’, and I could talk and you'd understand what I'm sayin’. See, because if you mention bread it’s called chliba and practically the same thing in the other language. You see, potato’s the same way. So if I mention potatoes and you was Polish and I was Greek, you’d understand what I’m talking about.27
Such comments indicate a lingering confusion regarding ethnolinguistic identity, and not obviously gravitating first to Ukrainian.

The parish retained the appellation “Greek Catholic” without the term “Ukrainian” until long after most other parishes in the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia had added “Ukrainian” to their names28. This situation did not change significantly until 1980. On Easter Sunday of that year, a devastating fire completely destroyed the church building. In the aftermath, the parish began to refer to itself as St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church. The parish built a new church in a modern Ukrainian Byzantine style, without the traditional “Russian” three-bar crosses. The centennial of the parish’s founding was celebrated in 1984 as the first Ukrainian Catholic church established in the United States, with great acclaim from the Ukrainian American community.29


While Rusyn immigrants to the Shenandoah community participated overwhelmingly in Russophile and Rusynophile fraternal organizations and community leadership, the first American-born generation had a muddled sense of ethnic identity, i.e., “Greek” or “Greek Catholic.”

Only among some segments of the third and fourth generations did there develop a sense of a Ukrainian ethnic identity, led primarily by post-World War II clergy and the parish’s ecclesiastical affiliation. Shenandoah and St. Michael’s are officially known as the first Ukrainian community and Ukrainian Catholic church in the United States.

St. Michael's Church and its cornerstone as they appear today

St. Michael’s, as the first Greek Catholic church established in the United States, in 1916 was assigned to the Galician, later Ukrainian, Greek Catholic jurisdiction and it remains part of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. So one can justifiably say that it is the “first Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the U.S.” But it is not exclusively that.
Original cemetery cross in Shenandoah: “Here rest Rusyns of the Greek Catholic faith who have died from the years 1885 to 1889. Blessed repose and to them eternal memory.”

But to answer the question “Was St. Michael’s founded by Ukrainian immigrants?” we categorically state from our point of view, no, it was not. The founders were Carpatho-Rusyns from the Lemko Region and the Prešov Region who did not consider themselves to be Ukrainians and by and large never developed a Ukrainian identity. To call them Ukrainians is historically inaccurate, at best arguably revisionist to apply a modern-day nationality and identity to people who did not possess it, and an injustice to the descendants of the immigrant members of the parish who did not develop a Ukrainian identity. St. Michael’s as much, or much more so, belongs to the history of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants and their descendants, not only those who lived in Shenandoah, but across the United States.


1. “Istoriia rus’k. kat. Tserkvy v Amerytsï: Istoriia pershoï rus’ko-katolyts’koï tserkvy v Shenandoah, Pa.,” in Kalendar Syrits’koho Domu 1915 (Philadelphia: Drukarnia Rus’koho Syrits’koho Domu, 1914), 120.

2. Zoljak died in 1922 at the age of 83. St. Michael Greek Catholic Church, Shenandoah, Pa.: Register of deaths.

3. St. Michael’s First Greek Catholic Church in America Diamond Jubilee Souvenir Book 1884-1959, Shenandoah, Pennsylvania (n.p., n.d.).

4. Ibid. The reference to Sanok is erroneous; the village Ripkŷ (Pol.: Ropki) was in Gorlice county.

5. St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, Shenandoah, Pa.: America’s First Greek Catholic Parish, 1884-1984 (Shenandoah, Pa., n.d.).

6. “Istoriia rus’k. kat. Tserkvy v Amerytsï: Istoriia pershoï rus’ko-katolyts’koï tserkvy v Shenandoah, Pa.,” 121. Villages of origin gathered from St. Michael Greek Catholic Church, Shenandoah, Pa.: Register of baptisms, 1884-1923; Register of marriages, 1885-1943; Register of deaths, 1886-1933.

7. Russian Brotherhood Organization insurance death claims, 1900-1959 (database created by the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, Philadelphia, Pa., housed at Historical Society of Pennsylvania), and St. Michael Greek Catholic Church, Registers of baptisms, marriages, and deaths.

8. St. Michael Greek Catholic Church, Registers of baptisms, marriages, and deaths.

9. [Rev.] János Korotnoki, Conscriptio congregationum, ecclesiarum, sacerdotum, sacellorum, ac animarum, item scholarum elementarium ritus graeco-Rutheni in Confederatis Statibus Americae Septembrionalis existentium (Unpublished ms., 1905).

10. "Shenandoah," in Luka Myshuha, Propamiatna knyha vydana z nahody soroklitn’oho iuvyleiu Ukraïns’koho Narodnoho Soiuzu / Jubilee Book of the Ukrainian National Association in Commemoration of the Fortieth Anniversary of its Existence (Jersey City, N.J.: Ukrainian National Association, 1936), 735.

11. Richard Custer, “The Influence of Clergy and Fraternal Organizations on the Development of Ethnonational Identity among Rusyn Immigrants to Pennsylvania” in Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Neighbors: Essays in Honor of Paul Robert Magocsi. Edited by Bogdan Horbal, Patricia A. Krafcik, and Elaine Rusinko (Fairfax, VA: Eastern Christian Publications, 2006).

12. St. Nicholas Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Mahanoy City, Pa.: Register of baptisms, 1923-1936; Register of deaths, 1924-1958

13. Michael Roman, “Istorija Greko-Kaft. Sojedinenija” in Zoloto-Jubilejnyj Kalendar’ Greko Kaft. Sojedinenija v S.Š.A. 47 (1942), 44.

14. Greek Catholic Union of the U.S.A., lists of deceased members published in Amerikansky Russky Viestnik, 1926-1944 and 1953-1970.

15. Myshuha, 735.

16. Ibid.

17. Osyp Kravcheniuk, “Pershi uriadovtsi Ukraїns’koho Narodnohu Soiuzu” in Al’manakh Ukraїns’koho Narodnoho Soiuzu na rik 1994, 34-49; Myron B. Kuropas, Ukrainian-American Citadel: The First One Hundred Years of the Ukrainian National Association (Boulder, Colo: East European Monographs, 1996), 70-74.

18. Ukrainian National Association, Lists of deceased members published in Svoboda (Jersey City, New Jersey), 1914-1917, and in Kaliendar Ukraїns’koho Narodnoho Soiuza, 1921-1932.

19. “Bratstvo svv. App. Petra y Pavla chyslo 1 O.R.B. Mahanoi Syty, Pa.,” in J.H. Dzwonczyk, ed., Iubileinyi al’manakh 1900-1940 Obshchestva russkykh bratstv v S. Sh. A. / Jubilee Almanac of the Russian Brotherhood Organization of U.S.A. 1900-1940 (Philadelphia, 1939), 50.

20. Russian Brotherhood Organization insurance death claims, 1900-1959 (database created by the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, Philadelphia, Pa., housed at Historical Society of Pennsylvania).

21. Protokol (Zapisnica) Veľkoho, Všeobecnoho Kongressu, Amerikanskych Greko Katolickych Uhro-Russkych Farnoscoch, potrimanoho 11. i 12-ho Januara 1910, v mesťe Johnstown, Pa. (Homestead: Amerikansky Russky Viestnik, 1910), 34.

22. “Uzhasnoie bezpravie a eshche horshaia brutal’nost’ Ep. Ortyns’koho,” Amerikansky Russky Viestnik, 18 Jan 1912: 3.

23. The Path of Progress: Shenandoah, Pa. Centennial, Shenandoah, Pa. 1866-1966 (Reading, Pa.: Reading Eagle Press, 1966).

24. St. Michael’s First Greek Catholic Church in America Diamond Jubilee Souvenir Book 1884-1959.

25. St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, Shenandoah, Pa.: America’s First Greek Catholic Parish, 1884-1984.

26. Schuylkill County, Pottsville, Pennsylvania: Naturalization Records: Declarations of Intention; Petitions for Naturalization.

27. Joseph Litwak, in Shenandoah: A Video History (Videocassette. Patterson-Brandt, Inc./Greater Shenandoah Area Historical Society, 2001).

28. St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, Shenandoah, Pa.: America’s First Greek Catholic Parish, 1884-1984.

29. Ibid.


  1. nice job Rich - have been through almost all those villages in Lemkovyna photographing the wooden churches. As Halina Malecky would say, everyone was Rusyn, there were no Ukrainians in the area.

  2. Just curious: when the church was being rebuilt after the fire in 1980, how much money was donated and raised by Rusyn organizations? I'm sure it was a "Ukrainian" issue then.

  3. The original Greek - Ukrainian catholic church located on West Center Street, Shenandoah Pa. has been demolished probably happened about 10 years ago in 2008.


I welcome your feedback, inquiries, and suggestions. Hostile or off-topic comments will not be approved.