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

Monday, October 12, 2015

Despite dwindling attendance, area Ukrainian Catholic churches vibrant (news story)

Despite dwindling attendance, area Ukrainian Catholic churches vibrant
By Paul Golias, Correspondent
Citizens Voice (Wilkes-Barre, PA), October 5, 2015

At 8 a.m. every Sunday, Mickey Kmietowicz of Glen Lyon unlocks the doors to St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, nestled at the base of a mountain at the entrance of the Glen Lyon section of Newport Township.

Parishioners begin to trickle in and soon the pastor, the Rev. John Seniw, arrives following a drive from Berwick where he also serves as pastor of SS. Cyril and Methodius Ukrainian Catholic Church.

By 8:30, Kmietowicz has lighted the candles and some 45 parishioners celebrate the Divine Liturgy. A choir of four people sings a cappella. As per Ukrainian tradition, there is no organ.

Within minutes of the service ending, the collection is tallied in the church hall. The pastor meets briefly with a few parishioners. By 10, the church is closed and it will remain closed until the following Sunday, barring a church event or a funeral.

This is life in a small Eastern rite parish. These churches remain viable and even vibrant with diminished numbers because the faithful refuse to quit.

“The church has been our whole life. As we grew up, it was all based on that,” Kmietowicz said.
The Rev. Seniw lauded the deep devotion of his parishioners in Glen Lyon and Berwick. He said the depth of the faith exists despite the aging population.

There is another pivotal reason that the Ukrainian parishes survive: They have pastors and a plentiful supply of replacements ready to come to the United States from Ukraine as necessary.

“There are many vocations in Ukraine,” the priest said, despite the turmoil there as Russia seeks to take control of more of the country. “The archbishop (of the Ukrainian Metropolitan Archdiocese of Philadelphia) brings priests here from Ukraine. He actually has to turn guys down.”

The priest is a native of Erie. After attending two seminaries, he was ordained in 1982 in Philadelphia by then Metropolitan Stephen Sulyk. The Rev. Seniw served in parishes in Ohio and New Jersey and became pastor of the two local churches 11 years ago. He maintains his residence in Berwick.

The Rev. Seniw is dean of the North Anthracite Deanery of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. Ukrainian churches in Nanticoke, Plymouth, Edwardsville, Wilkes-Barre and other regional communities belong to the deanery and they too share pastors. The Rev. Volodomyr Popyk is pastor of the Ukrainian churches in Nanticoke and Plymouth and is a native of the Ukraine.

Ironically, St. Nicholas in Glen Lyon shared pastors for much of its early history. The parish was founded in 1894 and shared pastors with other parishes until 1948 when the Rev. Bohdan Olesh was named first resident pastor. He was at St. Nicholas when he died in December 1998.

When the parish celebrated its 60th anniversary in 1954, there were “276 souls” in the parish, a commemorative booklet notes. Today, there are 63 families registered, but a widow or widower living alone counts as a family, the Rev. Seniw said, so the actual number of parishioners is small. He did not have the figure.

Some things are downsized, such as the Liturgy schedule. A monthly bulletin replaces the usual weekly bulletin, but events are vigorously pursued to help maintain the parish.

A hoagie sale was held early in September and more than 500 hoagies were sold at $5 each. Soup and halushki sales are held each Lent and Advent season.

“The heating bill is our largest expense,” Kmietowicz said. The food sales also pay other utility bills.

Palmira Miller, a parishioner and one of four sisters who attend St. Nicholas, said parishioners do the cleaning. “We all chip in,” she said. Men also work around the church and grounds.

Holidays mean sharing the pastor also, so Easter morning service is at 6:30 in Glen Lyon. The priest then heads to Berwick for a 9 a.m. Liturgy.

Karen Phair of Nanticoke, choir director, recalled the days when 30-plus voices sang in the Glen Lyon church. The four current members learned the chants as youngsters, she said, as did their predecessors.

The original church burned down in 1936 and the existing church was built on the same site. The parish also has a cemetery in Newport Township and parishioners handle the caretaking there also.

There were a few young families present for a recent 8:30 service. Asked how long the church could remain open, the Rev. Seniw said no one can predict, but when viability ends consolidations will occur as necessary.

For now, St. Nicholas and its sister churches meet the challenges day by day, their members praying to maintain traditions and their parishes.

Carpatho-Rusyns of PA comment:
Original St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Church, Glen Lyon (photo from 1954 anniversary book)
Also St. Nicholas Church of Glen Lyon -- circa 1913.
Unusual that it appears to be a different structure than the one above, though on the same site.
The parish history states the original church burned down in 1936.
Glen Lyon was a major early Lemko settlement (1880s). Most of them came from Nowy Sącz County (Tŷlyč/Tylicz, Krenycja/Krynica), Grybów County (Stavyša/Stawisza, Snitnycja/Snietnica), Jasło County (Svjatkova Mala/Świątkowa Mała, Svjatkova Velyka/Świątkowa Wielka, Kotan/Kotań, Krampna/Krempna), Krosno County (Vilchovec/Olchowiec, Ropjanka/Ropianka, Smerečne/Smereczne, Mŷscova/Myscowa, Hŷrova/Hyrowa), and Sanok County (Zavadka Rymanivska/Zawadka Rymanowska). St. Nicholas Church was founded in 1894-95. St. Nicholas also had members from central Zemplyn County and western Už County (eastern Slovakia). Later a large number of Subcarpathian Rusyns from Bereg and Ugoča Counties settled there and started a separate Greek Catholic church, St. Michael, now closed.

I have very few old photos from either of these Glen Lyon churches/communities. I especially want to find a photograph of the interior of the original St. Nicholas Church (and an explanation of why the two buildings above look substantially different!). If you have something you might be willing to share, please get in touch with me, Thank you!

Images of St. Nicholas Cemetery:

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

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