Richard D. Custer
(from 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, pp. 43-106)
A dense concentration of the earliest Rusyn settlements in the United States is found in northeastern Pennsylvania. As Interstate 81 winds its way north through the heart of the anthracite coal-mining region past such communities as Minersville, Mount Carmel, Frackville, Shenandoah, Mahanoy City, McAdoo, Nanticoke, and Wilkes-Barre, distinctive onion-domed churches dot the landscape. East of Scranton, Pennsylvania Route 6 leads past another succession of towns noted in Rusyn-, “Russian-”, and Ukrainian-American history: Olyphant, Jessup, Jermyn, and Mayfield. Exiting at Carbondale and heading a mile north on Route 171, one will reach Simpson, a town of few distinctive structures save two remarkably similar white churches topped with onion domes and three-bar crosses. If the curious traveler investigates the churches in the area, he might notice a cornerstone naming the church as “Russian” or “Ruthenian,” perhaps “Greek Catholic,” perhaps “Orthodox,” while the church sign declares the parish’s ecclesiastical affiliation as Ukrainian Catholic or perhaps even Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. In the parish cemeteries, one might find Church Slavonic, Russian, and Ukrainian carvings on gravestones alongside Slovak- or Hungarian-language stones bearing the very same surnames. The variety of cultural markers might lead one to expect that any one of these parishes must have represented a wide variety of differing cultures, languages, and nationalities. Asking church members about their ethnic background might seem to confirm that suspicion.
|Original cemetery cross in Shenandoah: “Here rest Rusyns|
of the Greek Catholic faith who have died from the years 1885 to 1889…”
|Historical marker identifying the Shenandoah church|
as founded by Ukrainian immigrants.
However, further investigation reveals that in every one of these communities, the families are originally from the same small geographical area of Europe and perhaps from the very same village as the families in another onion-domed church community in the same town. How can this be, if one church is “Ukrainian” and the other “Russian”? In this paper I will demonstrate that the ethnonational orientation of the clergy leaders and the fraternal organizations that were most popular in the community were the most influential determinants of the prevailing ethnonational identity of the residents. In fact, they were as important as – or perhaps even more important than – religious affiliation or denomination.