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

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Super-Awesome Late-Spring Research Trip

All set for Memorial Day: St. Mary's
Orthodox Cemetery of Dickson City.
When in the early years of this project I still lived in Pennsylvania, research trips might last just a few hours and for the most part involved places I could easily reach without too much advance planning. These days, when it takes me more than two hours just to arrive in Pennsylvania, I like to extend my trips as long as reasonably possible. And usually I can manage just two a year: around & including Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.

This spring I managed to schedule eight whole days around Memorial Day to devote to fieldwork. The first part was in western PA, the second part in northeastern PA. It went so well, mostly according to plan but with some wonderful surprises, that I want to share a travelogue. And perhaps this will help readers appreciate some of how I've been spending my time all these years without a finished product to show for it. (Yet.)

First Leg: Western PA

I spent a lot of time in cemeteries on this trip, mainly to either photograph them thoroughly for the first time, to improve my existing archive of photos, or to investigate the Rusyn immigrants, if any, buried in various non-Rusyn cemeteries. While my book will include lots of cemetery and gravestone photos, in recent years I've felt it worthwhile, if not actually essential, to photograph most of the graves of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants buried in PA and elsewhere, as time, the elements, and vandalism are constantly reducing the readable stock of these tombstones. Beyond the limited number I'll be using in my book, if nothing else I will also have a protected digital record of these valuable memorials to our people's presence and lives.
My trip started early Wednesday morning on May 26. My first stop in PA was the town of Meyersdale, Somerset County, not far from the MD/PA border. It was a mining town, and I knew (from church records from Windber, mostly) that a fair number of Rusyns settled there, even though they never had a church. So I visited the Roman Catholic cemetery and sure enough, found several probable Rusyn graves, and even one written in the Cyrillic alphabet. It remains for me to see if I can match up these stones with the evidence of local Rusyns as recorded in Windber.

Grave of Anna Švec, nee Dzioka, 1887-1911.
Ss. Philip & James R.C. Cemetery, Meyersdale.

From there I drove about 20 minutes to Ralphton, near Jennerstown, to the mostly-Polish and Slovak St. Joseph R.C. Cemetery. Not too much of interest there, but from my transcription made years ago, I thought there were a few possibilities. So much for that. Then I drove further north to South Fork, where about two years ago the historic Rusyn Greek Catholic Church of St. Michael was torn down. However, in reviewing my cemetery notes, I recalled that a number of probable Rusyns were buried in a Polish/Slovak R.C. cemetery, St. Anthony, in the "Fifficktown" section of town where St. Michael's also was, so I photographed them. For whatever reason, several of them seemed to be from Ol’šavica, Spiš County, buried here and not in St. Michael's Cemetery. Perhaps they were married to Roman Catholic women -- I'll have to see if I can determine that. [More about Carpatho-Rusyns in South Fork]

My next destination was Clearfield County. Unfortunately my attempts to connect with the Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic priests in Smithmill/Janesville (who also serves Bakerton/Elmora) and Ramey didn't pan out. But I was able to make a thorough compilation of graves at St. John's (Nativity of St. John the Baptist) Russian Orthodox Cemetery in Chester Hill/Philipsburg (including some of my likely distant relatives).

A short distance away I had a nice visit with Fr. Will Rupp, pastor of St. John's Byzantine Catholic Church in Hawk Run. I was in search of any kind of photo archive from there or his other parish, St. Mary's in Clarence. Not much luck, but he assured me he would try to locate some sort of historical photos -- which is good, because I have almost nothing from either parish, from any source. [More about Carpatho-Rusyns in Philipsburg & Hawk Run]

I went further up PA Route 53, stopping at mainly-Slovak R.C. cemeteries in Grassflat and Winburne, both of which had a bunch of obvious Rusyn graves:

Grave of Marija Basala, Ss. Peter & Paul R.C.Cemetery, Grassflat.
Graves of Jan and Marija Galdun, Ss. Peter & Paul R.C.Cemetery, Grassflat.
(The three-bar crosses on them are now just barely visible.)
Some Rusyn graves in Ss. Cyril & Methodius R.C. Cemetery, Winburne.
Graves of Jurko Petrovan and daughter Annie, Ss. Cyril & Methodius R.C. Cemetery, Winburne.
I finished my work that day around Snow Shoe -- in its R.C. cemetery with few Slavs at all -- and Clarence, which has Rusyn G.C. and Slovak R.C. churches and cemeteries.

St. Mary's (Dormition) Byzantine Catholic Church, Clarence.
The Slovak St. Michael cemetery was interesting, of mostly eastern Slovaks, but with a few probable early Rusyn graves among them. The Rusyn St. Mary G.C. cemetery is in a beautiful clearing and is well-kept.

The most interesting grave, though, was probably this Ukrainian one:

I spent the night in a motel in Milesburg, just off I-80, to be in a good position for the next morning's itinerary.

Day 2: The Northern Tier

The next morning I drove a few miles to the town of my birth, Bellefonte, to photograph the several Rusyn graves in the town's St. John the Evangelist R.C. cemetery. Among the graves were several Lemko families (who seem to have identified mainly as Ukrainians) and a Rusyn pioneer family to Centre County, the Saylors (originally Cehljar), of whom the patriarch Petro was born in Čirč, Šaryš County, and arrived in the area already in the mid-1880s. The local Rusyn colony was never large enough to support a Greek Catholic church, and the church in Clarence was a difficult, long trip away. So Bellefonte's Rusyn families generally became Roman Catholics, including the Saylors, one of whom, Philip, became a very prominent Monsignor and chancellor of the R.C. Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

I believe this Bellefonte family was also from Čirč or from nearby Rus'ka Volja nad Popradom:

Heading almost directly north, in less than an hour I arrived at the picturesquely sited Renovo, along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, to revisit its St. Joseph R.C. cemetery; finding there several Rusyn immigrant families, including several from Osturnja, Spiš ounty, it occurred to me that there must be a much older R.C. cemetery for that parish. I later tracked it down, but by "later" I mean a week later. Guess I should go back once more... Anyway, heading west out of Renovo I also revisited the now barely-populated Bitumen, a once thriving coal town populated almost exclusively by Rusyn and Slovak immigrants. Rusyns never had their own church in Bitumen (they were visited periodically by Greek Catholic priests from Hawk Run and Sykesville). The R.C. chapel, which may have been used for Greek Catholic services (still hoping to find out if that was the case), adjoins a fascinating cemetery with many graves of Rusyn immigrants and their children, as well as what seemed to be a slight majority of Slovaks.

Immaculate Conception R.C. Shrine Church & Cemetery, Bitumen.
Grave of Marta Ondik, 1877-1918.
Grave of Jan Silon, 1870-1913.
1909 memorial cross (inscribed in Slovak) given by parishioners of the Immaculate Conception R.C. Church

Thence I drove to Kane, to another R.C. cemetery with a few Rusyn immigrants (who were affiliated with the G.C. church in Sheffield), where I linked up with US-6, and then to Sheffield itself. My hope to re-photograph the interior of the church, St. Michael's, didn't come to pass because the pastor was out of town.
St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church in Sheffield, founded 1905.

However, I photographed most of the parish cemetery, which had a fair number of old graves (1905-1915ish). The church's burial records mention some parishioners being buried in the "Ukrainian National Cemetery," and though there were a good number of Ukrainian members of St. Michael's, nothing at the parish cemetery seemed to remotely be a Ukrainian National anything.
St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Cemetery, Sheffield.

I continued on US-6 to Warren to its R.C. cemetery, with a fairly small number of Rusyn immigrant graves, but at least one was notable, with the deceased's village of birth.

Grave of Jan Kušnir, born in Male Zalužice, Už County, died 1903.

Moving further west along Route 6 took me to a little cemetery between Youngsville and Pittsfield, St. Mary's Russian Orthodox (or "Greek Orthodox"). As far as I know there wasn't ever a church of that name here, only the cemetery. But the cemetery has its own bell/bell tower. And somewhere I have a reference to a Fr. Stephen Kanyan living in Pittsfield several decades ago. In the Warren Times in 1958 there were church listings that included this:
Rt. 6, two miles west of Youngsville, Stephen Kanyan, Pastor, Sundays, 10:00 a.m. and holidays, 9:00 a.m.—Divine Liturgy in English and Slavonic
-- Could the mission have held its services at the cemetery?

There's much that remains to be learned about this cemetery and the people who founded it. There were some people buried here from St. Michael's Byzantine Catholic Church in Sheffield. Most of those buried there have Russian or Ukrainian surnames. But one grave I believe is of a Lemko family, that of Anthony and Ksenia ("Kuznich" = Kuzmich?) Reyda. I trust I'll find records of them eventually (or I already have them and just need to look!).

Unfortunately there's not too much information on any of the memorials for this cemetery at FindaGrave, though I have collected some obituaries of people buried there.

Next stop was another roadside cemetery right on US- 6 between Columbus and Corry. It's the parish cemetery of St. Mary's Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of Corry, whose history I really know nothing of. Once it had a church building (see the photo on this post) but now it meets at some other place in Corry, still served after several decades by the otherwise-retired Fr. Ronald Hazuda, pastor emeritus of St. Nicholas Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in Erie.

St. Mary's Orthodox Greek Catholic Cemetery, Columbus/Corry.

I wrapped up the day visiting R.C. cemeteries with some Rusyn immigrant graves in Union City and McKean before calling it a day and retiring to my motel just outside of Erie.

Day 3: Erie, Girard, and the Farming Colonies

Day 3, Friday, was another big day and one of the overall best of the trip, even though it was tempered with a bit of frustration.

It began quite well with an appointment to photograph the renovated interior of Ss. Cyril & Methodius Byzantine Catholic Church in Girard. Parishioner and church custodian David Pangratz was excited to open the church and tell me about the renovation project.

It's pretty amazing to ponder that on my first visit here about 15 years ago, the church looked inside like a post-Vatican II Roman Catholic church, with no icon screen, a rectangular altar, and little iconography or other traditional Byzantine features. Today it is a model Byzantine church. The parish also owns as much surrounding land as probably any other American Rusyn church I've ever seen.

I then took a lot of photos at St. John R.C. Cemetery in Girard, where well over 25 Rusyn immigrant families have been buried. Then I headed into Erie to photograph St. Nicholas Orthodox Greek Catholic Cemetery and the renovated Ss. Peter & Paul Byzantine Catholic Church.
St. Nicholas Orthodox Greek Catholic Cemetery of Erie.

Ss. Peter & Paul Byzantine Catholic Church of Erie.
The church was built in 1960, but the onion domes were added during a 2009 renovation project.
The renovated interior, of 2009, when an icon screen, iconography, and new furnishings were added.

Fr. John Mihalco of Ss. Peter & Paul Church provided me with the parish's very well-done 2013 centennial book.

In the "old neighborhood," near where St. Nicholas Church is still located, I was hoping to see the building that once was the "Greek Catholic Slovak Club" at 810 East Avenue, but was sorry to find that the site is now a gas station.

I remained in Erie a few more hours to photograph graves in Trinity and Calvary R.C. cemeteries. I am sure I didn't find them all. But of the oldest graves, found in Trinity Cemetery, was this find that made that visit worthwhile:
The story of Rusyn immigrant Petro Storkel and his family is online here.

Moving down south, in the vicinity of Albion were the Hope Cemetery in Cranesville, with many Rusyn immigrant graves, and Albion Cemetery, with just a few. Afterward I went a short distance to Pageville and Crossingville, two communities that were essentially a single group of Rusyn farmers with intertwined religious history.

St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Pageville was the center of a historic farming colony of Lemkos who settled there around 1915. Evidently some of them had lived in Pittsburgh and Carnegie before moving north to go back to their "old-country" way of life. The church still exists, though with a very small congregation. Despite several attempts to contact the parish priest over the week leading up to this trip, I wasn't able to meet with him. But I did take some good photos of the unique site, the church, hall, and cemetery. A stream separates the churchyard from the cemetery, which you access via a footbridge, very much like in our villages in Carpathian Rus'.

Access to the cemetery across the stream is only by footbridge.

I must try again to meet with the pastor in order to photograph the interior of the church, inquire about any historical photos, and I truly hope, to view the original metrical records of the parish.

Just a mile down the road, in Crossingville, sits the slightly better-known Ss. Peter & Paul Russian Orthodox Church, distinguished from the Pageville church as a "Carpathian Russian" or "Uhorsky" church because most of its early members were Subcarpathian Rusyns from Zemplyn and Bereg Counties. Here I experienced one of the most surprising and fantastic visits of the trip. More than 15 years ago when I first visited the church, the pastor did not have the original metrical records, only a book with the records translated into English that omitted any mention of villages of origin. Off and on since then I've been asking around among members of that church if a parishioner might have those records. Well, the recently-assigned pastor, Fr. Daniel Mathewson, met me outside the church and was absolutely eager to help me by pulling out records, meeting minutes, and other books that he welcomed me to photocopy or photograph (and you bet I did). In fact, he got out the original metrical records right away and sure enough, they were filled with notations of the native villages and counties of the immigrants mentioned therein. Finally!!!
The first entries in the baptismal register, from 1926-1927.

Another super find was the original meeting minutes of the parish, written in Rusyn. As expected, they are at once mundane and fascinating.

And something truly unique was a series of oral history interviews that had been conducted (by whom, we don't know) with elderly members of the parish who had grown up there. Each of them talks about when their immigrant parents came to the U.S., from which villages, where they lived first before moving to the Crossingville area, how they came to move there, and what life was like in the community when the interviewee was a child. Fr. Daniel gladly shared photocopies of all these with me, which I will undoubtedly be drawing upon (and excerpting) when I write about this community.
Vasyl' Kel'man (Charles Kelyman) was the cantor at Ss. Peter & Paul Church for several decades.

I do hope to find sources of old photographs from the parish, but at worst there are a lot of interesting ones in the parish's 50th anniversary booklet, which I can scan and reprint. I went to the parish cemetery to complete my visit. It was nice to see again, and photograph this time, the several graves that had the people's native villages inscribed on them.

Hriso family graves in Ss. Peter & Paul Cemetery;
Andrij and Anna were both born in Habura, Zemplyn County.
Koman family graves in Ss. Peter & Paul Cemetery;
Mychal and Anna were both born in Krasnŷj Brid, Zemplyn County.
The Roman Catholic cemetery in Crossingville contains a number of Rusyn immigrant graves as well. Though from what I've seen, any Rusyns in the area who remained Greek Catholic must have been affiliated with Ss. Cyril & Methodius Church in Girard, which is probably too far for them to have regularly attended services at back in the days when cars were a luxury for most.

Another hour or so on the road brought me to the Sharon area. A delicious meal at a popular Italian restaurant in Sharpsville with my friend Fr. David Mastroberte of St. John's Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church of Sharon (now Hermitage) was an excellent end to an excellent day. Fr. David and his family graciously provided this Rusnak vagabond-for-a-week with lodging for the night.

Day 4: Hermitage/Sharon, Sagamore, and Punxsy

My ambitious program began with a Mastroberte family breakfast of Rusyn Paschal foods (raisin paska, kolbasa, etc.) followed shortly after by my first visit to St. Mary's R.C. Cemetery of Sharon, one of the first burial places of Rusyn pioneers before the establishment of St. Michael's Greek Catholic Church in South Sharon/Farrell and Cemetery.
One of those Rusyn pioneers to Sharon buried in St. Mary's R.C. Cemetery is Dymytrij (Mitro) Gula, 1870-1907, and his family. Mitro's grave is inscribed "Grik Katolik" and gives his birthplace as Bátorhegy, Sáros Megye -- Krajnja Bŷstra, Šaryš County.
Leaving St. Mary's, I went to photograph the large St. Michael's Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in Hermitage, established in 1918.
The large cross at the center of the cemetery was
donated by the large number of parishioners from Zavadka, Spiš County.
After sweating out a few gallons in the bright, hot sun, but having created an excellent collection of grave photos at this major Rusyn cemetery, I left the Sharon area with my ultimate destination to the south and east.

Hitting Interstate 376 for a while, then US-422 East, brought me eventually to three Armstrong County towns in the same general vicinity: Yatesboro, Rural Valley, and Sagamore. The first two had cemeteries with several Rusyn immigrant graves; Yatesboro even had a Greek Catholic parish of its own many decades ago, but as far as I know it didn't have its own church. (Anybody familiar with this parish? Please get in touch and share your knowledge!) Sagamore has two adjacent cemeteries: Sacred Heart R.C., with quite a few old Rusyn immigrant graves, including a few indicating the village Virliv (or Orlov) as the immigrant's place of birth, and the Rusyn, Greek Catholic St. Mary's, whose church was unfortunately closed about 10 years ago.
Grave of Mychal Krompaskŷj, 1891-1916, born in Virliv, Šaryš County,
in Sacred Heart R.C. Cemetery in Sagamore.
St. Mary's Byzantine Catholic Cemetery, Sagamore.
My final destination for the day was the famous vacation destination of Punxsutawney; yes, that one. Carpatho-Rusyns settled the "Punxsy" area in the late 1880s and early 1890s to work in the abundant active coal mines in Horatio, DeLancey, Walston, Adrian, Eleanora, and others. Others at the same time went to Helvetia, (Big) Soldier, and Sykesville. All of them joined to found and build Ss. Peter & Paul Greek Catholic Church in 1893. The parish's first cemetery was established in Horatio, at the end of a forested road, pictured here:

A second cemetery was established in DeLancey/Adrian just a few years later to serve the large numbers of Rusyns living north of Punxsutawney, on the hillside shown below.

After completing my archival documentation of both, I went to the Ss. Cosmas & Damian (now known as Calvary) R.C. Cemetery closer into town. Many other Rusyn immigrants are also buried there, and among them are three priests, father, son, and grandson, the latter two of whom both served as pastor of Ss. Peter & Paul.
Graves of Fathers Cornelius, Paul, and Theodore (not in photo) Mankovich in Punxsy's R.C. Cemetery.
Both Fathers Paul and Theodore served as pastor of Ss. Peter & Paul G.C. Church.

After a long, hot and sunny, and super-productive day, I made a comparably long drive to Hershey, where I spent the night in my bedroom at my Mom's home.

Voyage Through Coal Country (the Hard Kind)

After Liturgy at my home parish in Harrisburg and lunch with Mom, on Sunday afternoon I headed up Interstate 81 to the Minersville exit and turned left, going past Lavelle, and arrived at Merrian Mountain, the site of the cemetery of St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Church of Mount Carmel. St. Michael's was founded in 1907 by Lemkos who were alienated by the Ukrainian priests who had been serving their Greek Catholic parish, and the naming of Galician Ukrainian Bishop Soter Ortynsky to be the 1st Greek Catholic bishop in the U.S. hastened their departure for the Orthodox Church.

Cemetery cross of St. Michael's, with grave of former pastor,
Father Andrew Dedick, and his wife Matushka Anna.

Then I went to Hazleton to do a more thorough job of photographing graves at St. Michael's Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cemetery. St. Michael's parish had a large number of Lemko members, including some who founded a branch of the Lemko Association/Lemko-Soyuz in West Hazleton.

Mychal and Pelagija (Valko) Šostak, charter members of the Lemko Association in West Hazleton.
Nykolaj and Eva (Šostak) Škymba, charter members of the Lemko Association in West Hazleton.

My next stop was the town of Glen Lyon, to thoroughly photograph St. Michael's Byzantine Catholic Cemetery, which was also used by the former St. Mary's Byzantine Catholic Church in the Hanover Section of Nanticoke (St. Michael's Church in Glen Lyon was also closed in recent years.). One church of Rusyn origin remains in Glen Lyon, St. Nicholas; I posted an article and my own comments about it here.
St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Cemetery of Glen Lyon.

I finished out the day photographing some Rusyn (and some Ukrainian and/or Russian) immigrant graves in Hanover Township's Maple Hill and Oak Lawn Cemeteries. Those buried in Maple Hill were mostly members of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in south Wilkes-Barre (some of whom lived in Ashley or Georgetown/W-B Township), while those in Oak Lawn seem to have been members of St. John's Russian Orthodox Church in the Hanover Section of Nanticoke. Most of the folks buried in Oak Lawn were from the exact area my own Rusyn grandparents came from, that is, villages between Svidnyk and the Dukla Pass, in northeastern Slovakia.

A rainstorm and dark clouds brought an early end to my work for that day, so I made my way to Jessup to visit and stay with my longtime friend and supporter in this work, Msgr. John Sekellick. Through his many-times-over graciousness and hospitality, I'd have Jessup as my base of operations for the next few days.

St. Tikhon's Monastery & Seminary

On Monday, Memorial Day, as I have done that day for almost every year for 25 years now, I drove about 15 miles to St. Tikhon's Monastery, for their 112th annual pilgrimage.

While at the pilgrimage, I thought I would do a mini photo-travelogue for the Facebook group I founded, Lemko Rusyns and Friends (Лемкы-Русины з приятелями). So I iPhone-photographed highlights of the grounds -- including the monastery church and the tomb of St. Alexis Toth, his tomb before he was glorified as a saint, the cemetery, shrines, and little bits of Rusynness here and there. Many Carpatho-Rusyn laypeople and clergy buried at the monastery cemetery, and there are some graves and other monuments on the grounds that testify to the "Galician Russophile" orientation that most of the American Lemkos who converted to Orthodoxy had (and many of their children & grandchildren still have). I photographed a sample of mainly Lemko graves; most of the Lemko immigrant laypeople buried here either lived near the monastery (on farms) or in the Mayfield, Jermyn, Simpson, Olyphant, or Wilkes-Barre areas. See the travelogue here.

St. Tikhon's Russian Orthodox Monastery Cemetery

The story of Orthodox immigrants to the U.S.:
"The Italian Americans"?
My annual visit always includes stopping in to the impressive St. Theodosius Museum. There are some outstanding religious artifacts of precious historic and spiritual value in the museum, but there are some, frankly, amateurish attempts to represent ethnic heritage of Orthodox peoples in the U.S., most notably the Carpatho-Rusyns (or "Carpatho-Russians" and "Galicians") who historically made up the majority of members of the Russian Orthodox Church in the U.S. For example, the display in the museum's front area, which is supposed to illustrate the coming of Orthodox peoples to the U.S. (Actually I think it was redone a bit since last year or earlier.) Part of the display is a series of books by Chelsea House Publishers, The Peoples of America. At present there are only four books in this display: The Greek Americans, The Russian Americans, The Arab Americans, and The Italian Americans. Formerly it included the titles The Ukrainian Americans, The Hungarian Americans, and The Slovak Americans as well. The only one not ever in this display? The Carpatho-Rusyn Americans, which is the one volume in the series that actually discusses St. Tikhon's and the history of the Orthodox Church in America with respect to Rusyn immigrants. For the directors of this museum to omit that absolutely essential volume is, well, weird.

I won't belabor the point by discussing the content and presentation of the "Pascha in the Carpathians / Carpatho-Russian Home at Pascha" and "Christmas Eve 'Holy Supper'" displays, but it's evident that unlike with most of the rest of this museum, these displays are not taken up in a serious way by the museum directors/curators.

This exhibit is entitled "Carpatho-Russian Home at Pascha."
I'm not a specialist in Carpatho-Rusyn folk dress, but this doesn't resemble
anything Rusyn I've ever seen in any village, book, or museum covering the topic.
Somehow an authentic Carpatho-Rusyn woman's vest (the one on the right) made its way into this "Holy Supper" vignette, but the balalaika and assorted other Russian and Ukrainian items, not to mention a mishmash of other folk clothing, makes for some serious cognitive dissonance.
I was glad to see a number of priests and laypeople who had been welcoming and helped me out in the past: Fr. John Sorochka from Mayfield, Fr. Joseph Martin from Wilkes-Barre (retired), and others I spotted just from a distance. I was also excited to see the delightful Fr. John Nehrebecki and his equally delightful and lovely wife Matushka Eugenia (Yankovsky, a native of Portage, Cambria County) from Paramus, New Jersey. Fr. John is a true Lemko patriot, and I was so happy that he agreed to grant me an oral history interview about his youth growing up in a Lemko/Rusyn household and community in Donora, Washington County. He offered some great stories and wise insight to the events and people that shaped him, and I will be glad to include some of that when I write the Rusyn story of Donora in my book. Here's an interesting article about Father Nehrebecki and his Donora childhood.

Archpriest John Nehrebecki (left) and yours truly.
Leaving the monastery, I traveled 15 miles or so to Forest City, having become aware that the oldest Roman Catholic cemetery in town, St. Agnes, had a number of Rusyn graves that predate the cemetery of the Rusyn St. John's Byzantine Catholic Church.
Grave of Pavel Varchola, 1865-1915, born in Kolbaš (now Brezina), Zemplyn County,
in St. Agnes R.C. Cemetery. (He was not any relation to Andy Warhol.)
Indeed, there were not just a couple, but a bunch! Some of them included these two young Rusyn men from Šambron, Šaryš County.
Graves of Rusyn immigrants and co-villagers Jan Mika (left), 1868-1904, and Jan Mykuljak/Mikuliak, 1871-1904.

Hearing thunder in the distance, I nevertheless headed south to Simpson (aka "Fell Township") to improve my archive of photographs of the Saints Peter & Paul Greek Catholic Church's parish cemetery and its gravestones. This parish was founded in 1905 by Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants (mainly Lemkos from Nowy Sącz and Gorlice Counties, and a substantial number of Rusyns from Habura, Zemplyn County). It's a parish of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, but has never gone by the name Ukrainian Catholic.
Ss. Peter & Paul Greek Catholic Cemetery
Ss. Peter & Paul Church, Simpson, view from Prospect Street.

There is also the St. Basil Russian Orthodox Church in town (two of them, actually) founded the same year, also very Lemko in membership, from the same villages plus others in Grybiv, Jaslo, Krosno, and Lisko Counties. But I already have an extensive collection of photos I took in their cemetery. A quickly-approaching thunderstorm and heavy rain hastened my departure, and it continued for quite some time, so I called it a day.

I returned to St. Tikhon's the next two days to make use of the collections at St. Tikhon's Seminary Library. I had been there several times before, mainly scanning/copying from church anniversary books and photographing pages from the Svit newspaper of the Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual Aid Society (ROCMAS). This time, however, I was scanning photographs and ads from almanacs (kalendary) of ROCMAS, RBO, and UROBA that I had not come across in other archives. And the bulk of my time was spent photographing pages from Svit and the RBO's newspaper Pravda.

A title page from Svit in 1899 (founded 1897).
Title page of the debut issue of Pravda in 1902.

In Svit and Pravda I found some incredible information and also some rare photographs. Some of the cool things I found:

A 1902 ad in Pravda for a local brewery in Shenandoah, whose directors were Carpatho-Rusyns.
The Rusyn band (Russka banda) in Mayfield, Pa., 1902.
A recurring column, "A Lemko Voice," in Lemko Rusyn, from Svit, 1930s.
Notice from Svit in 1932 of the upcoming dedication of the newly-constructed
St. Michael Greek Catholic Russian Orthodox Church in Saint Clair, Pa.
Besides interesting ads and op-eds, and listings of ROCMAS and RBO lodges and their officers, much of what I captured from the newspapers was letters to the editor usually written about controversial subjects or events... especially centered on the ideological battles in Rusyn communities over Rusyn or Russian vs. Ukrainian identity, and over the founding of new Russian Orthodox parishes. These are particularly valuable because some letters cover events in communities about whose histories little to nothing of substance has been published in English, not to mention the eyewitness accounts, polemical though they may be.

In the bit of morning time I had to spare those last two days, I did some photography in a few other area Rusyn cemeteries.
The neatly laid out and well-maintained St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in Dunmore.
Cross monument of St. Michael's Cemetery.
The cemetery of St. Mary's Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in Dickson City, located in Chinchilla.
St. John's Russian Orthodox Cemetery in Mayfield. This is probably by far the Rusyn cemetery with the highest number of graves with the deceased's birthplace inscribed upon them.
I was both reluctant and eager to return home after eight days away, but my last "research" stop was at St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in the Hanover section of Nanticoke. Here I was met by Joe Paprota, born and raised in the parish, who gave me a copy of the parish's 2011 centennial book. It includes a bit of information I had supplied the parish 10 years before that, which appeared in the 90th anniversary book in much greater detail. The parish is near and dear to me because two of my Rusyn baba's siblings once lived in this place and were members of St. John's. My baba's sister Paraska unfortunately had died within days of her husband in 1918 of the Spanish Flu epidemic; they are buried in the parish cemetery, their shared tombstone inscribed in Rusyn, in the Cyrillic alphabet. Eternal memory to them -- vičnaja jim pamjat'!

It was a long week-plus, but extremely valuable and, actually, a lot of fun. (Clearly I'm one of those rare people who enjoys visiting cemeteries!) I don't anticipate taking too many more of these research trips before I need to begin the arduous task of actually writing the manuscript. In any case, I want to go wherever else is necessary within the next year or so, if I am to have any hope of meeting my self-imposed deadline for completing and publishing the book.

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


  1. What a wonderful, and most intricate piece of work this is. You must have put many hours and sleepless nights into its composition. Very impressive. Thanks, Rich.

  2. Very interesting article. Look forward to reading more.

  3. Dear Rich,

    Thank you very much for your wonderful article and pictures. Your material related to my ancestry literally. My relatives were buried on St. Tikhon's cemetery and my goal is to visit this place. With your information, I know little more. Thank you !


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