|Assumption of the B.V.M. Greek Catholic Church, Centralia|
The church in Centralia was selected to have one of the special Doors of Mercy in the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy inaugurated by Pope Francis.
CONYNGHAM TOWNSHIP, Columbia County — Centralia is the spookiest and saddest place in Pennsylvania. An unquenchable 54-year-old underground coal fire compelled the relocation of virtually the entire population of the borough through federal government buyouts in the 1980s.
From a population of more than 1,000 in 1980, only a half-dozen holdouts remain in the Columbia County community — residents who struck an agreement with the government allowing them to stay until they die.
Improbably, however, there is life beyond their scattered homes. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church — perched on a hilltop just outside the borough line — is still active, drawing congregants from afar on Sundays and holy days.
This Sunday, the church will host a daylong event welcoming the faithful for liturgy and prayer. It's the first such event since Assumption was declared a holy pilgrimage site. (Morning Call, Aug. 26, 2016)
While "St. Mary's" is just outside of the borough line, it is still considered to be the last surviving church, and one of the only remaining structures, in the once-thriving anthracite coal mining town. The congregation is fairly small and members now live in neighboring towns like Ashland, Mount Carmel, etc.
Unfortunately, published histories of the parish say very little about the period before the church was actually founded. For example, from the 50th anniversary booklet in 1961:
Here in the hard coal region our church really flourished. Churches rose in Shenandoah, Shamokin, Minersville, Mt Carmel and in almost all of the towns of this area and when the people of Marion Heights began building, the people in Centralia decided, they too would have their own church. So on August 15, 1911 a committee was formed which called a meeting for the purpose of building their own church. All the Greek Catholics from Centralia, came to the meeting. They voted to form a separate parish and to build their own church. They dedicated the parish to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the basis of the above resolution, they asked the first Ukrainian Bishop in America, Soter Ortynsky, for a permission to build a church in Centralia. The most Reverend Bishop sent his delegate Reverend Zachary Orun to a meeting in Centralia to investigate.Absent anything more useful already published, from other sources we can piece together information that clearly illustrates the settlement of Carpatho-Rusyn and later Ukrainian Greek Catholics in Centralia and in the Big Mine Run coal patch just outside Ashland. For example, marriages and child baptisms of Greek Catholics living in Centralia recorded in St. Michael's Greek Catholic Church of Shenandoah, beginning in 1885:
|Weddings in St. Michael’s Church, Shenandoah, 1885-1888|
(Centralia & Big Mine Run [BMR] residents only)
|Bride and Groom||Village & County of Origin|
|Pavel Slivka [BMR]|
Marija Lepinska [BMR]
Irma Hekler [Rom. Cath.]
|Juraj Berezin [Lutheran]|
|Michal Marinjak |
Anna Horvat [Rom. Cath.]
|Nova Ves, Nowy Sącz|
|Baptisms in St. Michael’s Church, Shenandoah, 1885-1888|
(Centralia & Big Mine Run [BMR] residents only)
|Parents||Village & County of Origin|
|Nova Ves, Nowy Sącz|
|Muchnačka, Nowy Sącz|
|Andrej Trubica [BMR]|
These, and others unrecorded, are the true pioneers of our people in Centralia.
Through the 1890s and early 1900s, most of Centralia's Greek Catholics were Carpatho-Rusyns, primarily from Rŷchvald (now Owczary) in Gorlice County (Lemkovyna in Galicia), and scattered villages in Šaryš and Zemplyn Counties. They traveled to Shenandoah or Mt. Carmel for religious services and the sacraments. After the parish was established in 1911, the priest of Ss. Peter & Paul Church in Mt. Carmel served in Centralia church until Centralia was able to support its own priest. Today the parish is again served from Mt. Carmel.
Fraternal benefit society lodges were the first Rusyn community institutions to be established in Centralia. Chronology: (years of founding may be approximate)
1896: Society of the Protection of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Greek Catholic Union Lodge #103
1903: Brotherhood of St. John the Baptist (later St. Dimitri / St. Michael), Ruskij Narodnŷj Sojuz Lodge #90
1905: Brotherhood of St. Dimitri, Russian Brotherhood Organization Lodge #71
1907: Brotherhood of St. Michael, Greek Catholic Union Lodge #484
1911: Brotherhood of St. Basil the Great, Russian Brotherhood Organization Lodge #132
1919: Sisterhood of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Ukrainian National Association Lodge #189
1920s: Brotherhood of St. Basil the Great, Ashland, Greek Catholic Union Lodge #911
Children's Lodges, formed in the 1920s:
- Brotherhood of St. Joseph, GCU Youth Lodge #643 (Tutor: John Panko)
- Sisterhood of the Virgin Mary, GCU Youth Lodge #644 (Tutor: John Panko)
- Brotherhood of St. Michael, Ashland, GCU Youth Lodge #699 (Tutor: Michael Haluska)
- Sisterhood of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God, Ashland, GCU Youth Lodge #700 (Tutor: Michael Haluska)
Petro Gradzila, Jan Gradzila, Jan Micsanyik, Jan Hajduk, Michal Bereznyak, Jan Vedro, Petro Licsko, Andrej Madjarcsik, Josef Duda, Petro Ridila, Petro Petrus, Jan Sproch, Jan Duda, Jan Lazor, and Jurij Mikaš.
By 1904 this lodge had either dissolved or changed its affiliation. (I believe many of its members had left Centralia by that time, as few of these names appear in metrical records.)
Early officers of some of the other lodges were as follows.
RNS #90 (1903): Antin Volos, pres.; Dymytryj Zanovjak, sec.
RNS #90 (1906): H. Dacuk, sec.
GCU #103 (1901): Petro Lisko, pres.; Andro Sofran, v.p.; Maksym Zanovjak, asst. treas.; Ivan Kovač, treas.; Jurko Fedorko, rec. sec.; Andrej Kurimsky, guardian of the sick
RBO #71 (1907): M. Ivanykovyč, pres.; Nykolaj Pal'kovyč, treas.; F. Fludovyč, sec.
GCU #484 (1909): John Potočny, pres.; Albert Jakapčin, sec.; Petro Licko, rec. rec.; William Drozdovsky, treas.
RBO #132 (1912): Gabriel Borys, pres.; Nykolaj Pal'kovyč, treas.; Nykolaj Dub, sec.
UNA #189 (1919): Marija Kovban, pres.; Kalyna Hrabarovyč, sec.; Marija Varcholjak, treas.
GCU #911 (1929): Frank Haluska, pres.; Michael Haluska, sec.; George Bereznak, treas.; George Horvath, rec. sec.
When the church was founded in 1911, the community was mostly Carpatho-Rusyns (especially Lemkos) with a small minority of Galician Ukrainians.
Around 1909, a substantial number of Carpatho-Rusyn families from Už County -- especially Antalovci, Solotvyna, and Irljava -- came to Centralia and joined the parish. Supplemented by a number of other Subcarpathian families living in Big Mine Run, they added a distinct new character to the local Rusyn community.
By the 1920s, the congregation was about half of Carpatho-Rusyn origin (Subcarpathian Rusyns and Lemko Rusyns) and half of Galician Ukrainian origin. These Galician Ukrainians were mainly from Skolje, Stryj, and Turka Counties, ethnically Bojko areas today in western Ukraine: villages such as Orjavčyk, Vyzliv, Vysocko, Komarnyky, Orjava, Vovče, Rozluč, Plavje, Pohar, Zadil's'ke, and Rykiv.
Informal discussions with members of the congregation revealed a long history of intra-parish conflicts between the Carpatho-Rusyns from the Hungarian Kingdom and the Galician Ukrainians, many rooted in the manner of congregational singing and other customs. This is not a unique situation to this parish, but the feelings around it may have persisted here longer than in other "mixed" parishes. Additionally, while the parish belonged to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic jurisdiction in Philadelphia, the Subcarpathian members felt more allegiance to the Ruthenian Greek Catholic jurisdiction in Pittsburgh.
Images of St. Mary's Church
|The church cornerstone: "Ruska hr. Katolycka Cerkov v Centrely, Pa., R.B. 1912"|
I haven't found many old photos from the Centralia Lemko/Rusyn community, just a few from the church's 75th anniversary book. This is probably the only other one I've come across, which is evidently the parish's dramatic club. If anybody knows of some, please let me know.
Images of St. Mary's Cemetery
The parish cemetery is set on the hillside just above the church, very reminiscent of the arrangement in Carpathian region villages.
|Graves of some of the early Lemko families of Centralia.|
|Graves of Spirydon Karljak and family.|
|Grave of Spirydon Karljak, born in Rŷchvald, Gorlice County|
|Grave of Dymytryj Juščak/Yuschock and Teodozyja (Zanovjak), both born in Rŷchvald, Gorlice County.|
|Grave of Marko and Anna Liptak/Liptock, both born in Rŷchvald, Gorlice County.|
|Grave of Helena Liptak, daughter of Marko and Anna Liptak/Liptock.|
|Grave of Andryj / "Andro" Karpjak/Karpiak from Liščŷnŷ, Gorlice County, and Marija (Križanska) from Mal'cov, Šaryš County.|
|Grave of Vasyl' Fed'o/Fegya (Fago), born in Antalovci, Už County, and Anna (Mikaš), born in Solotvyna, Už County.|
|Grave of young children of Vasyl' and Anna Fed'o/Fegya/Fagya/Fago.|
|Grave of Andrew Fago (Fed'o), born in Antalovci, Už County, and Anna (Konkus), born in Hazleton, Pa.|
|Grave of Mychal Mikaš/Michael Mekosh, born in Nyžnja Solotvyna, Už County, and wife Anna (Fed'o), born in Antalovci, Už County.|
|Grave of Vasyl' Mikaš/Wesley Mekosh, born in Nyžnja Solotvyna, Už County, and wife Helen (Levkulyč), born in Irljava, Už County.|
|Grave of Frank and Anna Haluška, born in Bereg County. They lived in Big Mine Run near Ashland.|
|Grave of Vasyl' Turjanin/Charles Turanin, born in Ardanovo, Bereg County, and Anna (Feher), born in Jablonovo, Bereg County. They lived in Big Mine Run.|
|Grave of Mychail Hančak, born in Perečyn, Už County.|
In 1916, a schism divided the Rusyn and Ukrainian community as a group left St. Mary's to establish Ss. Peter & Paul Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church. But unlike in many similar situations (such as Mt. Carmel, Minersville, and St. Clair), most of the founders of the new Orthodox parish were not Carpatho-Rusyns/Lemkos, but Galician Ukrainians from Skolje, Stryj, and Turka Counties. A small number of local Lemkos/Carpatho-Rusyns would join them in the new church, but the founders except for 3-4 were Galician Ukrainians -- presumably Russophiles who were no longer comfortable in the nationally conscious Ukrainian clergy-led atmosphere at St. Mary's.
Ss. Peter & Paul Church fell victim to the spread of the mine fire, and its final Liturgy was held March 16, 1986. At that time, the church was torn down and its members transferred to St. Michael's R.O. Church in Mt. Carmel. Its parish cemetery, near that of St. Ignatius R.C. Church, survives as the witness of the church. (Unfortunately I don't have any photos of the church interior. Do you? If so, please get in touch with me.)
|Ss. Peter & Paul Russian Orthodox Cemetery|
|Grave of Nykolaj Pal'kovyč, born in Orjavčyk, Stryj County, and wife Julija (Žŷvan), born in Rŷchvald, Gorlice County.|
Press about the August 28 event:
- Centralia church named as 'holy' pilgrimage site (News Item, Aug. 11, 2016)
- The Strange Case of the Pilgrimage Site in a Pennsylvania Ghost Town (National Catholic Register, Aug. 26, 2016)
- Desolate Centralia's last church invites pilgrims for a weekend celebration of faith (Morning Call, Aug. 26, 2016)
- Ukrainian Catholic Church Near Centralia Becomes A Holy Site (WNEP ABC16, Aug. 28, 2016)
- In the desolate landscape of Centralia, a church stands strong (WFMZ 69News, Aug. 28, 2016)
- Assumption Of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Centralia (parish history f/1962 50th anniv. book)
- Centralia Church: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- Saints Peter & Paul Church and Cemetery, Centralia PA
- Centralia’s Orthodox Crosses
"Anyone visiting Centralia, Pennsylvania will notice some unusual crosses around the town. The crosses appear a bit spooky at first."
|Assumption BVM Congregation in 1991.|
Original material is © by the author, Richard D. Custer; all rights reserved.