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

Saturday, June 24, 2017

“Dido was a member of the Spolok”: Figuring Out Fraternals

Membership ribbon of St. Nicholas
Brotherhood of Shenandoah,
founded 1885
Fraternal benefit societies, or more generally, fraternal organizations, were usually the first community institution established in the Rusyn immigrant settlements, in most cases preceding even a church. These were built on the model of similar organizations in the homeland and the United States, in part as a replacement for the American insurance that was not usually available to Slavic immigrants, and out of a need for an organization to rally the immigrants on an ethnic basis. (Some Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants joined existing American fraternals, especially the Woodmen of the World, whose distinctive tree stump-shaped headstones can be seen in various older Rusyn cemeteries in this country.)

The “brotherhoods” (later also sisterhoods) or burial societies would pay benefits to the surviving family members of miners killed or seriously injured in the all-too-frequent mine accidents. The first, the St. Nicholas Brotherhood, was founded in Shenandoah, Schuylkill County, in 1885. Within two years there were a total of seven, and they had come together as the Union of Rusyn Societies. However, that Union dissolved in 1889, and some of these brotherhoods affiliated themselves with the fraternal benefit societies that had already been established by Slovak immigrants, particularly the Roman Catholic “First Catholic Slovak Union,” popularly called “Jednota.” Recognizing the danger of assimilation posed by membership in Slovak Roman Catholic societies, a group of six Greek Catholic priests, all of Subcarpathian Rusyn origin from Hungary, along with fourteen Greek Catholic parish brotherhoods, met in Wilkes-Barre in February 1892 to establish the Union of Greek Catholic Russian Brotherhoods (Sojedynenije Greko-Kafolyčeskych Russkych Bratstv), later known simply as the Greek Catholic Union.

Greek Catholic Union (GCU)

Membership badge of GCU
Our Lady of Marijapovč
Sisterhood of Lyndora
The founding lodges of the GCU were located mainly in Pennsylvania, as well as in Brooklyn, New York, Passaic, New Jersey, Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Streator, Illinois. The Pennsylvania lodges included several which had a majority of members from the Lemko Region of Galicia. The mixed geographical origin of GCU members prompted a dual “Uhro-Rusyn” (Rusyns from Hungary) and “Galician Rusyn” editorship of the GCU’s newspaper Amerikansky Russky Viestnik. Dionyzij Pŷrč of Olyphant, Lackawanna County, represented Galician Rusyns and Pavel Žatkovyč of Passaic, New Jersey, was the representative of Uhro-Rusyns. The newspaper was published for several decades in parallel editions, a “Russian edition” in the Cyrillic alphabet and a “Slavonian edition” in the Latin alphabet that was essentially written in the Eastern Slovak Zemplín dialect. The GCU, under clerically-dominated leadership, became preoccupied with Rusyn affairs in Hungary and enunciated a generally pro-Hungarian political stance. This alienated the significant membership from Galicia, and many lodges, some even with substantial Subcarpathian membership, seceded from the GCU in 1894 to form a new organization.

Greek Catholic Uhro-Rusyn Lodge ("Spolok") of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, #81
of the Greek Catholic Union, Braddock, Allegheny County
That organization, founded at a meeting in Shamokin, Northumberland County, was the Ruskij Narodnŷj Sojuz (RNS), or in English, Russian National Union. It welcomed as members Rusyns from Hungary and Galicia who had a strong sense of national identity, whether “Rusyn,” “Russian,” or “Ruthenian.” (The “Ruthenian” segment would eventually lead the organization to a Ukrainian orientation and official change of name in 1914 to the Ukrainian National Association.)

Sash worn by members of the Holy Ghost Brotherhood,
Lodge 151 of ROCMAS, Boswell, Somerset County
Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual Aid Society (ROCMAS)

A convention of church brotherhoods that had converted to Orthodoxy took place in September 1895 in Wilkes-Barre, center of the Rusyn movement to Orthodoxy led by Father Alexis Toth. They formed a federation, and by the first national convention in 1896, eighteen brotherhoods were members. The Society issued a newspaper, Svît, written in a mixture of Galician Ukrainian and Russian (the so-called jazŷčie), using the etymological alphabet. While somewhat concerned with cultural matters, the Society’s primary goal was the defense and promotion of Orthodoxy among so-called “Little Russian” immigrants. It vehemently opposed Ukrainianism and the Greek Catholic Church, and promoted a strict Russian identity almost as a necessary feature of Orthodoxy, to the detriment of the local or regional linguistic and cultural traits of its Rusyn membership.

Russian Brotherhood Organization (RBO)

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 that would resist clerical domination and stand for the “principle of Russian identity” among its members.

In 1903 the RBO purchased from Viktor Hladyk the Russophile, Rusyn-American newspaper Pravda, which was founded in New York City in 1902, and adopted it as the official publication of the society. The editorial offices were moved to Olyphant in 1906, and editorship was assumed by the Rusyn Greek Catholic priest Father Teofan Obuškevyč. Editorial policy and content of Pravda varied with the times and the editor, ranging from a strict Russophile position, which published only in the Russian language and avoided local dialects, to an Old-Ruthenian (staroruska) position, with language that varied from Russian to a so-called “Galician Russian literary language” (essentially western Ukrainian) using the etymological alphabet and some Russian words, to occasional material in the local Rusyn dialects of the Lemko Region and Subcarpathian Rus’. One policy of the RBO was consistent, however – a strong opposition to Ukrainianism and to any suggestion that the Rusyn (and for that matter Ukrainian) people’s regional distinctions justified separation from Great Russians.

Uhro-Rusyn Brotherhood, Lodge #188 of the Greek Catholic Union,
Monessen, Westmoreland County
The Pennsylvania Slovak Roman & Greek Catholic Union

Dissatisfied members of the First Catholic Slovak Union living in the area of Hazleton – Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, founded a new organization in 1893 in the city of Pittston. This new fraternal was dubbed the Pennsylvania Slovak Roman & Greek Catholic Union (or for short, the Pennsylvanská Slovenská Jednota – PSJ). Two of the 15 founding lodges were Greek Catholic, and mostly or entirely Rusyn, in membership: St. Vladimir Society of Pleasant Hill, Schuylkill County, and St. John the Baptist Society of Hazleton. Andrij Škvir, a Rusyn from the Lemko Region of Galicia, a member of the St. Vladimir Society, became the PSJ’s first Vice President.

At the first national convention in 1894, liturgies were held at the Slovak Roman Catholic St. Joseph Church in Hazleton and the day after at the Rusyn Greek Catholic St. John the Baptist Church in Hazleton. But its inclusionary policy toward Greek Catholics – and ostensibly Rusyns – would attract unwelcome attention from Greek Catholic clergy, competing fraternals, and Rusyn secular leaders.
A little over two weeks after the [1895, second] convention, the officers were forced to convene another extraordinary meeting to deal with important matters including conflicts in Branch 3 in Hazleton and Branch 4 in Pleasant Hill. It was reported that Greek Catholic priests in these towns had told their congregations that they should leave the Pennsylvania Slovak Catholic Union. [PSJ National President] Ujfalussy and some officers traveled to Pleasant Hill to be at Branch 4’s monthly meeting in an attempt to resolve the situations and to urge the members to remain faithful to the PSJ. Their mission was unsuccessful as Branch 4 voted to leave the organization.

This was the first of several conflicts with Greek Catholic clergy. From the beginning the PSJ was envisioned as a society of both Slovaks and Rusyns of Roman and Greek or Byzantine Catholics, but evidently some Greek Catholic priests and leaders became alarmed at the number of Greek Catholics joining the PSJ viewed by some as mainly a Roman Catholic organization. The Pennsylvania Slovak Catholic Union or PSJ was also seen as competition to the Sojedinenije or Greek Catholic Union… The battles would continue.
(Anthony X. Sutherland, The Pennsylvania Slovak Catholic Union: A Century of Brotherhood. 1893-1993, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.: PSCU, p. 14)
At the same annual meeting [1906], Father Pavčo [a Slovak R.C. priest, national Chaplain of PSJ] said that some Greek Catholic priests in Pennsylvania considered the PSJ as “a thorn in their eyes.” Complaints were received claiming that there were some Greek Catholic priests who would not sign the membership card required by new members asking to be admitted into the society. In some cases, the new members were told they should join the Greek Catholic Union or have their membership cards torn up.

This was one of the first serious problems in the society’s history. An angry Father Pavčo exclaimed, “We will continue forward with our most beautiful flag of the Pennsylvania Slovak Catholic Union for the Catholic faith and the Slovak nation. Our lodges have done much for the Catholic causes. They built churches, maintained schools and supported churches. The overwhelming majority of our members are loyal and sacrificing Slovaks. No one has the right or reason to slander us and dishonor us by throwing mud at us!”

It was obvious that some Greek Catholic priests felt their church members should belong to the Greek Catholic Union or some other strictly Greek Catholic organization rather than the PSJ. It is unknown how widespread the opposition to the PSJ was, but it was resolved when the PSJ officers approved a new policy whereby new members did not need the signature of a priest to be admitted into the society provided they could find someone else to attest to their faith.
(Sutherland, p. 23)
In the decades that followed, as the PSJ remained strong in the anthracite region and expanded across Pennsylvania and even beyond, its Rusyn and Greek Catholic membership remained fairly significant, and the organization maintained a chaplain for Greek Catholic members, among whom were Father Nicholas Martyak of Hazleton and Father Nicholas Chopey, longtime pastor of St. Mary’s Greek Catholic Church in Wilkes-Barre. Chopey’s messages in the PSJ’s Bratstvo newspaper addressing the Greek Catholic PSJ members were in Rusyn (using the Latin alphabet). As late as the 1950 convention, Rusyns and Greek Catholic concerns were discussed. A liturgy was celebrated in a Rusyn G.C. church in Hazleton by Fathers Chopey and Martyak. A $3,000 donation was made to the new Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh. And at the banquet, “the Slovak Lawyer, George Puhak [who was actually of Rusyn background], was the toastmaster. He stressed the importance of having the Slovaks and Rusyns in one organization, the Pennsylvania Slovak Catholic Union.” (Sutherland, pp. 101-102)

In a few Rusyn Greek Catholic parishes and communities, the local PSJ lodges played a significant role. And other Greek Catholic Rusyns played significant roles in the organization, such as the Lemko immigrant Edmund Lembick of Hazleton who served several years as the accountant, and Joseph Ridilla, a native of the Rusyn village Šambron, Šaryš County, who was national Vice President from 1909-1919. However, in most written histories of the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church in America, Rusyns in America, or individual parishes, the role played by the PSJ is little more than a footnote if it is even mentioned at all. In 1990 the PSJ merged with the First Catholic Slovak Union, its Bratstvo newspaper ceased publication, and its offices were closed.

The Greek Catholic Union and Ukrainian National Association published attractive, detailed histories of their respective organizations (above) to mark their centennials in 1992, pub. 1994 (GCU) and 1994, pub. 1996 (UNA). The UNA has made theirs available online.

The Russian Brotherhood Organization, in 1940 near the height of its membership, published a jubilee almanac (above) with some organizational history and histories of a number of its lodges.

The Voyage of One Rusyn Lodge Through Multiple Fraternals

St. Vladimir Beneficial Society, made up of Rusyns from Hungary and Austrian Galicia, was an independent sick benefit lodge founded in the “coal patch” of Honey Brook, Schuylkill County, near Hazleton, in 1887. In 1891, the lodge moved its operations to the adjacent town of Pleasant Hill (now known as McAdoo), and in 1892 it became a member of the First Catholic Slovak Union. The next year it joined with other Greek and Roman Catholic brotherhoods in the anthracite region in the new PSJ as Branch 4.

The lodge president, Dymytrij/Mitro Kapitula, a Lemko Rusyn, was a delegate to the PSJ’s 1894 and 1895 national conventions. However, shortly thereafter, at the urging of the editor of the Svoboda newspaper (published by the Ruskij Narodnŷj Sojuz for Rusyn immigrants from Hungary and Galicia but in a Galician version of Ukrainian) Kapitula transferred the St. Vladimir Society from PSJ to the Ruskij Narodnŷj Sojuz. It would only stay in the RNS until 1898, however, when under the leadership of Rusyns mainly from Šaryš and Zemplyn Counties it switched affiliation to the Greek Catholic Union. There it would find its permanent home.

Meanwhile, Kapitula and the majority of the other Lemko members of the lodge decided to remain part of the Ruskij Narodnŷj Sojuz, by then an organization focused on its large Galician/Lemko membership and calling itself the Little Russian National Union. They founded a local lodge of this organization in McAdoo, the Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary Society. By 1914, the original Ruskij Narodnŷj Sojuz had lost most of its Rusyn- or Russian-oriented members to other organizations, had fully adopted a Ukrainian ethnonational orientation, and changed its name to the Ukrainian National Association. Eventually the Protection of the BVM Society transferred to yet another organization, and a new McAdoo lodge of the now Ukrainian National Association was founded.

Making Sense of It All!

Clearly the story of the St. Vladimir Society is not unique. Other Rusyn lodges changed their affiliation multiple times; others withered and ceased to exist, while others were created whose sole members were the lodge president and his relatives. But the story of the lodges is a substantial portion of the story of our people in the United States, and especially in Pennsylvania, where the large majority of lodges, and their parent organizations, were based. In order to make some sense of this, I decided I need to collect as much information as possible about each lodge in a database.

Most of the information for the database is coming from lodge listings published by the different organizations in their newspapers and/or almanacs – at the very least, the lodge number, its name or patron, and usually the name of the secretary. Some of the oldest of these listings included a lot of additional details about each lodge, such as the founding date, the date it joined the organization, the officers' names and positions, the meeting times and location (various immigrant-owned halls or the church hall where the lodge was based or most closely associated), and even the names of collectors for different locations where the lodge covered an area beyond just the town or village in which it was based.
A bit of a 1904 listing of GCU ("Sojedinenije") lodges and officers, from a 1904 issue of the Amerikansky Russky Viestnik. Note that some of them, like Mahanoy City and Scranton, even go into detail about which territory the various collectors were responsible for.
The date of founding of the first lodge in a given settlement is an important indicator as to when the size of the local Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant community was reaching "critical mass" – at least for the local Rusyns to feel they were numerous enough to need and be able to organize a lodge. In addition to an explicit founding date found in some of the lodge listings, sometimes a lodge membership ribbon has that information, and sometimes the fraternals' newspapers would publish an official record of a new lodge's founding, sometimes even including the names of all the charter members!

Unfortunately, some of the fraternals don't seem to have published formal lists of all their lodges/branches, so I'm having to consult multiple other sources to put all that information together. I've also looked up incorporation documents of lodges in certain county courthouses, but usually the charters are no longer available, so the only info that yields is the name of a lodge and the legal incorporation date – no names and no indication of which fraternal they might have been affiliated with, if any.

When all the data are entered, I should be able to produce lists that will make evident not only all the various lodges that existed in a given place, and when, but also which lodges transferred from one organization to another (provided the lodge name was maintained). For sanity's sake I will generally be tracking only lodges based in Pennsylvania.

So far I've built initial lists of lodge data for a few organizations. Here are examples of the data so far. (click to enlarge)

Greek Catholic Union lodges, some preliminary data
Ruskij Narodnŷj Sojuz / Ukrainian National Association lodges, some preliminary data
Lubov lodges, some preliminary data
The database will include lodges of these organizations:

Fraternal Societies Mostly or Substantially of Carpatho-Rusyn Membership
  • Greek Catholic Union [of Russian Brotherhoods] (Sojedynenije, GCU)
  • Rusyn / Ukrainian National Association (Ruskij Narodnŷj Sojuz, RNS; later Ukrajins’kyj Narodnyj Sojuz/Ukrainian National Association, UNA)
  • Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual Aid Society (Russkoe Pravoslavnoe Kafoličeskoe Obščestvo Vzaimopomošči, ROCMAS)
  • Russian Orthodox Catholic Women's Mutual Aid Society (ROCWMAS)
  • Russian Brotherhood Organization (Obščestvo Russkich Bratstv, RBO)
  • United Societies [of the Greek Catholic Religion] (Sobranije Greko-Katolyčeskych Cerkovnŷch Bratstv)
  • Providence Association [of Ukrainian Catholics] (Provydinnja)
  • Pennsylvania Slovak Roman & Greek Catholic Union / Pennsylvania Slovak Catholic Union (PSJ)
  • Ruthenian National Union / Ukrainian Workingmen’s Organization / Ukrainian Fraternal Association (UFA)
  • Russian Orthodox Fraternity Lubov
  • Greek Catholic Russian Pravoslavny Brotherhood / United Russian Orthodox Brotherhood of America (Sojedinenije Russkich Pravoslavnych Bratstv v Ameriki, UROBA)
  • Concord of Olyphant Societies (Zhoda Bratstv)
  • National Aid/Ukrainian National Aid Society (Narodna Pomič / Ukrajins’ka Narodna Pomič)
  • Russian Beneficial and Savings Organization
Non-Rusyn Fraternal Societies
  • National Slavonic Society of the United States/National Slovak Society of the United States of America (NSS)
  • First Catholic Slovak Union (“Jednota,” FCSU)
Some of the fraternals had youth branches (or a separate youth division) and gymnastic/athletic (or “Sokol”) divisions. I will track these as well.

Some other organizations will be included although they were not, strictly speaking, fraternal benefit societies, because they did not sell insurance. But they did have a lodge/branch structure, so I need to track their development in any case.
  • Uhro-Rusin National Defense (Narodna Obrana)
  • Amerikanska Narodna Rada Uhro-Rusinov
  • American Russian National Defense
  • Russka Rada Narodnoj Oboronŷ Amerykanskych Rusynov
  • Carpatho-Russian Cultural League
  • Federated Russian Orthodox Clubs
  • Lemko Association of the U.S. and Canada
  • Organization for the Defense of Lemko Western Ukraine
  • American Russian, Ukrainian, Slovak Club (ARUS)
  • United American Russian League of Lackawanna (and Luzerne) County/Counties
  • American Slovak Ukrainian Russian Society (ASUR)
  • American Rusin Clubs of Luzerne County
  • American Carpatho-Russian Youth (ACRY)
  • Carpatho-Rusyn Society (C-RS)
Membership certificate of the United Russian Orthodox Brotherhood of America (UROBA)

Membership badge (back side,
as worn at funerals)
of GCU Ss. Peter &Paul Society
#578 of Woodlawn
Technically the “database” is an Excel file, but I think eventually I’ll have to convert it to a real database so I can link it with my town/county/region data framework. (Any volunteers to help? Let me know!)

One important aspect of the lodge data I probably won’t include in the database is officers, except for the founding/earliest slate of officers I can find for a given lodge. Often the officers had other prominent roles in the community, like businessmen/businesswomen, church cantors/teachers, etc., and sometimes they were officers of multiple lodges. However, I will still discuss the lodges’ leadership in the chapters on each community.

Lodge membership and its activities were an important touchstone of Rusyn community life in even the smaller settlements. It seems to be a minority of Rusyn immigrants who were not members of any lodge. And where there were multiple lodges and multiple organizations present in a given place, some Rusyns were members of more than one. You can be assured that if you know “Dido was a member of the spolok” (a general Rusyn term for a fraternal society lodge), the local Rusyn community had an additional strong bond that supported their unity and identity.

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

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