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, December 19, 2017

Sad Transitions to Close 2017

Through the many years of doing what I've been doing, I've met numerous individuals along the way who have particularly affected me and my work. Two of those individuals recently departed this life.

Courtesy of Carpatho-Rusyn Society
John Schweich was known to many of the people I've been in touch with to do research, and not just in Pennsylvania. In fact, he was generally better known than I. For decades, John devoted much of his free time to collecting and assembling the largest collection in the world (no need to verify this; there is just no question!) of anniversary books published by American Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox churches of Carpatho-Rusyn, Ukrainian, and Russian background, which also includes books from Catholic and Orthodox parishes of other Slavic and Eastern European backgrounds.

He was not of Carpatho-Rusyn background; in fact, he had no Slavic or East European heritage at all. So whence this strong interest of his? In his own words:
I grew up in Frackville, a coal mining town in Northeastern Pennsylvania in the midst of some of the oldest Carpatho-Rusyn settlements (St. Clair, Minersville, Shenandoah, Mahanoy City) in North America. The local Rusyns had all of the fine qualities that are their trademarks, i.e. a fierce sense of loyalty to family and spirituality, a world class work ethic, a supreme ability to adapt to changing environments, that unparalleled cuisine, etc.

Ethnic self-awareness, however, was not one of them. Queries about their ethnicity produced responses like: "Slavonic," "Slavish," "Rooshin," "Greek," "Our People," "Austrian," "Hungarian," "Uhorsky," "Uhorshchane," "Rusnaks," "Ruthenian," "Carpo-Rus," "Carpatho-Russian," "Russian," "Buyzzantyne, (a pharmaceutical perhaps?)" etc. Never once did I hear the term "Rusyn." The people I queried about the terms "Greek" and "Byzantine," seemed to be more than clueless about the land of Homer or the history of Constantinople. The language used by those Carpatho-Russians was not Russian. Since I was studying Russian at Penn State at the time, it seemed closer to Ukrainian, although, strangely, the locals did not seem to appreciate hearing that.

To sort out the confusion and because Magocsi's works had not yet appeared, I consulted a few available books, which turned out to be the largely unhelpful works of polemicists. It began to occur to me there may be a "lost tribe" of Slavs that the mainstream scholars had failed or were otherwise unmoved to catalogue.

The solution seemed to be to collect all of the written histories available produced by a largely anonymous corps of parishioner chroniclers, which dealt not only with specific Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox parishes, but, ultimately, with the local Rusyn community itself.

Both of us Penn Staters and both of us longtime residents of the metropolitan D.C. area, we saw in each other "fellow travelers" who shared an appreciation for something known to few others, and not nearly as appreciated, that being these anniversary books and the history they encapsulated. We traded duplicate books and kept each other up to date on any new finds. And of course he graciously granted me access to photocopy or scan pages from the rarest items in his collection.

John's love for the Carpatho-Rusyn heritage extended to his serving for many years as president of the National Capital Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society in metropolitan Washington, D.C., and as a trustee of the national Carpatho-Rusyn Society. After a long illness, John died on November 27. He ensured that his treasure, this unsurpassed collection, will be cared for by the Carpatho-Rusyn Society. Certainly my work on the Carpatho-Rusyns of Pennsylvania will be all the better thanks to John's initiative, openness, and generosity.
Having conducted oral history interviews with a number of Carpatho-Rusyn Americans, many of whom were already elderly at the time, it's only to be expected that some might depart for the next life not too long thereafter. Sadly, another one of my interviewees recently passed away.

Justine "Jessie" Laychock went to her eternal rest on December 6. She was born in 1923 on top of the mountain overlooking Williamstown, Dauphin County, to George and Anna Suhar Molenich, Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants from Čertež and Ljachovci, Už County. She knew hard work, watching her father come home from the mines black with coal dust. Her mother did most everything else; raising the family, baking the daily bread and tending to the garden. She learned the importance of God, family and country from them, and this guided her throughout her life.

She was raised in the Holy Spirit Greek Catholic Church, Williamstown, where her father was the cantor. Three days after graduating high school in 1941, she left Williamstown with her best friend and $20 in her pocket, and went to Edison, N.J., to find employment. Jessie worked as a secretary for Bakelite during World War II and Roosevelt Hospital.

In 1951, Jessie married John Laychock, moving to Primrose, near Minersville, Schuylkill County, to raise a family. She would live there for the next 66 years. After raising a family, Jessie worked for Kings Department Store and Giant Food. She was a longtime member of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the home parish of her husband who was of Lemko Rusyn ancestry. Among her children is my friend Rich Laychock, a dedicated longtime national officer of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society.
(adapted from her obituary)

The oral history interview Justine granted me in May 2014 is exceptionally valuable because so little has been written about the Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant community in Williamstown. But through her willingness to talk to me about her childhood, her family, and her family's Rusyn friends and neighbors there, I trust the past life of that community will be illuminated for others to learn about.

May God grant to His servants John and Justine blessed repose and eternal memory – Вѣчная имъ память!

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

Saturday, December 9, 2017

ASEEES Convention 2017: Sha-mokin' in Chicago!

The 2017 Annual Convention of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) was held in Chicago, Ill., from November 9-12, 2017. The Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center sponsored a roundtable discussion, “Transgressing Identity: Choosing (Not) to Be Carpatho-Rusyn,” on Nov. 9.

When one of the scheduled panelists, Janet MacGaffey, was not able to attend, chairman Nick Kupensky (a faculty member at Bowdoin College) invited me to participate with him in the discussion of the aspects of the roundtable theme found in MacGaffey's book. Unfortunately I too was ultimately unable to attend the convention, but I prepared detailed historical and demographic information to accompany his portion of the roundtable discussion.

Other than Nick Kupensky, the roundtable participants were:
  • Agnieszka Halemba (University of Warsaw)
  • Kristina Cantin (University of Tennessee – Knoxville)
  • Sarah Latanyshyn (University of California – Santa Barbara)


Kupensky posed this question to the panel, which is acutely relevant to my work chronicling the history of “the Carpatho-Rusyns of Pennsylvania:”
What is the role of the scholar when working on individuals or groups who (1) were but are no longer Rusyn, or (2) could potentially be Rusyn but have never identified as such?

Saturday, October 28, 2017

CGSI Conference 2017 Report

The 16th Genealogical and Cultural Conference of the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International (CGSI) concluded on Saturday night, Oct. 21. It was a fantastic event that really showcased Carpatho-Rusyn history and culture.

In addition to at least 10 other speaker sessions devoted to or related to Carpatho-Rusyns, the event included:
  • A Carpatho-Rusyn history bus tour of Pittsburgh;
  • A Rusyn reception sponsored by the Carpatho-Rusyn Society with food by extraordinary Rusyn chef John Righetti;
  • A Carpatho-Rusyn Society sales table;
  • Several Rusyn items available at the silent auction;
  • A closing performance of Carpatho-Rusyn songs and dances by the Slavjane Folk Ensemble (along with the Pittsburgh Area Slovak ensemble).
I too had a table in the vendor room, although I was just promoting my blog and upcoming book and offering free copies of various articles I’ve written related to Carpatho-Rusyn history and genealogy.

As I wrote in my last post, I made two presentations:
  • From the Carpathians to the Alleghenies: Carpatho-Rusyn Immigrants in the Greater Johnstown, Pennsylvania Area
  • A Village-Based Reframing of the Historical Narrative of Carpatho-Rusyns in the United States.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

CGSI Genealogical and Cultural Conference 2017: A Preview

One of the first books published for the Rusyn American
community, in 1897, included 8 profiles
of large active Rusyn immigrant communities.
Of those, only this profile of the Rusyn community
of Mayfield, Pa., mentioned villages of origin:
Kunkova, Losja, Peregrymka, Stavyša, Virchomlja,
Svjatkova, and Došnycja. One other history
(of Olyphant, Pa.) mentioned the main counties of origin
of the immigrants. From Pershiĭ rusko-amerykanskiĭ kalendarʹ
(Mt. Carmel, Pa.: Svoboda, 1897)
In just a short week from now, the 16th Genealogical and Cultural Conference of the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International (CGSI) will be held, October 17-21, in Pittsburgh, Pa.

As part of an extensive program of talks on genealogy, history, and cultural topics, I will present two lectures:
  1. From the Carpathians to the Alleghenies: Carpatho-Rusyn Immigrants in the Greater Johnstown, Pennsylvania Area (Friday, 3:30-4:45 p.m.);
  2. A Village-Based Reframing of the Historical Narrative of Carpatho-Rusyns in the United States (Saturday, 12:30-1:45 p.m.).

The first presentation will be very similar to one I gave in Johnstown, Pa., in the Fall of 2015 (though a bit expanded). The second will drawn on my contribution to a discussion I participated in at the ASEEES Convention last November, but a somewhat more in-depth.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Author Presents "The Pennsylvania Rusyn Experience" Sept. 16 in Philadelphia

Carpatho-Rusyn Society

The Pennsylvania Rusyn Experience
(aka "Uncovering & Publishing the History of Penna.’s Carpatho-Rusyns")

Presented by Rich Custer

Philadelphia City Institute
1905 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA
(19th & Locust on W. Rittenhouse Square)

Saturday, September 16, 2017, at 1:30 PM
Social Hour: 1:00 PM

Enjoy a unique Saturday afternoon as Rich Custer will discuss the preparation of a history, in words and in pictures, of the Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant communities in the state of Pennsylvania. Through the collection and research of chain migration data, parish histories, church and civil records, immigrant newspapers, photographs, oral histories, and memoirs, Rich has amassed a collection of source material that he is assembling into the most comprehensive look at the history of Carpatho-Rusyn communities anywhere in the world.
Congregation of Holy Ghost Rusyn Greek Catholic Church, West Passyunk Ave., South Philadelphia, 1894.

Ad for a Rusyn social club in Northern Liberties, Philadelphia,
from the 1960 almanac of the Lemko Association.
He will specially address the history of Carpatho-Rusyns in the Delaware Valley, in places like Philadelphia, Chester, Mont Clare / Phoenixville / Bridgeport, as well as Trenton, Roebling, and Camden in New Jersey.

Admission is free and open to the public. Rusyn literature will be available for sale. A social hour is scheduled for 1:00 pm when viewers may enjoy freshly brewed coffee along with cookies or cake. For further information please call 609-882-4872 or email:

Though registration is not required, you can register as an attendee online for this event by clicking on ; logon with your email address and fill out the registration form.

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

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Ode to Summer Memories: Russkij Den' - A Day for Rusins, Russians, Carpatho-Russians, and Ukrainians

Irina Kopko of Braddock won 2nd prize for modeling traditional
Rusyn folk dress at Russkij Den' at Kennywood Park, 1933
Summertime for Carpatho-Rusyn Americans, immigrants and their descendants, if they were fortunate to live in an area of heavy Rusyn concentration, meant a favorite tradition originally known as Русскій День (Russkij Den').

As Paul R. Magocsi, prolific historian of Carpatho-Rusyns, has written,
[A tradition] that was begun and is still maintained among Carpatho-Rusyns in the United States is a celebration known as Rusyn Day (Rus’kyj Den’), held during the summer months and often at amusement parks. Rusyn Days have been geared to both people of Carpatho-Rusyn background as well as to the larger American public. Traditionally, the annual event includes speeches by Carpatho-Rusyn religious and secular leaders (joined sometimes by local politicians) as well as performances by folk choirs and dance groups.

The oldest Rusyn Day celebration has been held since 1921 at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh. From the 1920s until the 1950s, several towns in the northeast had annual Rusyn days, among the largest being those at Luna Park in Cleveland and at Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio.
(Our People: Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Descendants in North America)
As the religious/national factions within the Rusyn community developed stronger national identities, Russkij Den' took on new names and new emphases. In English they may have been called Rusin Day, Russian Day, Carpatho-Russian Day, Ukrainian Day, or even Greek Catholic Day.

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.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Memorial Day Week Research Trip: Followup Report

Having recently completed one of my periodic lengthy research trips, one that like most of them was many weeks in the making, I'd like to share some of the results and highlights.

Ss. Peter & Paul Church, Mt. Union
I began the trip on a late May Saturday morning heading to central Pennsylvania, but having gotten a late start I skipped what was to be my first stop, the Broad Top Coal Miners Museum in Robertsdale, Huntingdon County, and went directly to Mount Union. There I was finally able to see and photograph the interior of Ss. Peter & Paul Russian Orthodox Church, founded in 1916 with the support of Tsar Nicholas of Russia, but evidently not with Carpatho-Rusyns among the founders. Father Christos Patitsas, the current pastor, was gracious in his welcome and explanation of the colorful yet troubled history of the parish in the last few decades and how it came to its current home as part of the Genuine Orthodox Church of America. [Here's an interesting video about the parish history.] The cornerstone is in both Russian and Romanian, and most of the parishioners seem to have been either Romanian, Ukrainian, or Macedonian. But Mount Union and this church have some interesting intersections with Rusyn history in Wood (aka Woodvale) and Ramey, so it's going in the book. Soon I hope to visit the miners museum in Robertsdale to see what they might have about Rusyn immigrants in that area, especially Wood and St. Michael's Orthodox Church there. (I do wish they had responded to my email inquiry about such things. I guess I'll just have to show up in person.)

I then hurried west to Boswell, Somerset County. I had just gotten word that Saints Peter & Paul Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church there would be having its final Divine Liturgy the next day and then would close. It was founded by Carpatho-Rusyns in 1913 and survived the death of the local mining industry and then a fire in 1998. Despite being able to restore the church interior after the fire, for years the parish hung on with only a handful of members, and the church building had deteriorated to a precarious condition. After the last registered member of the parish had passed away last year, and without any funds to repair and insure the structure, there was no choice but to close the church.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Annual Memorial Day Week Research Trip – The Big Photo Hunt!

In just a few short weeks it will again be the Memorial Day holiday, a time I've dedicated for many years to field work in northeastern Pennsylvania -- the oldest and one of the largest historical settlement areas of Carpatho-Rusyns in the United States. (See my post about my research last year during this holiday week.)

Even though this year I will concentrate my research time, nearly a week's worth, on the same area, my emphasis will be a little different. Feeling the pressure of my quickly-approaching self-imposed deadline to complete and publish this book, I'm now trying to gather as many final artifacts as possible over the next few months, especially old photographs.

Yes, I'll be doing a fair amount of photography, as usual, perhaps even gaining access to a handful of parishes' metrical records I have yet to work with, and visiting libraries, archives, and courthouses. But more than anything I hope to learn who might have those wonderful historical photographs from the life of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant communities in the region.

Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant funeral, Mayfield, 1920s/1930s.
The funeral aspect of the photo was obscured when it was used as the cover photo for the parish centennial journal; if I can locate the original photo I would like to use it in its complete state in my book.
I'm going to describe my trip plans and show some examples of the kinds of photos I'm hoping to find (and scan), and demonstrate why it's so important that I be able to find the actual photos.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Picturing Pascha (and Paskas!)

Father Aleksij Tovt/Toth blessing Paschal food, location = ?
Хрістос воскрес! Воістину воскрес!
Christos voskres! Voistynu voskres!
Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!

Anyone who follows Carpatho-Rusyn Facebook groups such as Carpatho-Rusyns Everywhere! and Lemko Rusyns and Friends would have seen a deluge over the last two weeks of wonderful photographs of food preparation for Easter -- paskas, hrudka/sŷrec/jaječnyk, butter lambs, chrin; the elaborately assembled baskets of the foods taken for blessing; the moving vigils at the Tomb of Christ, and photos and videos of the services and the blessing of the Paschal foods.

It occurs to me that despite these beloved traditions of Carpatho-Rusyns' observance of the Feast of Feasts, the summit of the Christian liturgical year, the photo record of various Rusyn communities' observance of these customs is fairly scant once you go back as recently as World War II.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Amazing (Rusyn) World of Local Newspapers

Since being introduced to the website a few months ago, I've saved dozens of articles from old newspapers from towns and cities all over Pennsylvania. It's astounding how much local Carpatho-Rusyn community news can be found there.

I always knew an essential source for my history writing would be the Rusyn immigrant press (in all its ethnonational and political incarnations), but now having easy access to the secular local press of decades past has revealed an entirely new wealth of source material.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

An edifying read: "Fr. Alexis Toth, Bishop John Ireland, and the Grace of Reconciliation"

I thought I would give this post (new to me) a boost.

Fr. Alexis Toth, Bishop John Ireland, and the Grace of Reconciliation
May 18, 2016

The history of the "two lungs" of the Catholic Church in the United States has been marked, at times, by acrimony, misunderstanding, and controversy.

Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.

Left: Bishop John Ireland (1838-1918); right: Fr. Alexis Toth (1853-1909).

Christ, before his Passion, said to his apostles, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.”1 He was about to enter the garden to pray, and his disciples would soon fall asleep, flee him, and become divided. Christ’s agony in the garden envisaged the entire history of the Church; perhaps one of the Church’s most enduring traditions, unfortunately, has been division. William Blake (1757-1827) once wrote that, “It is easier to forgive an enemy than a friend.”2

One of the more ill-fated examples of division in the Church is the antagonism between the Eastern Catholic priest, Father Alexis Toth (1853-1909), and the Roman Catholic bishop of Minneapolis, John Ireland (1838-1918). According to several sources, when Toth and Ireland met on December 18, 1889, their brief exchange planted seeds that matured into an intra-ecclesial antipathy resulting in the departure of thousands of Catholics into Eastern Orthodoxy. Toth recalled that after handing the bishop his papers:

[N]o sooner did he read that I was a “Uniate” than his hands began to shake . . . .
“Have you a wife?” “No.”
“But you had one?” “Yes, I am a widower.”
At this he threw the paper on the table and loudly exclaimed, “I have already written to Rome protesting against this kind of priest being sent to me!”
“What kind of priest do you mean?” “Your kind.”
“I am a Catholic priest in the Greek Rite, I am a Uniate. I was ordained by a lawful Catholic bishop.”
“I do not consider you or this bishop of yours Catholic.”3
After Toth had returned from his audience with the bishop, Ireland directed a local Polish Latin Rite priest to “denounce Toth from the pulpit” and published a decree summoning all Catholics to renounce Father Toth.4 Ireland was not acting alone; many of his fellow bishops in America shared his interest in expurgating Greek Catholics, and their married priests, from the United States.

Not only did this encounter precipitate the exodus of many Greek Catholics, but Father Toth’s long friendship with his fellow Ruthenian priest, Father Nicephor Channath (d. 1899), was likewise strained. The story of Toth and Channath is, in the end, perhaps the most hopeful spark of Christian charity and reconciliation that emerges from the tragic incidents that transpired after Toth and Ireland set the stage for decades of disputation and division between Western and Eastern Rite Catholics in America.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Author to speak in northwestern Pennsylvania, Feb. 25, 2017

The Youngstown/Warren/Sharon Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society
will sponsor a lecture by Richard Custer:

"Uncovering and Publishing the History of Pennsylvania’s Carpatho-Rusyns"

St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church
2230 Highland Road, Hermitage, PA

Saturday, February 25, 2017 -- 1:30 PM

"Through the collection and research of chain migration data, parish histories, church and civil records, immigrant newspapers, photographs, oral histories, and memoirs, the author is writing a history, in words and in pictures, of the Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant communities of the state of Pennsylvania. He has amassed a collection of source material that he is assembling into the most comprehensive look at the history of Carpatho-Rusyn communities anywhere in the world.

He will speak about this project and also about the unique situation of Rusyns in northwestern PA, where farming became the primary occupation of Rusyns.

Mr. Custer was a founder of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society in 1994, and Editor of its New Rusyn Times newsletter until 2016. He is the author of scholarly and popular articles of Rusyn history and the blog “The Carpatho-Rusyns of Pennsylvania” ( He co-authored the book Príkra (Prešov, Slovakia, 2006), a history of his Rusyn maternal grandmother’s village in eastern Slovakia. He holds master’s degrees in Business and Eastern Europe studies from the University of Pittsburgh.

Our Chapter is truly honored that Mr. Custer will come and speak at our Chapter and we wish for every member to attend and bring a friend."

I look forward to meeting you there!
A lecture by Richard Custer titled ‘Uncovering and Publishing the History of Pennsylvania’s Carpatho-Rusyns’ at St. Michael's Byzantine Church in Hermitage, Pa was attended by sixty people. Jim Basista, president of the chapter, presented Rich Custer with a print of an original painting of the Vatras that our chapter commissioned.

(From Carpatho-Rusyn Society Youngstown Warren Chapter on Facebook)

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

Friday, January 27, 2017

Dedicating this blog to +Msgr. John T. Sekellick

A week ago today, the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church in America and the Carpatho-Rusyn community in the U.S. lost one of its most loyal sons and dedicated, though quiet, proponents.

The Rev. Monsignor John T. Sekellick went to the embrace of his creator on Friday, January 20, 2017.

In the earliest days of the work that would become the future book on the Carpatho-Rusyns of Pennsylvania, I wrote a letter to the pastor of the historic St. Mary's of the Assumption Byzantine/Greek Catholic Church of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, asking for a copy of the recently-published centennial anniversary book.

The pastor of St. Mary's, Monsignor John Sekellick, sent me not only the book I requested, but a kind letter of encouragement, an invitation to visit any time, and a personal check for some seed money to support what neither he nor I knew would be a decades-long quest to tell the story of a people in one state whose heritage he and I shared.

Eventually I met him in person, and he was as welcoming and accommodating as anyone could have wished for. Quickly we became friends, but also he would be for me a mentor, confidant, and patron for nearly 30 years. Whenever I found the time to come to northeastern Pennsylvania for research, usually but not only over Memorial Day weekends, I would always have a welcome place to stay and time to share meals, small talk, and the deepest questions of life with a gentle yet strong soul and advocate. He was a patriot of his people -- 100% Carpatho-Rusyn of grandparents from Subcarpathian Rus' and Lemkovyna -- and a stalwart defender and caretaker of the people of the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church in the United States and the European homeland.

A finer priest and finer human being you could have never met. I simply don't know what I will do without him, except with the faith that he will still be present but in a different way. Вѣчнаѧ тебѣ памѧть, dear priest of Jesus Christ, Msgr. John.

It is in tribute, and to his memory, that I dedicate this blog.

The Reverend Monsignor John T. Sekellick J.C.L., a priest of the Eparchy of Passaic, N.J., Judicial Vicar and pastor of Holy Ghost Church in Jessup and administrator of St. John the Baptist Church in Forest City fell asleep in the Lord about 5:15 a.m. (EST) on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 in Scranton after a brief illness at the age of 73.

He was born Sept. 18, 1943, in Philadelphia to John D. Sekellick and Veronica Verbosh Sekellick. He was baptized and christened at St. Nicholas in Minersville on Oct. 10, 1943. He served as an altar boy at his hometown parish SS. Peter and Paul Byzantine Catholic Church Minersville. Monsignor attended Cass Twp. Schools, Nativity B.V.M High School, Pottsville.

He graduated in 1965 from Duquesne University and Byzantine Catholic Seminary of SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Pittsburgh where he was awarded his B.A. degree. He lived at the Russicum in Rome, Italy, and received his theological training at the Gregorian University, Rome, Italy. He was granted a Bachelor of Sacred Theology Degree from the Gregorian in 1969. He received an advanced graduate degree, the Licentiate of Canon Law (J.C.L.), at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C., in 1978.

He was ordained to the priesthood July 13, 1969, at the Cathedral of St. Michael in Passaic, N.J., by Bishop Michael J. Dudick. His first pastoral assignment was as assistant pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Hazleton, July 30, 1969. Other pastoral assignments included: Holy Spirit Church, Mahwah, N.J. (1973-1976); studied at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. (1976-1978), and was awarded the Licentiate Degree in Canon Law in 1978; pastor of SS. Peter and Paul Church in Elizabeth, N.J. (1978- 1987); St. Mary Church in Wilkes-Barre and administrator of St. Michael in Glen Lyon (1987- 1999). His Solemn Investiture as Chaplain to His Holiness, Pope John Paul II (which carries the title of Reverend Monsignor), took place on Sunday, Nov. 6, 1988, at St. Michael's Cathedral in Passaic, N.J., by Bishop Michael Dudick; pastor of Holy Ghost Church in Jessup and administrator of St. John the Baptist, Forest City (1999-2017).

He was active in youth ministry, serving as youth director in the Hazleton Deanery; Vicariate Director for Youth Activities in New Jersey/Passaic District; dean of the Northeast Pennsylvania Deanery; judge on the Matrimonial Tribunal of the Eparchy of Passaic; Judicial Vicar for the Eparchy of Passaic; and Diocesan Director of Family Life.

Monsignor wrote a column titled "Seasonal Reflections" published regularly in the eparchial newspaper, Eastern Catholic Life. He was an active member of the Knights of Columbus, the Canon Law Society of America (CLSA), the Eastern Regional Conference of Canonists, and served as the chaplain to the Pennsylvania State Sheriffs' Association in Jessup.

Monsignor Sekellick was predeceased by his father, John D. Sekellick. He is survived by his mother, Veronica Verbosh Sekellick; sister, Irene, and her husband, John D. Gombola, of Chantilly, Va.; sister, Therese, and her husband, Bret Bennett, and their two children, RJ and Valerie, of Dallas, Texas; and numerous aunts, an uncle, and an abundance of cousins.

First Night of the Priestly Funeral and Divine Liturgy were conducted in Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church, Jessup. A viewing took place Tuesday in SS. Peter & Paul Byzantine Catholic Church, Minersville. Divine Liturgy is scheduled for today, Jan. 25, at 10 a.m. in SS. Peter & Paul Byzantine Catholic Church. Immediately following, interment will take place at SS. Peter & Paul Parish Cemetery, Llewellyn.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Byzantine Catholic Seminarians Education Fund, 3605 Perrysville Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15214. In Blessed Repose (Vichnaya Pamyat).

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Historical Tribute to Our Carpatho-Rusyn Cantors/Teachers & Choirs

Liturgical and secular music has been an integral aspect of the culture of the Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant community in the U.S. Within the Rusyn churches, congegational and choral singing provides a spiritual and artistic outlet that enriches the lives of the singers and members. The musical leadership in a parish, whether provided by a cantor, choir director, or both, in many instances extended into educational leadership within the parish and even into secular Rusyn cultural activities such as plays – predstavlinja, concert performances, and strolling caroler groups – jasličkari/Betlehemci/gubi/zvizdari.

"Russkij Chor" (Rusyn Choir), Lansford, Pa., 1924. Seated, left of center: Very Rev. Gabriel Martyak, former administrator of the exarchate; to his right, Mr. Andrew Doboš, supreme president of the United Societies; to his left, Mr. Andrew Vapensky, teacher/director.
Choir of St. Mary Greek Catholic Church in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., 1909.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Carpatho-Rusyn Cultural Development (video)

An excellent short talk by John Righetti, President Emeritus of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society. He discusses the next steps for Carpatho-Rusyn cultural development.
Produced by the John and Helen Timo Foundation.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

History Mystery: The McKeesport "Serbian/Russian Church"

Once upon a time I acquired the valuable centennial history of Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago. Among the interesting items therein was this table referring to Orthodox parishes in the eastern U.S.:
Source: Bezkorovainy, Anatoly, ed.,
A History of Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Chicago, 1892–1992. 1992.
Wait, an Orthodox parish in McKeesport, Pa., with not just a large number of Serbian members, but "12 Galician and 19 Ugro-Russian" members? I thought there were no Rusyn Orthodox churches there until the late 1910s. Hmm...

Monday, January 2, 2017

"Prjaševcy in America": Father Andrew Slepecky's Chronicle of Our History

Father Andrew Slepecky (1894-1976) – in Rusyn, Андрій Шлепецькый/Andrij Šlepec’kŷj – was a prominent Orthodox priest in the United States, born in Velykŷj Bukovec’ (now Bukivci/Bukovce), Zemplyn County, arriving in the U.S. in 1912 and ordained in 1916. He served (in one case also established) Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox parishes of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America:
Reading Eagle, Sep. 4, 1966
  • Manville, NJ: Ss. Peter & Paul (1916-1917)
  • Allentown, PA: St. Michael the Archangel (1917-1918)*
  • Alpha, NJ: St. John the Baptist (1918)
  • Urey, PA: Ss. Peter & Paul (1918-?)
  • Dixonville, PA: St. Mary (~1920)*
  • Olyphant, PA: St. Nicholas (?-1921)
  • Nanticoke, PA: St. John the Baptist (1921-1929)
  • St. Clair, PA: St. Michael the Archangel (1929-1975)
*Very little is written, even by Fr. Andrew himself, about the Allentown and Dixonville parishes. If a reader has any information about either one, please get in touch with me.

From 1951 to the 1960s he was head of the "Carpatho-Russian Administration" within the Metropolia, until that "Administration" was dissolved and most of its parishes were reintegrated into the Metropolia. (Some joined the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Diocese, or would end up there eventually, as did his longtime charge, St. Michael's in St. Clair.)

His obituary in the Shenandoah, Pa., Evening Herald of November 2, 1976, read:

Right Reverend Andrew Stephen Slepecky, 81, pastor emeritus of St. Michael's Orthodox Church, St. Clair, died Sunday [October 31, 1976]. He had been ill the past year.

Born in Czechoslovakia, he came to the United States in 1912 and entered the Orthodox Seminary at Tenafly, New Jersey, and was ordained in 1916 at New York City. He served parishes in New Jersey, Allentown, Uray, Dixonville, Oliphant, Nanticoke and at St. Clair from 1929 until 1975. Rev. Slepecky was an organizer of the United Orthodox Brotherhood of America and wrote many articles for the Russian Messenger Newspaper and for Swit and Pravda. Since 1949, he had been administrator of the Orthodox Church of America and spiritual advisor of the Federated Russian Orthodox Club and Frackville Deanery.