30 August 2010

Johnstown Tribune-Democrat looks at the Carpatho-Rusyns

The newspaper in Johnson, Pa., The Tribune-Democrat, published a package of stories in its Sunday edition looking at the Carpatho-Rusyns as part of an on-going project called "Homelands," which studies the ancestral homes of the residents of Western Pennsylvania.

Here's the link to the package, which offers a nice overview of our people. It has a few weaknesses, like the Spanikopita recipe included in a list of Rusyn recipes. That spinach pie is Greek, not Rusyn. But the effort is appreciated.

18 August 2010

Check out "The Daily.sk" for news from Slovakia

I was checking the readership stats for the blog today and came upon a burst of readers from Europe yesterday.

All were referred from an English-language news outlet called The Daily.sk from Bratislava, which linked to the post on Streator, Illinois, in a post on the closing of what may be the oldest Slovak Roman Catholic parish in the U.S.

So, thanks to The Daily.sk for the increased traffic, and be sure to click on them if you're interested in news from Slovakia.

Jerry Jumba: a cultural resource for Carpatho-Rusyn Americans

Jerry Jumba is certainly the greatest living storehouse of Rusyn secular and religious music in North America, and the breadth of his knowledge is outlined in a website profiling Pennsylvania folk artists.

A click on the web site will let you hear some of Jerry's singing and playing, as well as his description, in his own words, of the meaning of Rusyn religious chant.

Says Jerry, "As an inheritor of this song tradition, I try to keep its joy and beauty alive, and creative."

If you'd like to hear more of Jerry, check out the archive of his Carpatho-Rus' radio show.

12 August 2010

A little Rusyn church on the prairie

Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church, in Homer Glen, Ill., traces its roots to Rusyn parishes in Joliet and Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood.

In Chicago, an empty lot was often dubbed a "prairie." But in the wide open spaces of Homer Glen, the church is located on an actual prairie, hence the parish's annual Prairie Fest.

As the flyer at left shows, events are planned for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and you can expect some good Rusyn food, along with some Central European music.

10 August 2010

"The Goulash Train" stops in Andy Warhol's Rusyn backyard

The Warhol Museum of Modern Art

The Goulash Train, an interesting blog on travel through Central and Eastern Europe, has a piece today on a stop in Medzilaborce (Medžilabirci in Rusyn), the town near Andy Warhol's ancestral village of Mikova in northeast Slovakia. The blogger, "Wildroo," calls Medzilaborce's Warhol Family Museum of Modern Art one of the "stranger places of interest" in Slovakia. Unlike many visitors to the region, Wildroo gets the background of Andy and his ancestors just right.

06 August 2010

A lost piece of Carpatho-Rusyn history in Streator, Illinois

Word of the impending demise of one of the oldest Slovak Roman Roman Catholic parishes in the U.S., shines a light on some nearly forgotten Rusyn history in Streator, Illinois, about 90 miles southwest of Chicago.

St. Stephen's in Streator, Ill.
First, the situation at St. Stephen's, a Roman Catholic parish that was founded in 1883 by Slovak immigrants to what was a coal-mining community. Some sources consider it the first Slovak Roman Catholic parish in the U.S.

The Times, the local newspaper, reports that St. Stephen's, St. Anthony, Immaculate Conception, and St. Casimir (remember that name, because St. Casimir is the Rusyn connection) are merging into St. Stephen's church building, with the new consolidated parish renamed St. Michael the Archangel.

St. Stephen had been offered to the Slovak Union, but the expense of maintaining the building killed that idea.

Such church consolidation is a common thing as small parishes can no longer survive. But it means the loss of a landmark for the descendants of immigrants -- even if the building, which dates from 1896, survives.

Now, onto the Rusyn part of the story.

That St. Casimir church that's part of the merger originally occupied the structure that had been home to the Three Hierarchs Orthodox Church, a parish that was formed in the late 19th Century with a strongly Carpatho-Rusyn foundation.

At the time of its formation, the Streator Orthodox parish was one of only two "Russian" Orthodox churches in Illinois. The other was Chicago's St. Vladimir -- now Holy Trinity. And the uniqueness of the Streator settlement was honored by the Tsarist Russian government, which gave the parish the edifice of an Orthodox church built for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.

Here's the account, from "Orthodox America: 1794-1976:"

The Russian Exhibition at the 1893 World's Fair
"The chapel, which had been built in Russia, dismantled, and brought to the Exposition, was moved again: to Streator, Illinois, where another small community was established to service the church on a regular basis.

"A number of Slovaks -- Catholic and Uniate -- settled in Streator... in the late 1890s. Knowing of the return of Uniates to Orthodoxy in other parts of the country, Father John Kochurov began to learn their dialects in order to do missionary work among them. An Orthodox community was formed and Father Michael Potochny, who had been the choir director for Father [Alexis] Toth in Minneapolis, was assigned as the first pastor of the congregation."

Father Kochurov, by the way, is an Orthodox saint.
Father John Kochurov

Of course, we know that those "Slovaks" described as "Uniate" (or Greek Catholic), would have been Carpatho-Rusyns.

The next chapter in this bit of Rusyn history comes from William Furry, executive director of the Illinois State Historical Society. He wrote an article on the roots of Orthodoxy that appeared in Illinois Heritage magazine and, later in Springfield's "Illinois Times."

Furry wrote that the structure had been originally ordered by Tsar Alexander III, who "commissioned his favorite architect, Petrovo Ropette, to design the Russian Pavilion."

The architect is actually Ivan Petrovich Ropet, who pioneered the Russian Revival style. Here's a link in Russian, on the architect. And if you prefer English, here's the Wikipedia article on Ropet.

Furry wrote: "Father John arranged for the facade, tower and traditional ornamentation of the Russian Pavilion to be shipped to Streator, where all were reassembled as the new sanctuary for the Three Hierarchs Church, officially listed in the 1901 Steator city directory as the Russian Greek Catholic Orthodox Church. Although the church's sanctuary was of simple construction, its ornate facade turned heads in Streator.

The lost church of Streator, Ill.

"After Father John left America in 1907, the church passed into the hands of a fringe Baptist congregation, which sold the structure in 1916 to the Polish Catholic community in Streator, which renamed it St. Casimir's. The church was demolished in the 1960s and a new modern building erected in its place."

And, also apparently lost was the Rusyn community of Streator.

In "The World's Columbian Exposition: A Centennial Bibliographic Guide," it's noted that "over the years, every detail of [the] ornate wood facade disappeared. At the time of its demolition in 1964 to make way for the congregation's present church, every surface of the original building had been covered with brick patterned asphalt siding."

An interesting footnote to this story is the fate of the bell from the Russian exhibit at the 1893 World's Fair.

The fine Orthodox History blog details the story of the bell, that was given to Chicago's Orthodox Church and would have made it into the belfry of what's now Holy Trinity Cathedral, founded largely by Lemko Rusyns.

Quoting Chicago Tribune articles of the time, the post details the theft of the bell in May 1902, as the new church, designed by Louis Sullivan, was nearing completion.  Three men, including at least one parishoner, were believed to have rolled the bell onto a wagon and taken it away -- presumably to be melted down for its metal.

It's not clear if that ever happened, or if the bell survived somewhere, and the author of the piece is still looking for answers:

"Alas, I haven't been able to track down the rest of the story," writes Matthew Namee. "If anyone knows what became of the bell, please send me an email."

And my plea is the same. Do any remnants of the architectural oddity that was Three Hierarchs church survive? While the building is long gone, perhaps a piece or two remains. At least, there have to be some  later, and better, photographs of this unusual relic.

If you know anything, send me an email.

03 August 2010

Our October 30 headliner will be author Mark Wansa

Mark Wansa in his father's village in Slovakia
Mark Wansa, the author of "The Linden and the Oak," a novel of Carpatho-Rusyns in the homeland in the World War I era, will headline the Lake Michigan Chapter's October 30 event marking the first celebration of Carpatho-Rusyn Day.

Mark will read from his book, as well as answer questions on the novel, and its setting.

Wansa's epic novel, which tells the story of young Vasyl Rusynko from the fictional village of Stara Polyanka, is peppered with bits of Rusyn language that will be familiar to anybody who heard their baba or gido chattering away in our mother tongue. The well-researched book is also chock-full of our customs and bits of folk wisdom.

Most important to readers, it's an exciting and entertaining novel set against the backdrop of war, and the excitement of emigrating to a new land. You can order the book from Amazon by clicking on the link at left, and we're hoping to get some books in stock locally, so you can read it before the Oct. 30 event.

The most interesting recent review of the book came from Ginny Parobek in Jednota, the Slovak-American newspaper, who calls it a "sweeping epic." She tells readers to "turn off the TV and dip into this rich treasure of Rusyn culture."

That's high praise from a newspaper that, in the past, has not exactly been a proponent of the Rusyn identity in Slovakia.

UPDATE: Thanks to the hospitality of Msgr. Frank Korba, we've finalized the location for the event, St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church, in Munster, Ind.  Tentatively, the doors will open at noon on Saturday, October 30, with the program beginning at 1 p.m.