02 December 2013


 Choir Director John Sutko leads the choir of St. Peter and St. Paul Orthodox Church during the celebration of his 60 years as choir director at the church.

On July 7, 2013, John Sutko was honored for his 60 years of directing the choir of St. Peter and St. Paul Orthodox Church in Burr Ridge, Illinois.  More than 250 people turned out to celebrate the milestone and to thank John for his many years of dedication to the church and preserving the music of the Carpatho-Rusyns.  The celebration was held at the Aviana Banquet Hall in Palos Hills, Illinois.

The honoree is the son of the late John and Mary Miskovsky Sutko of Chicago and the grandson of Michael and Anna Derba Sutko and John and Helen Miskovsky of Nankovo, Ukraine (former Hungarian county of Marammaros and now part of Chust).

In 1949 at age 14, John Sutko began singing in the choir when there were two Liturgies at St. Peter and St. Paul Orthodox Church, then at 5300 South Western Avenue in Chicago.  He was an altar boy for the first Liturgy then sang in the choir for the second.  He also sang in the Lindblom High School A Capella Choir and his senior year was chosen as its student conductor.  He was the soloist for his class’ graduation in1953.

At 17, John went to Wilson Junior College, majoring in business and minoring in music.  Two people encouraged him to focus his studies on music.  His pastor Fr. Nicholas Semkoff asked him to direct the second Liturgy which was in Church Slavonic on Sundays and encouraged him to concentrate on church music in addition to his other studies.  Professor Lela Hamner, who taught at the Conservatory of Music and Wilson Junior College, encouraged John to change his major to music and voice.

When he enrolled in the conservatory, he also took education courses at Chicago Teachers College.  In addition to his music courses, John was involved in oratorio, opera workshops, voice recitals as well being a soloist for churches and other occasions.  As a 20-year-old, he took over directing both Liturgies at the church.

John and Alice Gabrysiak Sutko
 In 1957, John was awarded a bachelor of music education degree and on August 1, he married Alice Theresa Gabrysiak.  That year he also began teaching music at McClure Junior High School in Western Springs, Illinois, a position he held for 35 years.  Son David Alexander Sutko arrived on the scene in 1958 followed by his sister Cynthia Ann Sutko in 1961.  In 1968, the music teacher became assistant principal at the school and began working on his second master’s degree in school administration.  John was nominated twice for the Illinois Golden Apple Award in teaching.  He retired from teaching in 1992.

 During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Liturgical Commission of the Orthodox Church in America created official English texts for feast day vespers and liturgies.  For 10 years, John worked on adapting all the major and minor feast day vesper stikhera, Litija and apostikha verses for four parts and in their proper tones.  During this time period, many high schools and colleges initiated Russian language courses.  Several language arts teachers asked him to present sacred and secular music at high schools and for special events.

Into the 1980s and 1990s, requests kept coming for John share his musical knowledge and talents with others at a wide variety of events both here and abroad.  They include the consecration of His Grace Bishop Boris, the commemoration of the Millennium of Orthodoxy in Russia in 1988 and the wedding of Prince Arnold and Princess Renate of Germany.  During the 1990s, he made three patriarchal visits to His Holiness Patriarch Demetrious of Greece, His Holiness Patriarch Aleksy II of Russia and His Holiness Patriarch Pavle of Serbia.  In addition, John conducted benefit concerts at several churches as well as one hosted by the Templar Knights which raised $20,000 for the new Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow.  The original one had been dynamited by the Communists.  

Between 1996 and 2012, John helped plan and directed building fund concerts and projects the raised over $100,000 for the construction of a new St. Peter and St. Paul Church in Burr Ridge.  The first Divine Liturgy was celebrated there on February 14, 1998.

The Bach Society of St. Louis, Missouri invited John to be the lead soloist and chanter for its presentation of Rachmaninoff’s Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  Both the University of Chicago and Northwestern University invited him to take the basso profundo parts during their presentation of the vigils of Rachmaninoff, Gretchaninov and Kalinnikov.

Though John teaches the church choir many different arrangements of hymns, he also stresses the importance of maintaining the traditional hymns as an important part of Carpatho-Rusyn heritage which need to be kept and sung so that they are not forgotten.  To help preserve the music of his ancestors, in 1999 he began putting all his music into a computerized format.  

Through the years he has published books of Eastern European Christmas carols (koljadij), Panikhida (memorial service), children’s choir music and Prostopinije (plain chant) of the Carpatho-Rusyn people.
On March 13, 2010, John along with Rev. Fr. William and Charlotte Pribish Conjelko, Tim and Ken Cuprisin, Arlene Gardiner, Jim Kaminski, Rev. Fr. John Lucas, Ron Pyke, Mary Sedor, Tom Sedor, Ivan Skala, Lisa Terlecki, Andrea Valasek and Richard Garbera-Trojanowski came together at the Polish Museum of American in Chicago to found the Lake Michigan Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society.  John currently serves on the board and delights attendees at the chapter gatherings by leading them in singing Rusyn songs. 

In 2002, he and Alice celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. The following year John celebrated 50 years as St. Peter and St. Paul’s choir director.  Now in 2013, he has been honored for his 60 years of service to his home parish as well as his dedication to Orthodoxy throughout the world. 

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