From Homeland to a New Land
Early immigrants from the Carpathian mountain region of Eastern Europe who settled in the Pittston area came here with a love of God and church foremost in their lives. And it was their faith that held them together when making the life changing decision to leave their homeland and journey to America.
The founders of our Pittston parish came specifically from areas of present-day Eastern Slovakia, some from Trebisov or within the Kosice region, others from the Presov region, as far as the northeastern corner. This region borders the Carpathian mountains with Poland to the north and Ukraine to the south and east. This was an area of small villages inhabited by a distinct ethnic group, referred to as Carpatho-Rusyns or Rusyns (Rusins). Their historical roots, the development of their language, culture, and tradition is a complex one, influenced over time by political, economic, and religious factors.
Never having a country of their own, most Carpatho-Rusyns lived in a geographic region. Looking at a map of today, that would encompass eastern parts of Slovakia and a western portion of Ukraine (Transcarpathia Oblast). Subjected to constantly shifting ruling powers and borders claiming them and their land, it is easy to see why it is so difficult to understand the history of the people and their identity. Their endurance was most definitely a virtue.
Over centuries, others tried to realign or even eradicate their identity and their religious traditions. Yet, they remained unfaltering, even up to and as recent as the late 20th century, a time of martydom of courageous Greek Catholic bishops, priests, and nuns, and consequential oppression of religious worship, including destruction of churches.
The immigrants who migrated to America from that geographical region, mainly from the late 1800s thru early 1900s, came for many reasons. Some were seeking the promises of economic stability, being mostly poor farmers who through centuries endured the difficulties of a harsh life. Others came because of political tensions in the area, the threat and implications of war. Many came with intentions of returning to their native land, but political conflicts in Europe inevitably meant that America would become their new home permanently.
As with immigrants from many other countries, people settled in communities of similar ethnicity. And so began the recognition by many immigrant groups to America of the practical need to establish ethnic parishes, not only to serve as religious centers, but as a kind of cultural/social oasis in a new land. In their determination and perseverance, their deeply rooted religious heritage prevailed.
Establishing a Greek Catholic Parish in Pittston
Prior to having a church building of their own in Pittston, Pennsylvania, “Rusins” or Rusnaks, as they may have called themselves, had to walk many miles to a church where their native language or a familiar one was spoken. Old Forge, Pennsylvania was the nearest.
Their distinct Rusyn language is one of the Eastern European languages, an Eastern Slovak dialect, which they spoke in their villages. The fluidity of language is also a complex study. Depending on the location of a Rusyn village, the languages spoken around the perimeters of those villages ie., forms of Slovak, Polish, and Hungarian, would have influenced the Rusyn spoken. And so when questioned, an immigrant may have identified under a different ethnic title. But without a doubt, Rusins or Rusyns were almost always members of a Greek Catholic Church in their community. [In America, the name “Greek Catholic” was changed in the 1960’s to “Byzantine Catholic” so it would not be confused with ethnically Greek churches.]
Great faith and strenuous effort on the part of a group of men, yearning for a church of their own to serve the faithful in their Greek Catholic (Eastern rite) traditions, resulted in the formation of a church in Pittston, Pennsylvania. Assisted by the Rev. Myron Volkay of Taylor, a meeting was set for the old Bohemian Hall on North Main Street, Pittston, in September 1911. And the idea of St. Michael the Archangel Greek Catholic Church of Pittston, became a reality.
Father Volkay served as the first pastor and the Most Rev. Michael Hoban, D.D., bishop of Scranton, was the first trustee. Father Volkay celebrated the first Divine Liturgy for the faithful of the new parish in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, William Street, Pittston.
The lay trustees then were Joseph Lukesh, Andrew Timcho, Michael Czar, Andrew Fedorchak, John Hayko, John Fetchen, Nicholas Vejkay, Vasil Golla, John Hudick and Michael Fenner. A year later in 1912, a decision was made to purchase a parcel of land from the Stroh Estates at 205 N. Main Street at a cost of $5,000. The property became the site of the present church and rectory. Shortly after the land purchase, work began on construction of the church basement, which was completed in 1913 and dedicated in 1915 by the Most Rev. Stephen Soter Ortynsky, D.D., O.S. B.M.
The Divine Liturgy was celebrated there until 1918, when work on the present upper church structure was started. It was completed in 1919 at a total cost of $45,000.
The first resident pastor of St. Michael’s was the Rev. Victor Suba, who celebrated the first liturgy in the new church on [September] November 2, 1919. The Right Rev. Monsignor Gabriel Martyak, apostolic administrator, dedicated the church in 1920. Standing majestically above the banks of the Susquehanna River, St. Michael’s truly grew as a monument to God and the faith, love and sacrifice of the parish’s founders and its parishioners. From its establishment, it served as a metropolitan parish, embracing parishioners from Pittston and surrounding communities of Dupont, Duryea, Pittston Township, Jenkins Township, the west side communities in Greater Pittston such as West Pittston, Exeter, Wyoming, West Wyoming, Harding, and as far away as Gouldsboro.
Greek Catholic Church Growth in America
Greek Catholic Churches were growing in America, and In 1924 Rome raised the status of the American Greek Catholic Ruthenian community to that of an Exarchate, with Bishop Basil Takach as its first exarch with Pittstburgh as its seat. Later, in 1963, with the continued growth of churches, Pittsburgh was elevated to an Eparchy (equivalent to a diocese). In addition, the East coast was given their own Eparchy with a seat in Passaic, NJ, and Bishop Stephen J. Kocisko as its first Eparch. This is the Eparchy that St. Michaels Church is affiliated with. Bishop Koscisko was later transferred to Pittsburgh and not long after in 1969, Pope Paul VI would establish Pittsburgh as the Metropolian Church ecclesia sui uris . This Metropolia would have as its suffragan sees the Eparchy of Passaic, the Eparchy of Parma, and eventually the Eparchy of Phoenix, Arizona.
Change and Development
St. Michael Church, Pittston, has seen many changes over decades. In the earliest years, the church interior as well as extra-liturgical practices often paralleled what was happening to and across all Greek Catholic churches in America. Space does not allow giving adequate treatment in this history. Needless to say, a mix of conflicts, desire to assimilate and be accepted by other Catholics, hierarchical messaging, and the general societal changes of the post WWII era, all combined to impact Greek Catholic parishes.
Some of the changes that came to St. Michael’s Church were simply practical. For example, St. Michaels changed from celebrating Christmas according to the Julian calendar to celebrating on December 25th. This may have occurred some time in the 1940s according to oral histories. Other changes were more significant. The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican or Vatican II that began in 1963 explored many new ideas. It sought to distill the core of Catholic theology, to empower the faithful to be more engaged, to see the Church in the context of a more global perspective, including the value of an ecumenical view. Among the changes to Catholic churches in America was the institution of vernacular language in Liturgy. With this Vatican directive during the mid1960s, English was introduced in St. Michaels as the primary liturgical language (replacing Old Church Slavonic).
The immediate years of the post WWII period (1950s) saw exponential growth of families calling St. Michaels their home parish. The first born American sons and daughters of the immigrant founders were having children of their own, the baby boomer generation who would grow up in the 1960s, a time of societal transformation. This was the era in which all Catholic churches in America were expanding in every way. In St. Michaels in Pittston, it was not uncommon to see ushers pulling out folding chairs placing them in the aisles for the overflow of people wishing to worship during Christmas and Easter.
Around this same time, the term “Greek Catholic” would change to “Byzantine Catholic,” stressing that the church was not an ethnically or nationally Greek church. And Vatican II also affirmed and directed Eastern Catholic Churches to be authentically “Eastern”, that is, to be true to their own culture and traditions, and not to imitate other churches, namely the Latin rite. St. Michael’s had succumbed to many of the “Latinization” influences from its earliest history, and these were reflected both in the.church interior design and in certain Latin rite practices that had been adopted. It would take several years to decades to correct this misdirection. It was a loss of opportunity for many of the young men and women who grew up during the 1950s and 1960s to gain proper formation in their own faith tradition.
In 1963, in preparation for the 50th anniversary of St. Michael’s, a new lighting system was installed and the church interior was repainted. Rev. Michael Warady oversaw the renovation project as pastor at this time. The blessing and rededication took place August 1, 1965, with the Most Rev. Stephen J. Kosisko, D.D., eparch of Passaic, N.J. officiating.
From 1967 to 1979 under the pastorate of the Rev. Theodore Rudy, the church basement was remodeled and the church interior was repainted. Beautiful scroll work and borders were painted to highlight the features of the interior and to lay the foundation of future interior design plans. Extensive work was done at the parish cemetery situated on Union Street, Pittston, and a large parcel of land adjacent to the church was purchased for a parking lot. This ensured that St. Michael’s had an ample setback from adjacent properties and provided substantially expanded parking.
The pastors serving St. Michaels from 1979 to 1987 included Rev. George Bujnak, Rev. Edward Higgins, and Rev. Christopher Petruska. Various repairs and other improvement projects were completed during this time, including roof repairs, and a renovation of the front vestibule and the building of an addition to the front of the church to enclose the exterior center stairs. Parish activities continued including implementation of Eastern Christian Formation materials to instruct the children of the parish.
Restoration and Growth in Our Eastern Heritage
Father Michael Mondik was appointed pastor in January 1987, and it was during his tenure that a major renovation project took place. This included installation of air conditioning in the church and repair and repainting of the church domes.
In preparation for the 75th anniversary of the parish in 1990, the interior of the church was completely renovated with the installation of a new tabernacle, altar and iconostasis (icon screen). All statues were removed as well as the remaining portion of an altar rail. This was an entirely new direction for St. Michael’s. The new interior was designed to more accurately reflect a traditional Byzantine church. And items not typically a part of Byzantine churches were removed or moved to allow for an authentic restoration.
Rev. Theodore Koufos of Toronto, Canada, oversaw the changes that included the addition of Byzantine icons that were created by Rev. Koufos and his associates. The most notable of the icons is the “Icon of the Sign” that depicts the Mother of God or Theotokos with upraised arms and the image of Jesus Christ in a circle of radiant light within her. This icon is placed traditionally in the sanctuary over the altar, as it is in St. Michael’s. Its immense size and beauty is both breathtaking and inspiring. The icon is essentially a rendering of scriptural fulfillment, uniting the prophecies of Isaiah in the Old Testament to the Incarnation of Christ in the New Testament. Additional icons honoring saints, the early church Fathers and Patriarchs, and the four evangelists of the Gospels grace the walls and ceiling of the church interior. And while the icons are beautiful, their presence is an integral part of the spiritual practices of the Byzantine church.
Rev. Robert Kemeter and Rev. Michael Krulak were the next pastors serving St. Michael’s.
During Rev. Krulak’s pastorate, the exterior church domes were repaired and repainted to their present day appearance of small gold stars on a bright blue background. The domes are a very visible landmark in the landscapes of Pittston and West Pittston. Additional renovations were made to further enhance the icons already present. This included painting the walls of the apse behind the altar and tabernacle a deep cobalt blue and the apse ceiling was painted bright turquoise. The effect dramatically accentuated the icons in the sanctuary, making them appear even more beautiful and radiant.
Carpeting was removed from the sanctuary and the ambon area and was replaced with beautiful mosaic tile. These additional renovations made St. Michael’s, without a doubt, into one of the most beautiful and unique Byzantine church interiors in the area.
“The parishioners of St. Michael’s continue to work diligently to preserve their faith and to keep their parish alive and viable now, and hopefully, in the future,” Father Krulak had said during his time in the parish. And the three pastors to follow would certainly agree.
Stepping in to serve next was Rev. G. Scott Boghossian whose time with the parishioners, although brief, was memorable and inspiring for teaching parishioners the joys of their faith through scripture, prayers, and inspired homilies. Following in the line of pastors loving this place of service in their ministry, Rev. Joseph Bertha brought to St. Michael’s his expertise on iconography. It was during Rev. Bertha’s pastoral stay that St. Michael’s received attention when the church was included as a stop in 2013 on the annual Church tour held in the Pittston community. The opportunity to educate others unfamiliar with Byzantine churches, spirituality, and traditions showcased the special treasures of St. Michael’s.
Honored with a Visitor from Our Mother Eparchy
On Sunday December 23, 2012, the Bishop of the Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo (Uzhorod, Ukraine), His Grace, Bishop Milan Šašik celebrated Grand Compline (Povecherije) with the faithful and clergy in St. Michael Church.. This was actually Bishop Šašik’s second visit to St. Michaels, the first having been on June 24, 2011. The parishioners felt blessed to have been graced with his presence.
A New Pastoral Direction and Celebrating 100 Year Anniversary
In 2013, the Very Rev. Gary Mensinger was assigned as pastor. He also served as Syncellate of the Susquehanna Syncellate for the Byzantine Catholic Ruthenian Eparchy of Passaic and was an instrumental member of both the Eparchial and the Inter-Eparchial Youth and Young AdultCommissions and appointed as consultor for the Eparchy of Passaic.
During Fr. Gary’s pastorate, the church became more visibly active through community outreach, religious formation, and parishioner involvement. On Novemeber 1, 2015, St. Michaels celebrated 100 years as an established parish. Bishop Kurt Burnette, Eparchy of Passaic, NJ, was the main celebrant of the Liturgy with a dinner reception held afterwards for all to enjoy. (See webpages on this site). The parishioners diligently worked together for one year prior to the anniversary, forming committees to plan the celebration. Leading up to the celebration, the parish hosted an educational program in October 2015 as a free gift to all, presented by the Carpatho-Rusyn Society to bring understanding to parishioners and the general public, of the historical heritage of the parish. (See webpage on this site). Parish life continued to be vibrant and expand. However, the tragic sudden death of Fr. Gary on December 6, 2019, presented a difficult period for parishioners.
A New Journey Begins in Faith
God’s Providence prevailed in the next phase of St. Michael’s history. Fr. Andrii Dumynch, an ordained priest from the Transcarpathian region of Western Ukraine, had moved with his family to the United States in the summer of 2019. His move to America was through a program coordinated by the Ruthenian Byzantine Eparchy of Passaic. The program helps meet the need for Byzantine Catholic priests in America and works in cooperation with the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo, located in Ukraine. The Eparchy of Mukachevo is the “mother eparchy” of the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church and of our own Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Archeparchy of Pittsburgh.
Coincidentally, in October 2019, Fr. Andrii served a Divine Liturgy at St. Michael’s. It was to fill in for Fr. Gary attending an event in his hometown of Freeland, Pa. Little did Fr. Andrii anticipate that he would soon be serving as pastor of the parish only two months later. Unfortunately, in addition to the parishioners feeling the impacts of Fr. Gary’s death, in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic created a new problem. The pandemic was new and creating a worldwide crisis, with no one really knowing how best to approach containing its dangerous spread. As a result, religious services at Catholic churches across the United States were severely restricted to the point that beginning in March 2020, parishioners were not present at Liturgies. Very quickly, churches adjusted by streaming their services for the faithful to have access and dispensations were granted by Bishops in the United States. Fr. Andrii had the combined challenges of not only being new to American culture, perfecting English, settling in a new parish, but essentially during the COVID restrictions, serving as a pastor without the pastoral interaction normally present to guide parishioners.
These formidable initial challenges did not deter Fr. Andrii from his mission. COVID church attendance restrictions were lifted in May 2020 and parishioners returned to full participation over time. With an abundance of ideas and energy, Fr. Andrii currently leads two parish families of St. Michaels, Pittston and St Nicholas, Swoyersville. His foremost desire and call to the priesthood is proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in serving the needs of his parish families; while also serving as a disciple of Catholic and Christian values among others in the greater Wyoming Valley community.
Adding to present day concerns, the war upon Ukraine, Fr. Andrii’s homeland, that began on February 24, 2022, has and continues to be a major crisis for the people of Ukraine. In March and May of 2022, St. Michaels hosted two Interfaith programs coordinated with members of other faith communities in support of Ukraine relief. Those relief efforts are ongoing at this time, and as a parish and as Catholic Christians, we offer not only material support but prayer support that peace will soon come. We do not know what the next chapters of our parish will contain, let alone what will happen in our world, but as our present pastor encourages us, we must place our trust in God in all areas of our lives.
Through its history, St. Michael’s members have gratefully counted the many blessings God has given them, including vocations of eight priests and five sisters. We pray that God will continue to bless St. Michael’s and to protect our church and our parishioners as we move forward to meet the real challenges in the future.
Pastors of Saint Michael the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Church
205 North Main Street, Pittston, PA
|Rev. Victor Suba||1917 to 1921|
|Rev. Alexius Medveczky||1921 to 1932|
|Rev. Basil Lipeczky||1932 to 1945|
|Rev. George Durisin||1945 to 1946|
|Rev. Michael B. Warady||1946 to 1967|
|Rev. Sergius Bachkosky||1967 to 1967|
|Rev. Robert Moneta||1967 to 1967|
|Rev. Theodore Rudy||1967 to 1979|
|Rev. George Bujnak||1979 to 1981|
|Rev. Edward Higgins||1981 to 1982|
|Rev. Christopher Petruska||1982 to 1987|
|Rev. Michael Mondik||1987 to 1996|
|Rev. Robert F. Kemeter||1996 to 2002|
|Rev. Michael Krulak||2002 to 2007|
|Rev. G. Scott Boghossian||2007 to 2009|
|Rev. Joseph Bertha||2010 to 2013|
|Very Rev. Gary J. Mensinger||2013 to 12/2019|
|Rev. Andrii Dumnych||12/2019 to current|
Sisters of St. Basil Vocations of Saint Michael the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Church