IntroductionA traveler coming by ship into the great harbor of New York City cannot help but be awe-struck by the imposing sight of the Statue of Liberty. Standing proudly atop a pedestal some 306 feet tall, with broken chains of vanquished tyranny and oppression beneath her feet, majestically arrayed with a diadem and thrusting a massive torch out to the open sea, this powerful and moving symbol has inspired travelers and voyagers for more than one hundred and twenty years.
The Old CountryTo understand who we are and where we have come as a parish in the past one hundred years, it is first necessary to explore who our ancestors were and where they came from as a people. Thus, the journey of faith must start in the homeland of the founders, “the Old Country,” central Europe.
The founders of St. John the Baptist Cathedral Parish literally came from the heart of Europe. If a map of the European continent could be envisioned as a picture with the tip of Norway as the top frame, the isle of Crete as the bottom frame, the coast of Ireland as the left side frame and the Ural Mountains as the right side frame, then the homeland of our ancestors, the area known variously as the Carpathian Rus’, the Subcarpathian Rus’, Transcarpathia, Carpatho-Ruthenia, Carpatho-Russia and Carpatho-Ukraine-- would be in the exact center of the picture.
Coming to AmericaBy the latter decades of the 19th century, the already marginal economic situation of the Carpatho-Rusin people had become even more precarious. The old peasant way of life, which in the best of times provided an ability to eke out only a meager living, irreparably broke down under the strain of a changing economy. The old peasant economy, based upon feudal notions of barter and service, was replaced by a modern cash economy. Having no money, Carpatho-Rusin peasants found themselves strapped to purchase basic necessities and to pay ever increasing taxes.
The first immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe began to arrive in Homestead in the early 1880s. The identity of the first Carpatho-Rusins to settle in Homestead and the exact date of their arrival is unknown. What is known is that those initial settlers had come to an area which had been remarkably transformed almost overnight from an unspoiled backwater of the City of Pittsburgh into an industrial powerhouse.
A Church on Third AvenueIn 1894, a scant two years after the infamous and bloody confrontation between millworkers and Pinkerton guards, the Carpatho-Rusin community began to meet and discuss the formation of a Greek Catholic church in Homestead. According to the recorded testimony of John Pido, one of the leaders in the effort to establish a Greek Catholic church in Homestead, the first church organizational meetings were held in a small, three-room house owned by one of the group of church organizers. In all probability, the home which was used for these initial church meetings was located on Plummer Place and owned by George Ihnat, a grocer, who was one of the leaders of the Homestead Carpatho-Rusin community.
Getting Ready for DedicationWhich Will Take Place Sunday, January 17.
Sunday, January 17th, will be an auspicious day for the Greek Catholics of Homestead. Their fine new church located on Third avenue between City Farm Lane and Dickson street, is now receiving the interior finishing touches by Contractor Valentine Bost.
The Greek Easter ServicesTHE BLESSING OF THE FOOD
A Queer Custom Carried Out at the Church on Third Avenue Yesterday
The members of the Greek Orthodox church, of Homestead yesterday celebrated their Easter Sunday which falls just seven days later than the Easter of the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. The Greek church is located on Third avenue above Dickson street, the membership being about 400 although nearly twice that number took part in the services yesterday, all the towns in the Monongahela valley being represented this being the only Greek church in the valley.
The Move to Dickson StreetWith immigration from the “Old Country” still in full swing, St. John’s Parish continued to steadily increase in membership. The growth of the Parish, however, was undoubtedly held back by the constant turnover in pastors.
Thirteen Bands were in Line
A Great Rush Made to Gain Admission to the New Edifice
--Many Visiting Priests Assisted in the Exercises,
Which Lasted Nearly All Day--A Handsome Church
and Parsonage Erected in a Remarkably Short Time.
The Church Becomes a CathedralThe English word "cathedral" comes from the ancient Greek. This word, "kathedra," literally means a chair or seat. In ecclesiastical terminology, a church is a cathedral when it is designated by a bishop to contain his cathedra or chair, a symbol of his high authority and official status as the leader of a diocese. Because the designation of a church as a cathedral is so intimately intertwined with the office of bishop, the recounting of the events resulting in the designation of St. John the Baptist Church as a cathedral would be incomplete without first reviewing the long and difficult struggle for the appointment of a bishop and the establishment of a separate Greek Catholic diocese in the United States.
Holy WarOn December 19, 1776, the renowned Anglo-American writer and polemicist Thomas Paine wrote in the pamphlet entitled The American Crisis: “These are the times which try men’s souls.” Though he was writing to bolster the confidence of the thirteen colonies in their nascent revolutionary struggle for independence from the British Crown, Paine’s immortal words could just as easily be used to describe the events which unfolded in the life of St. John’s Cathedral Parish during the period from 1930 through 1935. During this period, the Parish, which had soared only a few short years previously to such high and proud heights based on its prestigious designation as the cathedral church of the Greek Catholic Exarchate of Pittsburgh, was plunged into an abyss of conflict, discord and dissension. Both figuratively and literally, the Parish was engaged in a holy war, a terrible and agonizing struggle for control over the temporal assets of the church and its spiritual leadership. This holy war would prove to be devastating to the Parish. It would end friendships, tear families apart and irrevocably turn many parishioners against their pastor and their bishop.
Restoring the Faith: The Michaylo Years
The long and difficult battle for control over the spiritual and temporal affairs of St. John's Cathedral Parish had left the Parish both materially and psychologically exhausted. One obvious sign of the exhaustion of the Parish was the tremendous loss in the number of parishioners. Many parishioners, outraged at Bishop Takach’s victory in the courts, simply left St. John's Cathedral and followed Father Peter Molchany who established a new church in Homestead - St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Rusin Eastern Rite Church. Still others, embarrassed by the scandalous schism, left to join the stable environment of the Latin Rite Catholic churches in the area.
The Faith Transformed: The Parish Moves into the Modern EraWith Monsignor Michaylo’s departure to became the rector of the newly established SS. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary, Bishop Ivancho named one of his seminary classmates, Monsignor Nicholas T. Elko, as the new pastor of St. John’s Cathedral Parish. Monsignor Elko was born in Donora, Pennsylvania on December 14, 1909. After receiving his elementary and secondary education in the public schools of his hometown, Elko attended and graduated from Duquesne University in 1930. Upon completion of his theological studies at the Greek Catholic Seminary in Užhorod as well graduate studies at the University of Louvain in Belgium, Elko, along with the future Bishop Ivancho, was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Takach on September 30, 1936 at St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Church in McKeesport.
Church ChronologyAugust 4, 1936 - Michaylo appointed as pastor.
Fall, 1936 - Parish school opened as a day school.
November 5, 1946 - Consecration of Daniel Ivancho as co-adjutor bishop at St. Paul's Cathedral in Oakland.
May 13, 1948 - Bishop Takach dies.
Summer, 1954 - Msgr. Nicholas Elko appointed as rector.
December 2, 1954 - Elko appointed as administrator of the Exarchate after Ivancho resigns.
March 6, 1955 - Elko consecrated as bishop in Rome.
Ground breakingJULY 5, 1992 – It was the day after the nation had celebrated the anniversary of its Independence. A sunny, bright Sunday, and in the crowd that had gathered in the grassy field opposite St. John’s Cathedral Center were the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of another group that had gathered nearly a entry earlier for the very same reason.
These were the descendants of those who came to America from their native Eastern Europe to gain economic and religious independence for themselves and their families. To their “new land,” they brought their culture, their customs, their languages, and most importantly, they brought their church. Almost a hundred years earlier, the church that was to become St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cathedral. Was begun near the banks of the Monongahela River, close enough to their homes to be a focal point of their lives and near the steel mills that meant economic freedom. Now, for the congregation of St. John’s. it was a “new beginning” and the spirit that brought their ancestors together long ago became a part of them as they looked on.
Designing the New CathedralThe classical model of Byzantine church architecture is the Church of the Holy Wisdom, Hagla Sophia, built in Constantinople in the first half of the sixth century. Its structure, which still stands today, is topped by a distinctive dome surrounded by a triple-bar cross.
Many means were used to express the Byzantine faith and its aspiration towards the Divine in the architecture. Typically, a relatively plain façade sheltered an unsurpassed wealth of decoration. Rather than a house of God, the space projected an image of a miniature universe in which the one and only God dwelt. Designers spiritualized space and dematerialized mass. The polished surfaces or curved them to reduce the impact of their mass; they perforated other details such as those adorning the lintels or capitals to give the ethereal texture of embroidery of lace.
Sunlight, penetrating from above, illuminated the nave and lifted the dome to produce a sense of religious exaltation. Emphasis on the height and length of these buildings was an attempt to unify their inner spaces.
Within almost two years of organizational activities, their efforts to form a Greek Catholic church in Homestead finally were successful. Father Irenaeus Matyaczko celebrated the Divine Liturgy at Homestead's "National Hall" and assumed the pastorate of the fledgling Greek Catholic community. In less than four months, the new church, a modest frame structure measuring thirty-two feet by sixty-four feet, was completed. In January 1897 the new church was officially chartered and dedicated as St. John the Baptist Greek Catholic Church.
On March 25, 1900 Father Alexius Holosnyay, a newly arrived émigré from the Mukachevo Eparchy, came to Homestead and agreed to become pastor, the parish's fourth in four years. Father Hollosnyay's presence seemed to provide the missing ingredient for the struggling parish and thoughts soon turned to the building of a new and larger church. In the summer of 1902 two lots were acquired on the corner of tenth and Dickens Streets in the newly created Borough of Munhall for the church. Finally, on December 27, 1903 the new St. John's Greek Catholic Church a building whose towering twin steeples bore a striking resemblance to Holy Cross Cathedral in Uzhorod, Subcarpathia-Rus, was solemnly dedicated at the elaborate ceremonies presided over by Co-Adjutor Bishop Regis Canevin of the Pittsburgh Roman Catholic Diocese.
Under Father Holosnyay's pastoral care, St. John's Parish continued to grow spiritually and materially. Several large tracts of land were purchased for a parish cemetery. In addition, a large three-story building was constructed near the church as a meeting hall and "Rusin" school for the parish's children.
In October 1924 the parish authorized its lay leaders to offer land and financial assistance to Bishop Takach if he would locate his episcopal residence and chancery near St. John’s. Bishop Takach accepted the parish’s generous offer and designated St. John’s as his cathedral.
The Cathedral Parish’s spiritual and material progress came to an abrupt halt in the early 1930’s. The Great Depression caused severe economic hardship for the parishioners. More unfortunately, a bitter and divisive battle for spiritual and temporal control of the parish erupted. Although Bishop Takach’s authority over the Cathedral was eventually restored, the conflict left the parish materially exhausted and spiritually demoralized. With Father Holosnyay’s retirement, the seemingly insurmountable task of healing the parish’s wounds fell upon the shoulders of Father George Michaylo who became rector on August 4, 1936.