|A Church on Third Avenue|
In 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.
These initial meetings regarding the creation of a church were attended by approximately fifty people representing ten to fifteen different families. John Vessik, another leader of the church organizational effort, gave notices of these early church formation meetings. Vessik went from block to block throughout Homestead seeking out native Carpatho-Rusins and asking them to attend the meetings. Because the number of interested persons eventually exceeded the space available in the Ihnat home, the church organizational meetings were later moved to a hall located at 229 Sixth Avenue.
Finally, after meeting every two weeks for a period of almost two years, the efforts of the small band of church organizers met with tangible success. A Greek Catholic priest responded favorably to the letters of the church organizers, the individuals whom John Pido referred to as “the old men,” and agreed to serve as the pastor of the new church to be formed in Homestead. The priest’s name was Father Irineus Matyaczko.
Not much is known about the priest who would become the first pastor of the new Greek Catholic church in Homestead. According to a brief biographical sketch contained in G. T. Fleming’s book, History of Pittsburgh and Environs, published in 1922, Father Matyaczko was born on September 5, 1852. According to Father Matyaczko’s own written record, his family was from the village of Acherbovca in the county of Bereg. In all likelihood, Father Matyaczko was serving as a priest in Zemplén County prior to coming to the United States in 1896.
According to the recorded testimony of John Pido, Father Matyaczko came to Homestead from somewhere “in the West.” In all probability, Father Matyaczko could have come to Homestead after a brief stay in Ohio, perhaps at St. John the Baptist Greek Catholic Church in Cleveland. On June 28, 1896, Father Matyaczko came to Homestead, celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the “National Hall” and assumed the pastorate of the fledgling Greek Catholic community.
With the arrival of Father Matyaczko, the effort to establish a parish and to build a house of worship gained increased momentum. A board of trustees or “Curators” for the new parish was selected. The names and the “Old Country”places of origin of this first board were:
Michael Kozak of Ozorovco, Zemplén County,
John Vessik of Vranaho Cemerdaho, Zemplén County,
Michael Ragan of Miglesove, Zemplén County,
Andrew Ragan, of Miglesove, Zemplén County,
George Ragan, of Miglesove, Zemplén County,
John Pido, of Melbik, Galicia
George Matin Zelenjak, of Hardic, Zemplén County,
Joseph Kohan, of Berehova, Sáros County,
George Ihnat, of Hacove Dluhe, Zemplén County,
John Danilovich, of Michlavova, Zemplén County,
John Smoley, of Poshe, Zemplén County, and
Nicholas Vashil, of Poshe, Zemplén County.
Fund-raising for the purchase of property and the construction of a church building also began in earnest. Members of the early church community made donations. In addition to their own donations, members frequently took out personal loans in order to contribute to the church fund-raising effort. Some of the contributors to this initial building fund as listed in Father Matyaczko’s written record of the founding of the parish included:
Father Irineus Matyaczko $40
Michael Kohan $25
Michael Ragan $25
Andrew Ragan $25
John Vessik $25
George Ihnat $25
Joseph Kohan $25
George Matin Zelenjak $25
John Forguch $25
John Pido $25
Nicholas Vashil $25
John Ihnat $25
George Vashil $25
John Danilovich $25
George Lebedda $25
Michael Smoley $25
Michael Varga $25
Michael Dandar $25
John Kovalchik $25
Nicholas Kohut $25
Vasil Popovich $15
A site was also obtained in Homestead for the construction of a church. Three lots, measuring a combined total of seventy-two feet by one hundred feet, located on Third Avenue between Dickson Street and City Farm Lane were purchased from Thomas J. Kenney, Jr. for the sum of $2,000. Valentine Bost, a contractor and builder whose office was located at 404 Fifth Avenue, was hired to build the church structure. Bost started work on the first Greek Catholic church in Homestead on September 17, 1896. The new church would be named after Saint John the Baptist, the patron saint of Greek Catholic Union Lodge 26 in Homestead.
Finally, on December 19, 1896, Attorney Gregory Zatkovich presented an application to the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County on behalf of five members of the Homestead Greek Catholic community: Andrew Ragan, George Ihnat, John Forguch, Joseph Kohan and John Leshko. The application requested that a charter be granted for a nonprofit corporation to be called “St. John’s Greek Catholic Church of Homestead, PA.” The charter petition stated that the new nonprofit corporation was “formed for the purpose of the support of public worship according to the forms, principles, doctrines and usages of the body of Christian worshipers known as Greek Catholic.” On January 16, 1897, the Court approved the grant of the charter. Thus, on this date, the St. John the Baptist Greek Catholic Church was legally born!
The date of the official dedication of the new St. John’s Greek Catholic Church is unclear. The only record of the dedication is provided by the local newspaper that served the Homestead area at the time--The Homestead News. The News, however, contained separate articles referring to two different dates for the dedication of the church. They are January 17, 1897 and May 9, 1897.
The Saturday, January 9, 1897 edition of the twice a week Homestead News described the preparation for the dedication of the new Greek Catholic church of Homestead. It is reprinted verbatim below: