|The Move to Dickson Street|
With 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.
Shortly after the new church on Third Avenue was dedicated, Father Matyaczko left St. John’s to go to Holy Ghost Greek Catholic Church in Philadelphia. He was succeeded as pastor by Father Nicholas Seregelly.
Father Seregelly was born in Austro-Hungary on February 15, 1864. Ordained a priest in the Mukačevo Diocese, Father Seregelly arrived in America in 1896 leaving his wife and family behind in Europe. After briefly serving the Greek Catholic community in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Father Seregelly assumed the duties of pastor of St. John’s on October 23, 1897. Unfortunately, Father Seregelly stayed as pastor for only twenty months before he too abruptly left St. John’s to go in John Pido’s words “back West to where he had come from.” In fact, Father Seregelly’s destination was Globeville, an old ethic community in north Denver, Colorado, where he became the founding pastor of Transfiguration of Christ Greek Catholic Church.
Father Seregelly’s experiences following his tenure at St. John’s exemplified the hardships which many of the emigre Greek Catholic priests faced in coming to the United States. When Father Seregelly sought assistance of the Right Reverend Nicholas C. Matz, the Bishop of Denver, in bringing his wife and family to America, the bishop was appalled at the existence of a married priest. Instead, the bishop cut off Father Seregelly’s income and attempted to close the new parish. Despite his dire financial straights, Father Seregelly continued to minister his struggling Denver parish until his death on February 15, 1903. Reportedly, Father Seregelly’s death was due to starvation.
Father Stephen Jackovich succeeded Father Seregelly as the third pastor of St. John’s in 1899. Father Jackovich, a married priest from the Diocese of Mukačevo, came to Homestead after having served for over eight years as the first resident pastor of the first Greek Catholic church in Western Pennsylvania, St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Church in Duquesne, Pennsylvania. But after a brief stay, Father Jackovich also left St. John’s to become the pastor of a new Greek Catholic parish being formed on Pittsburgh’s Southside. With no resident priest, the Parish was compelled to seek the permission of S.S. Peter and Paul Greek Catholic Church in Braddock, Pennsylvania to have their priest, Father Nicholas Molchany, say the Divine Liturgy and conduct other services.
The problem of the constant turnover of clergy was not unique to St. John’s Parish. Rather, it was an endemic problem for all Greek Catholic churches in America. The failure of the Holy See to provide for a bishop or a vicar for the Greek Catholic faithful in the United States meant that there was no central ecclesiastical authority to whom both the clergy and the laity could look to maintain some sort of administrative order and discipline among the increasing number of Greek Catholic churches being established. The absence of a strong central decision making authority, coupled with the acute shortage of clergy, invariably lead to competition among parishes for the services of individual priests. Thus, to some extent, the clergy of yesteryear were like the modern day “free agent” athletes of today -- constantly moving from city to city in search of a more secure financial arrangement from another board of curators at another parish.
The parishioners of the newly established St. John’s Church obviously must have been quite concerned about the constant turnover of pastors. Clearly, the lack of a priest committed to a long term pastorate was not a favorable portent for the ultimate survival of the new parish.
Thus, the leaders of St. John’s Church set out to find a priest to serve their church for a long term basis. Instead of setting their sights on the limited number of priests in America, the leaders instead looked to their homeland for a new pastor.
At the request of several parishioners, Father Alexander Dzubay, the pastor of a Greek Catholic parish in Leisenring, Pennsylvania, wrote a letter to Bishop Julius Firczak, the Bishop of the Diocese of Mukačevo, requesting him to send a priest to minister for the new St. John’s Parish. Upon receipt of the request, Bishop Firczak agreed to send a relative of Father Dzubay, to America. Following the Bishop’s instructions, the young priest made the long journey from Europe to America. Upon his arrival, the young priest met in Brooklyn, New York with Father Theodore Demjanovics, a priest who served as a confidential advisor for Bishop Firczak on the status of Greek Catholics in the United States. Father Demjanovics urged the young priest to go to Homestead.
On March 25, 1900, just three days before his thirty-third birthday, the young priest arrived in Homestead and celebrated the Divine Liturgy at St. John’s. After the liturgy, a meeting was called to have the entire congregation meet the young priest and to determine his future status with the Parish. The parishioners liked him and he liked the parishioners. As a result of the meeting, the young priest agreed to remain as the pastor of the Parish. Within days of his arrival in Homestead, the young priest went to Bishop Richard Phelan, the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, and asked to be placed under his jurisdiction. Bishop Phelan agreed and the young priest became the fourth pastor of St. John the Baptist Greek Catholic Church of Homestead. The young priest’s name was Father Alexis Holosnyay.
Father Alexis Holosnyay was born on March 28, 1867 in Užhorod, the son of Anton and Emelia Holosnyay. According to his biography contained in History of Pittsburgh and Environs, Father Holosnyay was described as “[n]aturally devout and destined from boyhood for the priesthood...” Ordained in 1892, Father Holosynay was serving as the pastor of the Greek Catholic church in the town of Bystrycja (Repede) in the Mukačevo district prior to emigrating to America. Like most other Greek Catholic clergy of his time, Father Holosnyay was married and his wife’s name was Elizabeth.
Father Holosnyay’s presence seemed to provide the missing ingredient necessary for the long term stability of St. John’s Parish. With Father Holosnyay’s assumption of the pastorate at St. John’s, a night school for the religious education of the Parish’s children was initiated. In addition, Parish organizations such as the Holy Name Society and devotional groups to St. John, St. George and St. Mary were started and flourished. Under Father Holosnyay’s leadership, the Parish experienced such a spectacular amount of growth within a remarkably short period of time that it outgrew its tiny church building on Third Avenue. Therefore, thoughts soon turned to the construction of a new and larger church.
In the summer of 1902, the Parish began acquiring property for the site of a new church. Two lots on the corner of Tenth Avenue and Dickson Street in the newly established Borough of Munhall were sold to the Parish. The first lot was purchased from Bridget Murphy for the sum of $3,420.00. The second lot was purchased from John Uhrin, a St. John’s parishioner and a well-known local hotel owner, and his wife, Nellie, for the sum of $5,000.00.
On August 26, 1902, a meeting of the entire membership was called to discuss the possible construction of a new church. At this fateful meeting, the Parish unanimously decided to take two major actions. First, the church membership authorized the payment in full of the remainder of the $4,000 mortgage on the Third Avenue church property held by Mr. C.F. Klopfer. Second, the membership authorized the President of the Curators, Andrew Ragan, and Secretary of the Curators, John Uhrin, to negotiate a mortgage loan in the amount of $12,000 from the German Savings & Deposit Bank of Pittsburgh to finance the construction of the new church. Subsequent to the meeting, a Pittsburgh architect, Titus de Bobula, was retained to design the new church building and rectory. Bodine & Co., a Pittsburgh contractor, was hired to erect the structures.
On the afternoon of June 14, 1903, the cornerstone of the new St. John the Baptist Greek Catholic Church was laid. Following the celebration of a Divine Liturgy at 11:30 a.m. by Father Holosnyay, a large parade to the site of the new church at the corner of Dickson Street and Tenth Avenue was held . With the Cross and the American flag at its head, the parade formed on Sixth Avenue and proceeded past the Third Avenue church over all of the principal streets of Homestead. In addition to the members of the Parish, the featured participants in the parade included representatives from fifteen different societies marching with their emblems and bands, a large number of little girls dressed in white carrying bouquets of flowers and a host of clergy dressed in their vestments riding in carriages. The grand marshal of the parade was John Uhrin.
Although the parade was marred by a heavy rainstorm that drenched all of the participants, the cornerstone laying ceremony nevertheless went off as scheduled. The contractor, Mr. Bodine, handed cornerstone to Titus de Bobula, the architect. In turn, Mr. de Bobula presented the cornerstone to Father Holosnyay. After the cornerstone was blessed by Bishop Richard Phelan, the Bishop of the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese, it was put into its proper place in the foundation. Following a lengthy sermon delivered by one of the visiting clergy, Father Medvecky of McKeesport, and several other addresses, the impressive ceremonies of the day concluded with two dinners: one for the parade participants at a hall at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Ann Street and another for the clergy at the Parish House on Third Avenue.
Work on the new church and rectory proceeded at a rapid pace. On May 22, 1903, the Parish obtained an additional mortgage in the $47,000 from the German Savings & Deposit Bank of Pittsburgh to complete the project. Finally, on December 27, 1903, the new church was solemnly dedicated.
The December 28, 1903-edition of the Homestead News Messenger carried a lengthy front-page article describing the dedication ceremonies and a picture of the new structures. The article reported as follows: