During the 1880’s ethnic peoples emigrated to the Anthracite area of Pennsylvania from the Austro-Hungarian Empire provinces of Galicia(present day Halynchyna), Podcarpatska Rus, Unjver, and Hungary and settled in Mt. Carmel. On September 13, 1891, the brotherhood Society of St. Demetrius was organized under the leadership of Michael Halkowicz. In time, this Society became the founding organization for the first Greek Catholic parish in Mt. Carmel. The founding fathers were: Michael Halkowicz, Michael Adzema, Alex Halaborda, John Duni, Paul Mariniak, and Onufrey Murdza.
The term “Greek Catholic” was applied to the church which would serve the spiritual needs of various ethnic groups whose universal church language was Church Slavonic; whose faith was catholic; and whose traditions and customs followed the Byzantine(Greek) rubrics. In the latter years of the 1950’s the term “Ukrainian Catholic” became common usage in reference to the Churches of the Philadelphia Archdiocese. The new immigration of Ukrainians after the 2nd World War brought with it an increased awareness of national origins. Thus, the reference to Ukrainian and Greek Catholic will be synonymous in this history.
The first church was erected at 7th and Vine Streets in Mt. Carmel. The cornerstone was blessed and laid in 1892. Parades of Societies from Hazleton, Freeland, Shamokin and surrounding towns participated in the laying of the cornerstone, with Fr. Cornelius Lawrishyn presiding. The church was completed the following year. The Brotherhood of St. Demetrius had purchased the site from the Reading Company for $350.00. Together with Fr. Lawrishyn, the Brotherhood petitioned the county court for a charter. The members who petitioned the Court were: Michael Halkowicz, Paul Marinock, Peter Bochus, Michael Stefanski, and Onufrey Murdza. The cherished dream of a church for these new immigrants was realized when the church was completed in 1893 at a cost of $6500.00.
At a special meeting, a committee of ten parishioners were elected to manage the welfare of the newly organized church. This first Board of Trustees were: Michael Stefanski, Peter Bochus, Michael Halkowicz, John Wasil, George Trochanowski, Michael Adzema, John Holman, Paul Marinock, Michael Marinock and John Duni.
As there was a scarcity of Greek Catholic priests in America at the time, Rev. Cornelius Lawrishyn of Shenandoah sacrificed his time and helped the people of Mt. Carmel by holding services for them and administering to their spiritual needs.
Upon the arrival of Fr. John Konstankewicz to Shamokin in 1893, he willingly took charge of the Mt. Carmel congregation and obliged the parishioners until March 1895.
With the constant petition of the SS. Peter and Paul parish through Fr. Konstankewicz, His Eminence Cardinal Sylvester Sembratowicz of Lviv, sent a priest for the Mt. Carmel congregation.
Upon his arrival from Europe, Rev. Nestor Demitriw, a native of Lviv, Galicia, took charge as the first resident priest of the congregation on March 4, 1895. The congregation, although at an early stage, had an enrollment of 180 families and 200 single members. These parishioners were not only from Mt. Carmel, but also from the towns of Centralia, Patterson, Sagon, Midvalley, Green Ridge and Exchange(Atlas).
In this year, 1895, we find another beneficial Society organized in the congregation. It was called the “Brotherhood of SS Peter and Paul” and was affiliated with the Slovak National Beneficial Organization, “Jednota”.
The national paper “Svoboda”, a national organ of our people was first edited in Mt. Carmel in this year.
Fr. Demitriw resided in Mt. Carmel for two years and at the time of his resignation the congregation had an enrollment of 300 families.
Immediately afterward, Fr. Stephen Makar, a newly arrived priest fr0m Peremishel, Eastern Galicia, arrived to take charge of the congregation. The publishing of the newspaper “Svoboda” was discontinued in Mt. Carmel and then removed to Olyphant, PA in 1901. There it was taken charge of by Fr. John Ardan.
Fr. Makar readily made friends and profited from the advice of others. It was through his prompt action and skillful administration that the cemetery plot was purchased at Dooleyville from the Reading Company for $100.00. He grasped at every opportunity to better the general welfare of the congregation for its immediate needs and for its eventual future. Upon hearing that Mr. Dominic Ochs, residing at Avenue and Beech Streets was willing to sell his property and dwelling, Fr. Makar lost no time in securing the site for $4500.00 as the site for the new church. In July 1904, Fr. Makar resigned his duties at the parish and returned to his native Ukraine. Rev. Leo Levitsky succeeded Fr. Makar and was succeeded by Fr. Michael Metro. During the administration of Fr. Metro, the congregation decided to move the church from its then present site at 7th and Vine Streets to Second and Beech Streets in Mt. Carmel. The plot of land was acquired during Fr. Levitsky’s tenure and the church building was moved.
The administration of Fr. Metro was short, for in 1906 he was succeeded by Fr. N. Dorozenskie who in turn was succeeded by Fr. John Olshevsky. In less than a year of Fr. Olshevsky’s administration there was discontentment among factions in the congregation and in the turmoil of that time almost half of the congregation seceded from the Greek Catholic church and formed the Russian Orthodox church in the area.
From the time of that disruption until November 1907, we find that Fr. Walter Petriwsky, Fr. Joseph Chaplinsky, and Rev. Alex Ultisky officiated in Mt. Carmel’s parish. Fr. Leop Sembratowicz took charge until 1908 and from 1908 until 1913 the parish was served by Fr. Walter Spoletikewicz. He managed to bring some harmony into the congregation and it was during his tenure that action was taken to build a new church since the present original church was overcrowded.
Upon his resignation, Fr. Demitri Chomiak succeeded in working with the congregation in the construction of the new church. The present rectory was moved from its foundation on the corner of Avenue and beech Streets to the corner of Cherry and Beech Street. The foundation and much of the early excavating was done by the men of the parish. The building was completed at a cost of $42,000.00 by Fr. Chomiak’s resignation in 1916.
From 1916 until 1919, the parish was served by Fr. Anton Ulanetsky, Fr. John Voluschuk, Fr. Joseph Jendjera, and in 1919 Fr. Joseph Boyarczuk succeeded and administered the parish until 1926. During his administration vast changes took place in the parish. With no forethought to the future, the congregation disposed of all its real estate, including the old church(which was later demolished and the present homes on 2nd and Beech Streets constructed.), the large auditorium, the double dwelling, and the plot of ground. In this time period, the new altar, chandelier, and sanctuary lamp were purchased to beautify the church on West Avenue and Beech Street. Negotiations were completed for the painting of the church interior by Rozdielsky and the building of the iconostasis by Wasilenko.
In 1926, the building of the iconostasis and the painting of the church was well advanced. It was completed in 1927 during the administration of Fr. Leo Chapelsky, who was pastor until 1930. He was followed by Fr. Walter Obushkewich, who was pastor until 1932. During his stay, the interior of the church was remodeled and improved. Stained glass windows, linoleum and new pews were installed. On January 1, 1932, Fr. Demitriw Dobrotvor took charge of the congregation. During the 40th year of the parish community, the Board of Directors were: Pastor, Fr. Dobrotvor, George Suchanicz, Joseph Adzema, John Zebiak, John Jepko, Andrew Karlak, Andrew Harrison, Elmer Slachta, Samuael Wiatiak, Michael Krevitsky, Joseph Pellish, Peter Mehok, and George Chabala.
Upon Fr. Dobrotvor’s resignation in 1936, the tunure of Fr. Lawrence Zakrevsky lasted until 1950. During his administration, the “Saturday Greek School”, which was normally held under the discretion of the church cantor and pastor or with visiting Sisters, was upgraded to a parochial school with Sisters of St. Basil the Great, a Ukrainian order of Sisters of Fix Chase, Philadelphia, in 1946.
During the pastorate of Fr. Zakrevsky, The Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary was organized with 23 girls enrolled, on November 19, 1945. During this time the Sisters of St. Basil the Great who resided in Centralia would conduct a night school in the church hall three nights a week. There were 45 children enrolled at that time.
Due to the depressed economic conditions of the area, with many of the younger members moving out of the area to locate work, the school closed in 1958. Saturday “Greek School” continued for the youth of the parish with Ukrainan religion and traditions being the main areas of concern.
During the 1950’s the rumblings of what was to become a “Civil War” began over a dispute over the church charter and a power struggle between the Diocese and the Board of Directors of the parish. During this time, the resident pastors were Fr. Volodymyr Pashkowsky, Fr. Vladimir Levitsky, Fr. Emilian Nakonechny, Fr. Paul Burak and Fr. John Wysochansky. The war was to last over twenty years and would pit family against family, brother against brother in a struggle which would inflict many wounds, and drive many parishioners away from the church. God’s providence deemed that the church would not fold during this time, and despite the conflict His peace and forgiveness would again rekindle the community and trust that is a part of every believing people.
In 1958, a joyous moment arrived for the parish in the ordination of one of their faithful, John Struchlak, son of Orest and Anna Struchlak, to the Holy Priesthood. He is a member of the Redemptionist Fathers of Canada, a Ukrainian Catholic division of the Roman Redemptionist Order. He is presently serving in Newark, New Jersey. The Church Choir has existed since early times in SS Peter and Paul. Many fine directors “professors” have helped the people of the parish raise their voices in beautiful, harmonius praise to God in the Ukrainian Choral tradition.
In the early years, Professor Klimko and Professor Lawriw directed the youth choirs in liturgical services and also in many theatrical performances which were performed for the members of the community in the church auditorium. Professor Zaremba directed the choir and was a strong influence on many a fine voice in our parish even until today. Under the strong love of her church and her love of music, Mrs. Effie Koropchak taught herself the art of choir arrangement and directing and shares with us today with our SS Peter and Paul choir many of the beautiful melodies passed on from generation to generation.
There were to be three other vocations from the parish, women entering into Religious orders: Pearl Worhach joined the Dominican Order as Sr. Mary Augustine, Elizabeth Bertoldi joined the Ukrainian Order of the Sisters of St. Basil the Great, and Joan Mikulski joined the Order of the Mission helpers of the Sacred Heart and in this our Centennial year has taken her final vows.
In this time period several beautifications took place, 1960-69, the women of the Pyrohy Sale from 1964 purchased a new Cemetery Cross Monument at the price of $15,000.00 for the new section of the cemetery which was cleaned and prepared by the men of the parish. Under the direction of the officers of the Holy Name Society, which has boasted over 30 members, various projects were run to raise funds for the Shrine to the Mother of God, which graces the west side of our church building. Officers during that time in the Holy Name were: President, Mike Herko; Vice President, Joseph Sulick; Treasurer, Francis Daya; Secretary, Alex Hardysh.
The cemetery caretaker for many years was Paul Shipchack. The cemetery today is under the supervision of the pastor and Mr. Walter McAndrew, who has dedicated many, many years of service to the church and cemetery upkeep.
Women’s groups had existed since the beginning of the church as well. One of the earliest Sisterhoods which existed was the Society of St. Barbara. In the church building itself in the upper corners of the front wall above the iconostasis are the icons of St Barbara and St. Demetrius, both founding organizations of the church. The Altar Society was organized in March of 1938 with an enrollment of 80 members. They have served over the years as a prayer action group. The officers of 1938 were: President, Barbara Klacik; Vice President, Helen Fedorchuck,; Secretary, Mary Kriskie; Treasurer, Mary Minarchik and Ann Chornack; Secretary Assistant, Mary Gondal. During the tenure of Fr. Levitsky the Altar Society was changed to the Altar Rosary Society. From 1938 until the present day under the officers of President, Mary Stebila and Secretary/Treasurer, Monica Pesarchick, their members are dedicated to prayer, attending to the needs of the altar areas, providing linens for the altars, flowers for the festive times of the year, and organizing fundraisers for the church benefit. In 1988 they celebrated their 50th anniversary and it was recognized that within the last few years over $25,000.00 has been donated for church renovations and needs.
The main source of income for the church renovations, in addition to the generosity of the parishioners has been the Pyrohy and Bake Sales run at the church from its beginning. Thousands of dollars have been raised over these past hundred years through these projects. The bake sale was discontinued years ago but the pyrohy sale still brings in the main source of our repair income. The Pyrohy sale, run bi-monthly now, also offers a social benefit for many of the parishioners from both our parishes of Mt. Carmel and Centralia. It’s a chance to work together, share stories and laughter, and bring alive the spirit of a community working together for a common cause. Over the years, many have served as the Chairperson of the project: Mr. and Mrs. George Suchanich, William and Elizabeth Senkowicz, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Mudry, Andrew and Eva Karlak, Steven and Patricia Mayernick, Metro and Helen Homiak, Walter and Helen Mikulski, Walter McAndrew, Barbara Worhach and presently the project is under the supervision of Mrs. Anne Steffanick.
A deep debt of gratitude is offered to these members of our churches who dedicate their time and energy freely for the benefit of our churches. For the renovation project this past two and a half years over $70,000.00 has been donated by the pyrohy sale fund. We couldn’t have done it without them.
The game of chance “Bingo” was also run in the parish for about ten years during the 1960’s. Under the supervision of Betty and George Slater, Francis and Catherine Daya, Walter and Helen McAndrew, and Effie Koropchak. Their time and effort brought a much needed boost to the parish income. In 1969 a fire in the church hall after one of the Bingo games nearly led to a disaster for the church. However, only major smoke damage and limited fire damage was to befall the community. Those tending to the Bingo at that time cleaned and repaired the hall after the fire. Smoke damage had also damaged the paint and icons in the main part of the church proper.
In 1971, under the pastorate of Father John Wysochansky, the interior of the church was repainted and the icons on the iconostasis and church ceiling were repainted. From 1973-1974 contracts were signed with Boris Makarenko, contractor, of Philadelphia for the repainting and gold-leafing of the icons and iconostasis, for a price of $25,320.00. A contract was also signed with George McFee who would restore the icons on the ceiling of the church and sanctuary for the price of $9000.00. Bingo, pyrohy, raffles and picnics were some of the fund raisers sponsored during this time by various parish organizations.
Father Wysochansky was replaced by Father Myron Plekon in 1976. It was during his stay that the Church School on West Avenue was sold to the Zachary and Elaine Jepko Family. The building was used for the children’s schooling at one time, and then afterwards for meetings, storage, and picnics.
Father David Chabin became pastor in 1977 and was pastor until 1988. During his tenure, the church was repointed, a new roof was installed on the church building and rectory, and a new garage/storage building was erected in the rear of the rectory. He began a Catechetical class for the grade school and high school students in helping them come to an understanding of their faith and culture. The League of Ukrainian Catholics, which had been active in the church for many years was again in the forefront with the youth of the parish and their new pastor.
During this time Father Chabin was stricken ill and neighboring priests helped in keeping the spiritual needs of the parish satisfied. Through the prayers and support of the parish community and God’s help, he recovered and again returned to the Mount Carmel parish to fulfill his pastoral duties. In 1988, he was transferred to the Transfiguration Church in Shamokin where he assumed the new duties of a parochial school and Dean of the Shamokin Deanery.
Father Daniel Troyan assumed the administration of SS. Peter and Paul and Assumption BVM Churches at the beginning of Lent 1988. His priesthood had led him back to serve the parish of his grandparents and parents. With the cooperation of the parishes, a revitalization of the parishes, spiritually and physically was begun, especially in anticipation of the upcoming anniversary celebrations in each church. Religious education classes began again for the youth of the parish and adult classes were added as well. Classes ran again on “Saturday School” at the former rectory buildings in Centralia for the children of both churches. A children’s Summer camp was begun for members of the parishes and each has progressed with the children and adults looking forward to its arrival. The League of Ukrainian Catholics took on the cause of the children and helped in the financing of Halloween parties, St. Nicholas day gifts, gifts for graduates, running of a concession stand at the weekly bingo, sponsoring Easter Egg Hunts and breakfasts, dinners, and dances for the benefit of the children and community. The Altar Rosary Society repaired vestments, helped in a general clean-up of long-forgotten drawers and closets and a new sense of accomplishment started the long process of physically uplifting the parish church and rectory. Their sponsoring of the Chinese Auction and raffle and help at pyrohy made many new funds available for the church renovations. Since 1988, the church building has been insulated, new windows installed in the church hall, a resealing of the church brickwork and restoration of the towers of the church, remodeling of the rectory interior and exterior, repainting and plastering of the church interior and iconostasis, re-carpeting of the interiour of the church, and a new sound system installed in the church.
The greatest accomplishment of the parish was the new life in its liturgical and spiritual attitude. Many parishioners, young and old, have become involved in the life of the parish with renewed interest and zeal. The cooperation of the short-time and long-time parishioners reflect the growing sense of God present in their compassion, their dedication, their concern for the elderly and the young, and their support of their pastor and church.
The spiritual success lies with God as Father and his Son Jesus as the mainstay of the parish life. The physical successes have been accomplished through the financial sacrifices of the parishioners and the pyrohy sale which donated over $70,000.00 since the project began. The future looks good for the next 100 years… for it is viewed with uplifted faces to hope, and growth in Jesus as our Lord.
Taken from the 100th anniversary booklet.