The parishioners of St. Michael the Archangel parish in Rankin, PA celebrated their Centennial Anniversary on November 16, 2008, beginning with a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy celebrated by His Eminence, The Most Reverend Metropolitan Nicholas. Parish council president Joseph Mascilak greeted His Eminence with the traditional bread and salt. The pastor, the Very Reverend John D. Lazarek joyously greeted His Eminence with the hand cross. More than 150 former members who grew up at St. Michael's had been sent invitations to join the parishioners for the celebration. Many of them live at great distances, but some of them traveled to fill the church with more than 200 people.
The parishioners were honored to have a vocation of the parish, Reverend Father Michael J. Miklos, who now resides in Spring Hill, Florida, participate in the Liturgy. Other assisting clergy included both the current and retired Deans, Very Rev. Protopresbyter Robert J. Prepelka and Very Rev. Protopresbyter John P. Gido; Archdeacon John Youhas, former parish cantor Deacon Artemius Stienstra; and Christ the Saviour Seminarians Marc Wisnosky, Joseph Gingrich, and Greg Robel.
Assisting the clergy were Sacristan Gregory Bodrog with servers Ryan Alm, Joseph Lagnese and Patrick McGough. Beautiful new gold altar linens and altar server dalmatics were purchased through the efforts of the parish Altar Society. The congregational singing was led by Subdeacon David Urban. WPXI, a Pittsburgh television station, filmed part of the service and interviewed His Eminence for a news story which aired that evening.
One of the parish's newest members and a recent convert to Orthodoxy, Luke Mayernik, was tonsured a Reader. Luke is a talented musician with years of experience as an organist in Roman Catholic parishes. His spiritual joy expressed in Prostopinije including the reading of the Epistle and leading the congregation in the Creed.
At the end of the Liturgy, His Eminence asked the children to come forward to receive a blessing and a remembrance gift, then he blessed all in attendance with the sprinkling of Holy Water. Eleanor Dussling graciously accepted the parish's request to provide St. Bail's bread for Mirovanije. Members of the Kopcho family prepared the tables and offered a continental breakfast downstairs in the parish social center.
More than 200 attended the banquet held at the Edgewood Country Club, including visitors from St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church located one block from St. Michael's. Following the invocation and singing of God Bless America and Ja Rusyn Byl, Miss Junior A.C.R.Y. Emily Matelan, the oldest 5th generation member of the parish, greeted His Eminence with roses.
Dean of the Pittsburgh Deanery, Father Robert Prepelka, served as toastmaster for the program. Father Robert grew up across the river from Rankin and was very close to the late John and Anna Adams, who even into their 90's had been responsible for supplying altar linens and flowers for the parish. Father Robert spoke of them and other members of the parish he has known over the years, highlighting that "St. Michael's Church" is not the building, the people are "St. Michael's Church".
The two deceased pastors who served the parish for more than 25 years each were represented by their families. The parish was honored by a visit from the Very Rev. Protopresbyter Peter Buletza's wife, Pani Mary and his daughter, Matuska Mary Breton, both of whom traveled from New Jersey. Although no one from the Right Rev. Stephen Varzaly's family was able to attend due to either health or distance reasons, the toastmaster read an eloquent letter sent by his daughter Martha.
Speaker Father Michael Miklos conveyed that it was an honor for he and Pañi Karen to attend, remembering many wonderful memories of his years at St. Michael’s and how these and later experiences led him to follow a calling to serve the Lord. Despite his military service travels where there were no Orthodox churches in our diocese, he eventually came full circle to return to our diocese.
Metropolitan Nicholas offered some of his reflections on the parish anniversary. He noted our diocese is blessed with centennials of many parishes such as St. Michael's. But that equally important for our diocese are the newer mission parishes such as the parish Father John helped create in Manassas, and he also spoke of the first Orthodox Church in the Crawfordville region of Indiana.
Father John Lazarek was the final speaker. He began by thanking His Eminence and giving him a small gift of appreciation from the parish. Father then thanked the members of the parish council for all the work they had done to prepare for the services and the banquet. He made a formal presentation to longtime parish council president Joseph Mascilak to recognize hundreds of hours he has quietly worked at the church.
Each person attending the banquet received a color photo of the outside of the church engraved on an antique gold-colored plate designed as a marble paperweight. The Carpatho-Rusyn Society provided a successful sales table with educational and interesting books and folk crafts.
Because it is such a special anniversary, the program book was not provided at the banquet. This will allow photos from the centennial to be included in the book, which is being prepared without typesetting costs by Christina Duranko. In addition to centennial and historical photos to be included in the book, parishioner Maxine McGough, a professional photographer, took group photos of the parishioners and various organizations.
St. Michael's looks forward to its next century with many new members adding to those of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th generations of its founding members.
The History of Saint Michael the Archangel in Rankin PA
More than 100 Years of Determination and Perseverance
In the late 1880's, the booming steel, coal, and glass industries of the Monongahela River area near Pittsburgh began attracting tens of thousands of immigrants, including thousands from the Carpathian Mountains. From about 20 churches built within a 25 mile radius of Pittsburgh, St. Michael's is one of only two with the original interior of the church basically intact from this period, and the only one of the two that did not assimilate into more Russianized customs and traditions. This is the result of more than 10 decades of determination, perseverance, literally sweat and tears, from an unwavering commitment to maintain the Eastern Rite faith and customs of their ancestors.
In 1896, the first Greek Catholic church, Sts Peter & Paul, was organized on the north bank of the river in Braddock. Those living in the neighboring towns of Rankin and East Pittsburgh walked as far as 3 miles to church. By 1899, a Greek Catholic Union Lodge of St. Michael the Archangel had been chartered in Rankin. In late 1906 they purchased property. The men of the parish dug-out and laid the foundation, completing what is now the basement. On April 12, 1907, Rankin residents resigned from Sts Peter & Paul to join the new parish of St. Michael's. For each service they formed a procession to carry Liturgical items to and from Sts Peter and Paul. The newly appointed Greek Catholic Bishop Stephen Ortinsky denied their request to continue. Encouraged by Father John Szabo, they continued to raise funds to purchase the items and obtain a mortgage. By the date of the second cornerstone in 1908, they made the final decision to move forward and began building the church on this foundation. As more funds were raised and more families sacrificed to sign for larger mortgages, the church was completed and blessed in 1910. By the time the parish house was completed in 1916, there were more than 200 families. By the 1920's, the icon that continues to capture the attention of the youngest children on their mother's shoulders, a 20 by 30 foot oval icon of heaven and hell, was painted on canvas while glued to the rounded interior ceiling. Icons were added including rounded 6 foot by 5 foot icons of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in each upper corner. In 1926, the parish obtained a bank loan to pay for an iconostas, white with green leaves and purple grapes. This was carved by Jan Luhowiak, whose granddaughter is Pani Diana Lazarek.
During the difficult period after the 1929 decree by Rome, the Right Rev. Stephen Varzaly, editor of the GCU Church Messenger, became the pastor of St. Michael's in 1932. At the first meeting to form our diocese, St. Michael's became one of the founding parishes. Rome filed a lawsuit to control the property. The judge ruled the people of the parish owned the property, one of the few that Rome did not keep in the region. In 1947, because of issues relating to diocesan finances, St. Michael's was one of the parishes later associated with a Carpatho-Russian Diocese which was part of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Diocese. This also helped fuel the U.S. Congressional effort to accuse organizations and people of being Communist sympathizers seriously impacting the daily lives of many, with official apology letters being issued to some decades later. When the separate Carpatho-Russian Diocese was dissolved 1963, the parish returned to our diocese.
Limited changes have been made to the interior of St. Michael's. In the late 19th and early 20th century, thousands of new churches in America were founded by Slav immigrants who were Carpatho-Rusin, Polish, Slovak, Ukrainian and Hungarian. Most of these Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic and Lutheran churches had angel statue light fixtures illuminating the altar area. An attempt to locate any remaining besides those at St. Michael's has been difficult, 99% of these are only a fading memory. The other light fixtures were updated 1953. In 1967, the baldachin and iconostas were covered with gold mosaics and gold-leaf; and a magnificent chandelier replaced the last original light fixture. New stained glass windows were added in 1972, and the existing original bells were connected to motors and are rung by wall switch.
From its earliest days, unlike many other parishes, St. Michael's membership included a relatively large number of families that were not Carpatho-Rusin. Families from further east into what is now known as Ukrainian and Macedonians could have chosen to create separate churches, but did not do so. St. Michael's looks forward to its next century with many new members adding to those of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th generations of its founding members.
By: Christina Duranko