PARISH HISTORY (1884 2010)
During the early centuries of
Christianity, the world was divided into the East and the West. The East
included Byzantium (Greece), Africa, and Asia Minor. Rome (and the areas it
governed) constituted the West. Through this delineation, the Catholic
Church developed two subdivisions: the Eastern Rite and the Western Rite.
The early Eastern Rite Catholic
immigrants sought the opportunity to worship God in America. In 1884, the
first Greek Catholic parish in the United States was formed in Shenandoah,
PA. Later that year, a sister parish was created in Shamokin. The first
Pastor, Father Volianskyi, visited
Excelsior (where many of the immigrants found employment in the area
hard-coal mines) within the first month of his arrival in Shenandoah. On
subsequent visits, he would celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the local
school hall. Thus, the first home of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church of
Shamokin was the Whitney School in Excelsior, and the Parish can trace its
roots to the devout Ukrainians that worshipped in Excelsior in December
As the number of Ukrainian
immigrants continued to grow, a permanent Church building was suggested.
The Brotherhood of Sts. Cyril and Methodius was organized in May of 1888.
This organization assumed the responsibility of erecting a Church to
conform to the Greek Catholic tradition. The first meeting was held on June
21, 1888 to raise funds for this venture.
In November of 1888, a lot was purchased
in the Fifth Ward area of Shamokin, bounded by the streets of Pine, Pearl,
and Vine. This parcel of land was purchased from Caroline Helfenstein for the sum of $400.00. Father Volianskyi was involved in the decision to
purchase of this property. However, in 1889, while the building of the
Church was in progress, Father Volianskyi
was recalled and returned to the Ukraine. (The Pastor had been recalled in
response to the opposition of the Latin Rite Church to the presence of
married priests in the US.) However, Father Volianskyi
did bless the cornerstone of the new Church building prior to his return to
the old country.
On Sunday, September 22, 1889,
the new Greek Catholic Church of Shamokin was dedicated with great
ceremony. Father Andruchowicz of the Shenandoah
Parish blessed the wooden framed structure of Byzantine design. The Church
was yet unnamed, but the property was officially recorded in the name of
the Cyril and Methodius Society.
In 1892, the Church was chartered
as the Achoma Greek Catholic Church of Shamokin,
the first of several names that the parish would be given. At this time,
the Brotherhood of the Cyril and Methodius Society appealed to Metropolitan
Andrew Sheptycky for a resident priest. This
request was granted when Father John Konstankewicz,
a Lemko, was assigned. He arrived on May 1, 1893
and became the Parishs first full time
Under his tenure, a rectory (at
Pine and Franklin Streets) and the first section of the parish cemetery
were purchased. The first Church Choir began in 1894, and a Ruthenian Band was organized. The Church was also
chartered under the name Russian Greek Catholic Church in
February of 1896.
By July of 1900, it was evident
that the growing parish community needed a larger building. Therefore, a parcel
of land at the corner of clay and Shamokin Streets was purchased from John
Mullen, owner of the Shamokin Iron Works. Additional lots were also
purchased from Caroline Helfenstein (who had
previously sold the fifth ward property to the Parish).
The Architectural firm of Luaife & Howe of Jersey City, NJ, drew the plans
for the new Church. East & Lumg Company
agreed to build the Church out of granite for the sum of $46,000. The stone
was supplied by Rylston Stone of Gouverneur, NY, and the copper for the roof and domes
was purchased from Horsch Brothers of Allentown,
PA. Construction of the new Church began in 1904 and was completed in 1905.
The original Church building was then sold to the Polish Independent
As mentioned previously, the first
Ruthenian Catholic Bishop was named in 1907.
Therefore, the first resident hierarch in America, Bishop Soter Ortynsky, traveled from
Philadelphia to bless the cornerstone of the new Church on October 29,
On November 11, 1913, the Church
charter was changed to incorporate the new name of the Parish as the Ruthenian Catholic church of the Transfiguration of Our
In April of 1918, Father John Konstankewicz died after a short illness. He had served
the Church faithfully for a quarter-century and is credited with fostering
the early development and solidarity of the Parish.
Following the death of Father
John Konstankewicz, there was a succession of
several priests until Father Michael Oleksiw was
named Pastor in February of 1924. Under his pastorate, the mortgage was
completed and burned. In addition, the Mullen home on the corner of Webster
and Shamokin Streets was purchased to be used for a parish convent and
On July 4, 1934, the Parish
celebrated its Golden Anniversary with a Divine Liturgy in the pavilion at
Edgewood Park, and entertainment by the Church Band and regional Byzantine
After serving the Parish for
eighteen years, Father Oleksiw died in 1942. He
was succeeded by Father Michael Kuzmak, who began
the development of the Parish School but had to relinquish his parish
duties due to poor health. He was replaced by Father Emil Sharanevicz, who also was named the local Dean. Father
Emil supervised the remodeling of the property at 129 N. Shamokin Street
into an eight grade elementary school. A Convent
area was made on the third floor for the nuns of the Sister Servants of
Mary Immaculate (SSMI). The total cost of this project was $52,000. The
first students graduated in 1944, and the school would continue to educate
the youth of the Parish and the local community until 2009.
A succession of Pastors in the
1950s included Fathers Stephen Pobutsky,
Myron Plekon, Michael Kawola,
and Constantine Berdar. Parish improvements
continued with the installation of water pipes and macadamized roads at the
Cemetery and new sidewalks around the Church.
In preparation for the 75th
Anniversary of the Parish in 1959, the interior walls of the Church were
cleaned and repainted, altars were renovated, the pews were refinished, and
new flooring was installed. Paintings of the fourteen Stations of the Cross
were donated by individual parishioners and placed on the side walls. An
Iconostasis, a screen adorned with icons, was added through a generous
donation of $9,500 by Christina Wilchatsky. This
Byzantine partition was placed in front of the altar to separate the
sanctuary from the congregation.
During the next twenty-five
years, Transfiguration Parish was faithfully served by Fathers George Dubitsky, Adam Polischak,
Theodore Danusiar, and Michael Batcho, Very Rev. David N. Chabin
who served the parish as pastor from the late 1980's until his death on
Sept 1, 1992, at the age of 45.
The 100th Anniversary of
Transfiguration Church was celebrated in 1984 with a Divine Liturgy and a
dinner attended by parishioners and honored guests.
Throughout the following
quarter-century, the Parish was faithfully ministered by Father Michael Hutsko, Monsignor Michael Fedorowich,
and Father Mark Fesniak. The current pastor, Rev.
Stepan Bilyk, also
serves the Patronage of the Mother of God parish in Marion Heignts, PA.
Through the generosity of
benefactors and the tireless efforts of the parishioners, renovations and
improvements continued. At the Parish Cemetery, trees were removed, and the
roads were resurfaced. Numerous granite benches were donated to honor the
memory of family members and enhance the beauty of this sacred resting
The St. Anna Society celebrated
its 100th anniversary in 2003 with a Divine Liturgy and banquet. To mark
the occasion, this benevolent organization donated a large granite
monument. This lighted street-level sign prominently denotes the proper
name of Transfiguration Church.
An air-conditioning system was
installed in the Church through a generous bequest by Elaine Dwinchik.
Generous benefactors continue to
assist the Parish. In particular, the tireless volunteers make more than
300 dozen pierogies each week and also sell
potato cake batter. The Parish Festival (Block Party) is held annually on
the first weekend of August. Revenues from these undertakings support the
Transfiguration Church will
celebrate its 125th Anniversary with a solemn Divine Liturgy on Sunday,
April 25, 2010. A dinner will follow at Massers
Banquet Hall in Paxinos.
Finally, it is truly fitting that we acknowledge the pioneers that built
this magnificent Church. These courageous immigrants faced tremendous
difficulties in their quest to follow the spiritual heritage of their
Eastern Christian Faith in this new land. When our ancestors founded this
Parish, they thought not only of themselves but also about the future
generations. They had a burning love for their Church, their uniquely
beautiful Rite, and their cultural traditions.
Our Ukrainian Parish is truly
grateful for the countless sacrifices made by its founding members. We
offer them our utmost respect and unending gratitude.
May their memory be eternal!
Written by Joanna Chowka Wolfe