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SCRANTON, PA. Youngstown-area native will lead Polish National Catholic Church

Saturday, November 23, 2002


Bishop Robert M. Nemkovich, currently the leader of the church's western diocese, will be installed as prime bishop Sunday.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- The question was, "Do you want to serve God at the altar?"
"I said yes," recalled Bishop Robert M. Nemkovich of the Polish National Catholic Church. He was 5 years old at the time.
The question was asked by the Rev. Felix S. Rekas, then the pastor of Holy Cross PNCC in Youngstown.
The bishop, who resides in Chicago, said he grew up in the church. He was an altar boy through high school.
"I really felt the Lord called me to be a priest and a bishop," he said.
The bishop has been the leader of the PNCC's western diocese and pastor of All Saints Cathedral in Chicago. That jurisdiction extends to churches in Parma, Ohio.
At 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Bishop Nemkovich will be installed as the church's sixth prime bishop, or leader of the PNCC in America.
The installation will take place at St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr Cathedral in Scranton, Pa., where the national church is based. Afterward, the new prime bishop will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving.
The PNCC was organized in 1897 after Polish immigrants who wanted a greater voice broke from the Roman Catholic Church. Today, the PNCC has about 40,000 members.
Bishop Nemkovich, who will celebrate his 60th birthday next Wednesday, was elected in October.
The prime bishop serves an eight-year term. Under church law, the prime bishop can serve two terms. Bishop Nemkovich said he may only serve one term due to an age limit.
Personal history
His youth was spent in the Mahoning and Shenango Valleys.
He was born in Grove City, Pa., a son of the late Michael and Stella Kornas Nemkovich, and was baptized in 1943 in Sharon, Pa. He lived in West Middlesex, Pa., until he was 2, when his parents moved to Youngstown.
He had his first communion and was confirmed at Holy Cross PNCC in Youngstown. That church eventually merged with the parish of the same name in Warren.
Holy Cross Parish in Warren will not have Mass on Sunday. Members are traveling to Scranton for the installation.
The bishop said his father was a laborer at the Republic Rubber Co. and his mother was a housewife.
The bishop is a 1960 graduate of North High School and received his bachelor of arts degree from Youngstown State University in 1964.
Memories of Youngstown
"I have very fond memories of Youngstown," said the bishop.
He noted that the last time he was in Youngstown, it looked like a ghost town.
But "People there still have good hearts. That's what counts," said Bishop Nemkovich.
He was ordained in 1966 after studies at the PNCC's Savonarola Theological Seminary in Scranton. He served in Massachusetts and was an administrator for the PNCC's eastern diocese before being appointed as bishop and head of the western diocese in 1993.
"It's not an easy life" being a minister, said Bishop Nemkovich. Still, his son, the Rev. Robert M. Nemkovich Jr., followed him into the ministry.
But the new prime bishop said the church's message about the redemptive power of Jesus Christ is vital.
"We need it very badly," he said.
The PNCC will spread that through its mission and evangelical work. Plans are underway for the next steps in those fields, the bishop said.
wilkinson@vindy.com