St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church, 1898 Wilson Ave., Youngstown, marked its 100th anniversary Nov. 24 with a Divine Liturgy of Thanksgiving celebrated by Metropolitan Archbishop William C. Skurla of the Metropolitan ArchEparchy of Pittsburgh. A dinner and program followed and featured Rus’ kyz Muzikanty, a Pittsburgh-based ensemble specializing in folk music of the Carpathian Mountains. Other events were a Divine Liturgy in January followed by breakfast to begin the anniversary year; cemetery cleanup in May; parish picnic in August and Sacred Heart Society luncheon in October. Anniversary committee members were Al Massullo and Ken Stanislaw, co-chairmen, and Marilyn Davis, Mo Durkot, JoAnn Bayus Stock, Robert Vaclav, Helen Marie Vaclav, Dolly Vrabel and Mary Jean Vrabel. A church directory is being compiled featuring portraits of each family along with memorial listings and photos of parishioners.
Early years: The founding fathers of St. Nicholas came from the Carpathian Mountains and were known as Greek Catholics, Byzantine Catholics or Rusnacks (Rusyns). They came to the United States and settled in communities in the Youngstown area: Hazelton (East Side), Lansingville (South Side) and East Youngstown (Campbell). The communities were located near steel mills where they worked. They came with few material goods but had a strong work ethic and deep faith. The cycle of life in the Carpatho-Rusin villages was governed by the Church. The traditional lifestyle of the Carpatho-Rusin peasant, determined by the rhythms of the agricultural seasons, was intertwined with religious observances and obligations. Until 1912, people of the Byzantine rite travel distances to attend church. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, now St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church, was located on the West Side in the area known as “Steelton.”
Founding: In the fall of 1911, a group discussed founding a parish in the Hazelton area, where they lived. This group with help of St. Mary’s pastor, Rev. Alexius Medvecky, received the approval of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. They chose St. Nicholas of Myra as patron. The first Divine Liturgy was Christmas Day, Jan. 7, 1912, by the Julian calendar.
Founders: Stephen Backus, Andrew Bodnovich, Joseph Brincko, Stephen Brincko, Joseph Bujnyak, Michael Dudick, Stephen Dulin, John Duritza, Matthew Galayda, Martin Garancovsky, John Gran, Stephen Gran, Matthew Gulovich, Michael Hnat, John Holliday, Andrew Karas, Stephen Kolesar, Andrew Koly, Anthony Koly, Michael Kovalchick, Peter Leeson Sr., John Pollock, John Pyatak, Michael Sharshan, Joseph Vanasky, Joseph Vrabel Sr. and Matthew Wansach founded the church.
Building: The new church community met in members’ homes for Divine Liturgy. The Rev. Alexander Kossey was the original pastor. A former Swedish church, 1886 Wilson Ave., across the street from the present church, was acquired.
Growth: Father Kossey enlarged the old church and acquired land on Hyatt Street in Campbell for the church cemetery. In 1914, the Rev. Alexander Papp was named pastor. In 1918, the Haseltine family estate, located at 1898 Wilson Ave., across the street from the original church, was purchased for $15,000. The Haseltine home was the parish house and adjacent land was used for the construction of the new church that cost $125,000.
Architecture: The new church was patterned after the Greek Catholic Cathedral Church in Uzhorod, Europe, the mother diocese of the present Byzantine Catholic Diocese in Pittsburgh. Parishioners donated items in remembrance of their village or county. Major items were the chandelier, the vigil light, bells, pulpit and Gospel book.
Picnic area: In 1937, the parish acquired 11 acres on Shady Run Road in Lansingville, which was developed into a picnic area. Formerly known as Shady Run Grove, the picnic area became a social gathering place for many ethnic groups. In 2001, the structure was remodeled to become a banquet center, the Byzantine Center at the Grove.
School: The dream of the late Rev. John S. Rommack for a parochial school was fulfilled when the Oles’ estate on Youngstown-Poland Road was acquired in 1952 through the combined resources of the five Byzantine Catholic parishes in the Youngstown area. The school closed in 2009.
Source: Church history