St. Casimir celebrates holiday homecoming

By Peter H. Milliken


The former St. Casi- mir Church sanctuary echoed once again with the joyous sounds of the holiday season as the 20-member St. Casimir’s choir led a Polish and American Christmas sing-along.

Brier Hill Cultural Center

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The St. Casimir Choir performed Christmas Carols at the Brier Hill Cultural Center in Youngstown.

Saturday evening’s program was reminiscent of the hour-long prelude to Christmas eve midnight Mass, in which the choir would sing, with the church illuminated only by the Christmas lights.

A church bell pealed at the beginning of the event, billed as “Kolachi and Koledy, a Christmas Homecoming.” Koledy are Polish Christmas carols.

On Saturday, the congregation returned to its former worship site for a holiday homecoming for the first time since the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown closed St. Casimir Church on Feb. 25, 2012, and merged it with St. Columba Cathedral.

“It’s the opportunity to truly, truly come home for the holidays. This church was traditional for so many people,” said Damian Tarantino of Boardman, choir director and a former St. Casimir Church parishioner. “We’re actually being able to come back for the first time since our church was closed,” he added.

“It’s our first chance to be back in the building with the choir, singing just like we did on Christmas eve for so many years,” Tarantino said of the structure, which is now a cultural center.

Tarantino’s mother, Wanda Jankowski Tarantino, 87, was the first person baptized in the former church building.

“In spite of the fact that the church was closed, our people are still here, and we’re celebrating our culture and our Christmas,” said Alexandria Copich of Liberty, a 65-year choir member. Copich was baptized in 1936 at St. Casimir, where she attended the church school. Her grandfather was one of the church’s founders.

St. Casimir’s was established in 1906 by Polish immigrants.

The church building at 145 Jefferson St., which was dedicated in 1926, became the Brier Hill Cultural Center this fall.

Still featuring its woodwork, stained glass windows and lofty ceiling, the neo-Romanesque building is now devoted to celebrating the rich ethnic diversity of the Mahoning Valley and serving as an anchor for the revitalization of the Brier Hill neighborhood.

Intended to become an annual occasion, the caroling event was designed to unite the cultural center and the St. Casimir Society — a group composed of former parishioners of the Brier Hill church.

“You can close the churches, but you can’t shut down the human spirit,” observed Sandra Cika, president of the St. Casimir Society and executive director of the cultural center. “Our choir still sings around town, even though we’re not formally a church choir now. We’re invited to sing mostly because of our Polish songs,” she added.

“It’s a really tight-knit community, and we stick together, and we’re looking towards the future,” she concluded.

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