By LINDA M. LINONIS
It’s been a year in the making, and the first hurdle has been overcome.
Last January, the 545 Management Group made known its dream of transforming Our Lady of Hungary Church into an ethnic heritage center.
As of this month, the 501(c)3 group, a nonprofit organization, now owns the former church, rectory and pavilion with green space that it bought for $1 and other considerations from the Diocese of Youngstown. A requirement of the sale was that 545 Management Group had the finances to pay the bills for a year.
The new name is Youngstown Heritage Center, which eventually will showcase ethnic displays in the former sanctuary. The altar and statuary have been removed. Youngstown history will be featured in the lower level.
Our Lady of Hungary merged with Sts. Peter and Paul Croatian Catholic Church and St. Stephen of Hungary Church as Holy Apostles Parish in the Parish Implementation Plan. The last Mass at Our Lady of Hungary was Feb. 12, 2012. A transition team from the parish assessed locations and finances before deciding to close the church, which dates to 1929.
Bob Barko Jr. is president and spokesman for 545 Management Group, which also includes Dennis McBride, former head of Our Lady’s parish council, and George Kalosky, whose grandparents were charter members of the church. Barko noted that even as the parish team decided to close the church, there was talk about how to save it.
Mindszenty Hall, next door to the church building, was sold to Aut Mori Grotto. Funds from that sale paid debts of the church, Barko said.
Barko said the 545 group had received a $14,000 donation toward its capital campaign, whose goal is $400,000. A recent event, a Night at the Races, raised $2,000 toward the cause.
Now that the 545 group officially owns the property, Barko said a new roof, new heating and cooling system and handicapped-accessible renovations are on the agenda. The cost is estimated at $220,000.
Barko said an open house will take place in February, which will coincide with the push on the capital campaign. The open house, he said, will be a “public outreach” to individuals and groups who have offered support and a direct campaign to the public. The campaign is expected to last for a year.
Through Mahoning County Land Bank, 545 group also hopes to acquire three vacant properties located just south of the rectory. That space would be used for parking and a gated garden.
Barko, who operated Steel Town Studio, a gallery featuring Youngstown pop culture, said he has amassed a large collection of Youngstown memorabilia including Idora Park and Isaly’s dairy pieces.
“Youngstown Heritage Center would show the history and heritage of the city. It’s an anchor on the West Side,” Barko said. The 545 group envisions the center being open Fridays through Sundays.
The Rev. Joseph Rudjak, pastor of Holy Apostles Parish and president of the Ethnic Heritage Society, said he’s hopeful that the 545 group will garner the financial and community support it needs.
Father Rudjak said the heritage center would preserve the craftsmanship and legacy of Hungarian immigrants who built the church. It exemplifies Carpathian iconography and symbols of the Transylvania region, the homeland of many founding members. The church’s wooden ceiling is a legacy of the logging background of Hungarian immigrants who became expert brick layers in Youngstown industry.
“The center would be valuable as an educational tool so that the wonderful contributions of ethnic groups would be preserved,” Father Rudjak said.
He added that such a center has a role to play to educate future generations and would be part of a network in the city. The pastor said the center would highlight the city’s cultural diversity and the important contributions that immigrants made to churches and building the community.