History of St. Mary's
by Ryan P. Washlaski, Web Master,
|America "The Land of Dreams"|
living under the repressive and feudalistic society that existed in the countries
of the Carpathian Mountain Region of Galicia, in central Europe at the beginning
of the 20th century, a great many of the Carpatho-Rusyn people sought out
the "Land of Dreams," America.
In the early 1900's, a large immigration of people took place from the Carpathian Mountain region of Galicia to the coal mining patches of the United States of America.
The Carpatho-Rusyn people, as these immigrates from Galicia are known today, arrived in America, after spending up to two weeks at sea as steerage passengers, in the most cramped quarters with hundreds of other passangers. Then setting in New York harbor for days awaiting transport to Ellis Island. The immigration station another experience in this new land, it was also were many of their names were changed, because the immigration officer couldn't spell it or just wrote down what even they thought it should be. After passage through the immigration station they usually boarded a Pennsylvania Railroad train with their only means of knowing where they were going, a slip of paper pinned to their coats, with the name and town of their sponsor written on it. Without knowledge of the language or the country the immigrates migrated to areas were possibly a friend from their village had settled, or areas which resembled their home land as well as jobs they were familiar with in the coal fields of Pennsylvania. Many an unscrupulous coal company agent, after befriending the men, would pin the name and town of the coal company they recruited for to the men's coats, and send them on their way without the men knowing where they were going or where they would end up, thus increasing the agents recruiting fees.
|The Anthracite Coal (the hard coal) and Bituminous Coal (the soft coal) mining regions of Pennsylvania, being very active at the turn of the 20th century, were in need of a much larger labour force. The Coal Companies actively sought out this new immigrant labor force, to be exploited, as another new source of cheap labor for the coal mines. Many of the coal companies sent their agents overseas, to central Europe, to recruit the workers they needed for their mines.|
|A great many of the Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants settled in the Coal Patches (the name commonly given to the coal mining towns and villages) of the Anthracite Coal Region of eastern Pennsylvania and went to work in the deep Anthracite mines of Minersville, Pottsville, Schuylkill Haven, Eckley, Wilkes-Barre, and Scranton and many of the other coal mining towns in the Coal Region area.|
|Others, having family or friends in western Pennsylvania, continued westward, traveling by rail on the Pennsylvania Railroad, to the bituminous coal mining patches of western Pennsylvania and settled in Cambria, Fayette, Indiana and Westmoreland Counties.|
Mary's Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox Catholic
Church building (built ca.1906), Shieldsburg, Salem Township,Westmoreland Co., PA., built by the Carpatho-Rusyn coal miners from the coal patches of Andrico, Crabtree, Huron and Salemville. The church is located in Shieldsburg on the old U.S. Rt. 22 between the Salemville Patch and New Alexandria, PA. across the road from St James R.C. Church. [Church photo ca.1951]
(Photo courtesy of Peter E. Starry, Jr., collections)
|A large number of these Carpatho -Rusyn immigrants settled in the small coal mining patches of Andrico, Donahue, Dundale Station (Huron), Forbes Road, Frogtown, Groff (Crabtree), Greenwald (Deweysville), Hannastown, Highland, Luxor, Allsworth Station (Salemville), and Sowash (Winthrop) in the New Alexandria (Denniston Town) area of northern Westmoreland County. Since this area enjoyed direct railroad passenger service via. the New Alexandria Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad, it made for an easy connection from the mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad at Donahue Junction Station and travel from their port of entry in New York.|
|This ethnic concentration of the Carpatho-Rusyn people in this area of western Pennsylvania brought other immigrants from similar backgrounds to it.|
altar from the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Shieldsburg. The
altar was retrived by Peter E. Starry, Jr. after the interior of the church
was remodeled and the original funishings were removed. The photo was
taken in Pete Starry's house with the added statures and other
(Photo courtesy of Peter E. Starry, Jr.)
Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants brought with them their ethnic arts, talents, customs,
and strong religious beliefs. Religion and the celebration of the Holy
Days playing an important part in the lives of the Ukranian coal miners.
With no other Ukranian Orthodox Church in the immediate area, the families
first met in the houses of some of the miners in Salemville patch. There
they formed a small mission congregation of the Greek Catholic Rite. The
Greek Rite congregation later held their celebrations, with visiting
priests, in the basement of the Salemville Public School, the building
was also used by the small Roman Rite Catholic congregation. The school building
was located just north of the Salemville patch, in the area that the new
US Rt. 22 now covers.
Around 1906, after the families could no longer meet in the Salemville Public School building, a group of miners from both the Greek Rite and the Latin Rite congregations approached the Keystone Coal and Coke Company Superintendent with hopes of obtaining a parcel of land, from the coal company , on which to build a church.
|The Keystone Coal & Coke Company granted both the Greek Catholic Rite congregation and the Roman Catholic Latin Rite congregation plots of coal company land in the village of Shieldsburg, just east of Salemville. Originally it was planned that the Greek and the Latin Rites would be celebrated in the same edifice, but this, because of various ethnic and cultural differences did not happen.|
|Original Plot Map of the properties granted to the Carpatho-Rusyn
Greek Rite congregation and the Benedictine Society of Westmoreland County
Roman Catholic Rite congregation for their churchs.
(Plot plan courtesy of Peter E. Starry, Jr.)
|The Greek Catholics were, however, granted a lot three lots back from the then U.S. Route 22 and behind the property granted to the Roman Catholic Rite, so they could build a separate church.|
|But, following disputes among the various leaders of some of the other ethnic church groups in the community and over use of the right-of-way to the coal company granted property, it was decided by the Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Rite church leaders not to build their church on the company grounds. Fortunately, the Shields family of Shieldsburg and other families donated 3 lots across the highway from the Latin Rite St. James Roman Catholic Church land.|
Starry with the originial altar from the church now located in his
|Soon a Greek Rite Orthodox Church along with a Ukranian Hall and parsonage was planned for the new property in Shieldsburg.|
1906, a small frame church building was constructed by the church members.
The first Greek Rite Mass in the new church was celebrated on September 8,
1906, by a visiting Greek Orthodox priest from the Parish in Jeannette,
Pennsylvania. Within a few short years the Ukranian Hall and parsonage were
Since the dedication
of the church was planned for the Holy Day of "The Nativity of the Blessed
Virgin Mary", the Church was named
|St. Mary's Ukranian
Catholic Church ca.1976
(photo by Robert Morgan, courtesy of the
New Alexandria Bicentennial History Committee)
|From the very beginning, the parish has been a Mission Church of one of the larger area parishes, since the congregation has always been small, and its membership could not afford to support a Parish Priest.|
|This Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Orthodox Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary has survived many changes since its founding. A social hall was constructed next to the church, which has been torn down. A parish house was also built, but later sold at auction because of financial difficulties. Over the years as the congregation grew older, the church was changed to a Carpatho-Rusyn Greek (Byzantine) Catholic Church. Today, after several name changes, it is known as St. Mary's Ukranian Catholic Church of Shieldsburg. At the present time there are still 9 members of the congregation that attend mass in the original church building. The church is now a mission parish of St. Mary's Ukrainian (Byzantine) Catholic Church, Hillview Ave., Latrobe, Pennsylvania.|
Mary Samella, who took care of the church building for over 30 years until
her death, was secretary and treasurer of the church.
(Photo courtesy of Stella Nalevanko and the New Alexandria Bicentennial History Committee).
|The land granted by the Keystone Coal & Coke Company was retained by the congregation and dedicated with great cermony the following year, ca.1907, as the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox cemetery.|
|Continue your Tour HERE:|
|Our Cemetery - The dedication|
|Back to Our Church - Main Page - Links to A History of Salemville & the Coal Mines of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania|
Reference Sources: Reference Sources used in the History of Salemville, Salem Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania can be found here.
Copyright 2001, All rights reserved by Ryan P. Washlaski & The 20th Century Society of Western Pennsylvania.
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