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History of United Mine & Coke Works, United, Mt. Pleasant Twp., Westmoreland Co., PA

Coal Miners Memorial, United Mine & Coke Works, United, Mt. Pleasant Twp., Westmoreland Co., PA

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In Association with
History of Saint Florian
Slovak Catholic Church,

Mt. Pleasant Township,
Westmoreland County,
Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

A Tribute to the Coal Miners that built Saint. Florian Slovak Catholic Church, United, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

Compiled & Edited by
Raymond A. Washlaski

Raymond A. Washlaski, Historian, Editor,
Ryan P. Washlaski, Technical Editor,

Updated Oct. 15, 2009

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History of Saint Florian Slovak Catholic Church,
United, Mt. Pleasant Township,
Westmoreland Co., PA


Following is a translation by Mr. Stephen Ungvarsky; taken from a study by: Rev. Father Joseph A. Kushner, Decon, entitled, "Slovak Catholics of the Pittsburgh Diocese" and published by the "Slovak Catholic Sokol," Passaic, N. J., ca.1946. The dialog follows the early formative years from conception in ca.1909 to it more seasoned condition in ca.1938. To preserve its flavor much of the phrasing was left intact as it was translated from Slovak.

Saint Florian Slovak Catholic Church,
United, PA

The coal-mining town of United, PA lays almost midway between Mount Pleasant and Latrobe. Beginning in 1885, Slovaks began settling in the vicinity of Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland Co., PA and Connellsville, Fayette Co., PA.

At first the Slovaks traveled to the Saint Vincent Monastery at Latrobe, PA to attend church services and for their religious needs. When the Slovak parishes were established in Mount Pleasant, PA and Whitney, PA, they attended those churches. In the year 1899 the Polish people built a church in Mammoth, PA named St. Stanislaus and since it was near, they attended there. The Slovaks attended and paid their fraternal lodge dues there. The first Slovak fraternal lodges were the "National Slovak Society Lodge #59" in United, PA and the "National Slovak Society Lodge #177" in Mammoth, PA and also Lodge #181, First Catholic Slovak Union, Jednota in United, PA and Lodge #281, First Catholic Slovak Union in Mammoth, PA. In the year 1907 the Slavonic Citizens Club was founded and met regularly.

In July, 1909, a meeting was held in the home of Adama Lazor for the purpose of starting a Slovak parish. The responsible individuals were Štefan Nemetz, Ján Hlaváš and Ján Matejerník. It was decided to call an important meeting at which more than 100 individuals attended; it was held on the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15, 1909. Elected at this meeting, as president was Štephan Nametz, for secretary Valentín Laheta and treasurer Adama Lasor. These officers were authorized to obtain permission from Bishop Canevin to establish and build a Slovak parish in United. To cover travel and other expenses to see the Bishop, "Saint John the Baptist Branch Lodge #118" and Lodge #177 of the National Slovak Society each contributed $30.00. Following this the Slovaks in United, PA collected $42.10 for a total of $102.10

On the seventh of November, 1909 they again assembled for an important meeting at the home of Stephan Nemetz in United, PA. At this vital meeting Valentín Laheta resigned as the secretary and was replaced by Ján Feledík. To the church committee were added Pavel Murín, Michael Repko, František Majerník and Jozef Sikora. Added to the trustees were the following: from United, Ján Ulica and Ján Kozub; from Mammoth Pavel Murín and Valentín Laheta. It was agreed upon to collect dues for this church throughout the mining towns and nearby Slovak farmers in United, Trauger, Pleasant Unity, Bessemer (Humphreys), Mutual, Brinkerton, Strickler (Udell), Calumet, Mammoth Shaft, Mammoth Slope and Weltytown.

In November of 1909 the committee visited the H. C Frick Coal & Coke Company to obtain property for the church. (The first site selected was the corner lot later owned by Enoch Laick. When the Bishop found out that a saloon was located across the street he rejected the plan, later the present site was chosen.) Mr. Thomas Lynch, president of the company, promised and agreed to grant this property at no cost provided they obtained permission for building the church. This permission was requested immediately. However, the neighboring parish priest erroneously informed the Bishop relative to the number of Slovaks in United and surrounding areas and thus the Bishop denied permission to build the church. The Polish pastor from Mammoth, PA, Rev. Michael Krupinski had vehemently opposed the idea of a new Slovak church, stating that this was the need of but a few and they were making problems and disturbing his parish. When the bishop had denied their request, they all resolved to work harder to convince the Bishop.

On the 12th of December the treasury amounted to but $30.17 In January’s meeting it was resolved that each family contribute $25.00 and individuals $15.00 for church expenses and those that were able grant loans to the church. In this month 8 families, parishioners and Branch 181-K.J. loaned the parish $2,565.00. Other more generous loans and contributions followed. A petition of more than 350 signatures was signed and then presented to the Bishop. As a result, he agreed to send them a committee to investigate their statements.

On the 22nd day of May 1910, Bishop Canevin reviewed and approved the findings and requested the church committee meet with clergy.  On the 27th of March more than 200 individuals assembled in Smith’s hall in Trauger with Rev. Ervin E. Gellhof from Connellsville and Rev. Michal Kozlowski from the Polish parish in Mt. Pleasant.  These two reviewed the financial records and then forwarded them on to the Bishop for review.  Rev. Kozlowski acknowledged the needs for the Slovak parish in United, but Rev. Gellhof objected to building a new parish.  But Bishop Canevin permitted them to build the church and recommended Rev. Jaroslava Jandu from the nearby Slovak parish in Mt. Pleasant to advise them in all problems, the parish planners objected because he had been against the new church from the beginning.  Finally they consented to Rev. Ervin E. Gellhof even though he also at first objected to the new church.

On the 31st of May, 1910, the H. C. Frick Coal Company gave them a 3-acre lot of ground. After preparing plans for building the church, they sent them to the Bishop for review. He permitted them to build the church and the new parish for $12,000.00.  Then V. B. Snively, a contractor from Greensburg and the lowest bidder, began building.  More parishioners began contributing and granting loans so that by the end of the year a total of $4,415.00 was collected.  On the 20th of May, 1910 their first priest, Rev. Ján "John" Matejcsik, then recently arrived from Europe, came to them from Bansko Bystrického Diocese in Slovakia and after three days served the first mass in Lengyel’s Hall in Trauger, PA. Following this, religious services were held at the public school in lower United until the new church was finished.

The Bishop commissioned the corner stone that was blessed on September 4, 1910, after much struggling. Saint Florian Parish held a gala celebration for its first beginning as a living unit with its own house of worship.  Performing the blessing was Rev. Koloman Gašparík from the St. Elizabeth Parish in Pittsburgh, PA.  On the 4, 1912 the church was blessed and dedicated by Bishop Joseph M. Koudelka.  The church and parish house cost but $30,000.00. In April of 1912 the parish purchased five and three quarter acres of ground in Trauger, PA for a cemetery at a price of $600.00, and in ca.1914 they built a six room home for the catechism instructor and organist at a price of $1,342.46.  In 1912 the parish grew to 450 members.

Rev. Ján "John" Matejcsik died December 30, 1916 and on January 20, 1917 his remains were laid to rest in the parish cemetery at Trauger, PA.  Following him the parish needs were conducted by the Benedictine Fathers from the monastery of Saint Vincent with Rev. Jaroslav (Valerian) Winter OSB., most often serving at mass.  The Rev. Edward Kitz, from Tarentum also served at mass on two Sundays.  The Rev. Josef Ademek, who came to Pittsburgh from the diocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin took over the parish in January, 1917, remained until the 1st of April, and then left for Saint Joseph parish in Clairton; a great disturbance was made by forty Hungarian families, who opposed him because he was unable to speak their language.  His successor was Rev. Štefan Moravetz, who remained here for a short stay until the 15th of June.  His successor was Rev. Emil Sloupsky, who came here from Saint Matthew Parish in Natrona.  He remained here only half a month and in September went to the Holy Name Parish in Monessen, PA.  Once again the Benedictine fathers from Saint Vincent's provided for the parish. This period was the most disturbing in the young history of the Saint Florian Parish.

On December 4, 1918, Rev. Jozef Straka, the assistant pastor from Saint Michael’s church in Braddock, PA, was named pastor. At this time the parish had a cash value of $1,300.00 and during the four and one half years of his tenure he managed to save a total of $26,000 dollars. In 1923, while preparations were under way to build a school and convent, Rev. Straka was transferred to Saint Dominic Parish in Donora and the former Rev. Ervin E. Gellhof  took over as pastor. During his tenure the school and convent began being built and in September, 1923, the Vincentian Sisters of Charity, Perrysville, PA, began teaching. Since the convent was not completed at the end of December, the Vincentian Sisters of Charity resided in the parish house; the parish priest resided in the house of the organist. Constructed of wood, the school building and furniture cost $60,000.00 and the convent $14,000.00.

The parishioners of Saint Florian never forgot that in 1910 Rev. Gellhof was opposed to the establishment of their parish and for this they were not fond of him. On the 23rd of October he was transferred to the parish of Saint Rose in Bradenville, PA and their pastor, the Rev. Paul J. Odelga was made the pastor at Saint Florian Parish.

Bad times followed. In the years following 1930, unemployment was high; the parish lived through difficult times. In August 1935, Rev. Odelga had a very serious automobile accident. During his illness Rev. Louis Hohoš, a newly ordained priest who had been assisting a German parish at Pine Creek, Pennsylvania, was named as pastor to Saint Florian until 1936 when Rev. Odelga returned to assume his duties. On July 28, 1938 Rev. Odelga was transferred to Saint Rita Parish in Whitaker and the Rev. Louis Hohoš assumed the duties at Saint Florian. During his pastorate the properties were renovated and rebuilt and all debts paid. To the parish belonged 280 families who lived in United, Mammoth, Calumet, Jamison, Brinkerton, Trauger, Humphries, Bessemer (Humphreys) and Norvelt. The largest number of pioneers lived in Trauger and United.

Additional notes about St. Florian Parish, United, PA & The Forty Martyrs Church, Trauger.

by John S. Kovacs, Santa Fe, New Mexico

One additional note on the history of St. Florian Parish, United, PA:  The disruption caused by the non-Hungarian speaking priest, the Rev. Josef Ademek, in 1918 led my Hungarian speaking grandparents and 39 of their Hungarian friends to form a new parish on the United-Trauger road, and build the new Forty Martyrs Church.  The Forty Martyrs parish is still a vibrant parish.  The parish today is multi-ethnic, with most of its Hungarian roots buried in the church cemetary.  Although the immigrants at the mines managed to leave most of their European animosities for each other in the "Old Country," it is interesting that their nationalism flared when it came to their shared religion.

Bishop closes two more of the ethic Catholic Churches in the coal patch towns in the Diocese of Greensburg, PA, that the coal miners and their families built.  Just another slap in the face to the coal miners that gave and gave to build these parishes.

St. Stanislaus Parish, Calumet, PA and Forty Martyrs Parish, Trauger, PA

By Melissa Williams Schofield
Special to The Catholic Accent, Nov. 27, 2008, Greensburg, PA

Father William C. McGuirk wasn’t certain what approach he would take to announce to parishioners the decisions to close Forty Martyrs Parish in Trauger and St. Stanislaus Parish in Calumet, both of which he served as administrator.

He said a book given to all the priests who had to make those announcements in October, "A Struggle for Holy Ground: Reconciliation and the Rites of Parish Closure," was most helpful.

"Instead of preaching, I walked through the Stations of the Cross and invited parishioners to venerate a relic," Father McGuirk said about his approach with the parishioners at Forty Martyrs.

"I took a healing approach, though it focused on the wounds they felt. The main altar was stripped at the last Mass. Everyone was invited to venerate the altar, kiss it and bow to it. Many people came forward in a beautiful procession," he added.

He said it was similar to a funeral where loved ones say their last goodbyes.

"I believe you need ritual action at a time like this. I did focus on the bricks and mortar so they could let go of them," said Father McGuirk, who can relate to the sadness. His home parish, St. Mary, Our Lady of the Snows Parish, Parker, also closed in October.

After the final Sunday Mass at Forty Martyrs Parish, a farewell luncheon was held to signify an ending and new beginning.

The 90-year-old parish, like many in the diocese, is rooted in the growth of the coal and coke industry in southwestern Pennsylvania. By the early 1900s, many Hungarian Catholics were living in the Trauger area, but they were unable to understand homilies or make confessions in their language in neighboring parishes.

Forty Martyrs Parish was established as a mission in 1916, and the church building was dedicated in 1918.

One parishioner there, who preferred anonymity, said she and her husband of Hungarian background spent most of their time at Forty Martyrs. She was a lector and an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and helped clean the church.

She hopes to get more involved at St. Florian Parish in United.

"We knew the change was coming to our parish," she said. "I know the Holy Spirit will help."

Eleanor Czarniak, who used to attend St. Stanislaus Parish, has also made the move to the neighboring parish in United.

What she remembers most about St. Stanislaus Parish in Calumet, a tiny country church on a rolling hill overlooking the former coal mining community of Mammoth, are Christmas Eve Masses celebrated in Polish.

Now she goes to daily Mass at her new parish where she’s happy to have a "good priest and a good parish" in Father McGuirk and St. Florian.

"We hated to lose our parish, but St. Florian’s is another beautiful parish," Czarniak said. "We take with us fond memories, but you have to go on. I have a lot of good, Polish memories."

She and her husband, Chet, will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary next May. He is now a lector at St. Florian Parish. They were married in St. Stanislaus Parish, their son was a server there, Eleanor was baptized there and her parents were parishioners.

"It was a beautiful church. We were all family," said Czarniak.

The parish was founded by immigrants coming to the Mammoth area to work in the coal mines and rich farmlands, she said. On Aug. 9, 1895, one acre of land was purchased and a small church was erected and named in honor of St. Stanislaus.

Czarniak also talked about how people would travel for miles for a variety of homemade peroghis, from prune to potato.

She said one of the parish’s former pastors, Msgr. William G. Charnoki, jokingly commented that the peroghi were so delicious, he was convinced they were filled with gold.

Father William C. McGuirk said he has invited everyone to stay on board and bring their skills into the "new St. Florian."

That includes the popular peroghis.

"Every attempt is being made to be inclusive, not exclusive. All three parishes have good cooks. We don’t want that to stop," Father McGuirk said.

He invited parishioners to venerate the altar after the final Mass. A farewell dinner was held to reflect on the past and look ahead.

Father McGuirk has retained the organists from each parish. Eucharistic ministers and lectors from St. Stanislaus Parish and Forty Martyrs Parish will also remain.

Though the process has been a difficult one, Father McGuirk says the logo on the stationery at St. Florian Parish sums it up best.

"The new St. Florian. Good ideas going forward."

(Courtesy of "The Catholic Accent," Greensburg, PA.)

"Coal Miners Memorial, United Mine & Coke Works,
United, Mt. Pleasant Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania"
"History of United Mine & Coke Works,
United, Mt. Pleasant Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania"
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