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St. Valdimir - Smithmill, PA

 

A Brief History of
St. Vladimir's Ukrainian Orthodox Church
(Smithmill, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania)
Fifty Years in Retrospect

St Vlad Smithmill

The beginning of the twentieth century brought with it an influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Western Ukraine; people anxious to try their fortune and to have their families become part of the great American Dream. The history of St. Vladimir's Church reflects the hopes, struggles and sorrows of a group of these immigrants who cleared their fields and worked in the coal mines of central Pennsylvania.

About 350 years ago the Ukraine was occupied by Poland and the Ukrainian People were forced by the Polish Government to accept a union with the Western Church. Consequently, the first Ukrainian immigrants in Smithmill and the surrounding area belonged to the Greek Catholic (Uniate) Faith - that faith which resulted from the Polish conquest of the Ukrainian Steppes. These immigrants however, were determined to return to their Mother Faith of Orthodoxy; the faith which St. Vladimir, our patron saint, accepted from the Byzantine Empire in 988 A.D. This movement gained momentum when the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church was established in 1917, and in 1919 ground was broken for an Orthodox Church of the Eastern (Byzantine) Rite -at Smithmill, Pennsylvania.

After two years of arduous work the building was constructed and on Sunday, May 7, 1921 the church edifice of St. Vladimir's stood completed in its now familiar place towering over the town of Smithmill. The Reverend Father Leo Wesilowsky dedicated the church edifice and celebrated the first Divine Liturgy. The following, listed in alphabetical order, were the founders of the church: Wasyl Berzonsky, Alex Betza, Metro Betza, John Blaha, John Bungo, John M. Bungo, Metro Bungo, Steve Bungo, Theodore Bungo, Wasyl Bungo, Mike Finch, Demko Fritz, Myron Garbinsky, George Gondor, Harry Holobinko, Steve Katchor, Theodore Katchor, Mike Kolessor, Metro Kopilchack, Andrew Kost, Sam Kost, Wasyl Kost, Harry Kulynych, Peter Lashinsky, Wasyl Lashinsky, Mike Lumnianyk, Andrew Marushchak, Mike Michalko, John Nida, Nicholas Pollick, Wasyl Saupp, Metro Soroko, Metro Stahorsky, John Strongosky, John Sykitch, John Warholic, Wasyl Warholic, John Wasilko, Mike Wasilko, Nicholas Wasilko, Andrew Wasiw, John Wolk, John Yelechko, Joseph Yelechko, Steve Yelechko, Wasyl Zazworsky, and Frank Zazworsky.

For the following 30 years these men and their families worshipped, baptized their young, and buried their dead from St. Vladimir's. In 1954 the parish members, mostly offspring of the original founders, undertook the task of building a new parish home. Then on May 7, 1961 a complete remodeling of the church itself was begun: new floors, roof, pews, iconostas, etc. The completely renovated church was rededicated in June, 1962 by His Excellency Right Reverend Bohdan, the late Bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States and Canada.

Also, in the summer of 1950 the parishioners purchased 23 acres of land which served as the church picnic grounds. Again with the dedicated efforts of the church members, the land was cleared and pavilions, buildings, and recreational facilities were constructed. This beautiful area with natural springs and a flowing mountain stream has served as the center for numerous church gatherings and church-sponsored fund raising activities.

In 1966 the latest, but hopefully not final, concerted effort of the church members began. The task this time was to rebuild the church club and assembly hall. Within one year the brown brick building, with thoroughly modem cooking and serving facilities, stood completed. The hall serves currently as a meeting place and a center for numerous festive activities and celebrations.

The foregoing has been an attempt to relate some of the salient events which occurred during the 50 years of St. Vladimir's existence. The true story perhaps is contained in the lives, struggles, and hopes of each of the church members. Those founding immigrants had at least one common goal; to raise their families as Christians and Americans. To the extent that this goal has been achieved, the 50 years of St. Vladimir's history speaks for itself in the day to day lives of those the church has influenced.

Cooperation and coordinated efforts were the dominant factors in the achievements that have been realized. Credit is due to the clergy and officers who have played crucial roles in these various undertakings. Space however only permits mention of those who are currently serving in a leadership capacity. The Very Rev. Father Lonhin Schemetylo, Pastor; Frank Pollick, President; John Berzonsky, Vice-President; Charles Finch, Vice-President; Michael Berzonsky, Secretary; and Frank Zazworsky, Treasurer. Credit is also due to the choir and Sisterhood who has served faithfully and uncomplainingly throughout the years.

Our present parish members who are worshipping together and attempting to live according to the example provided by Jesus in his teachings, are proud of the past 50 years and the progress of their parish. Let us thank our Heavenly Father for his blessings and let us continue to live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Michael D. Berzonsky, Ph.D.