During the early part of the 20th century, in search of a better life for their families, the Rusyn forefathers of the Trans-Carpathian region of Eastern Europe left their homeland and settled in the lower Greenfield section of Pittsburgh – which became known as “Rus’ka Dolina” or “The Rusyn Valley.”
Deeply devoted to the Catholic faith and Eastern Rite, they attended services at the Second Saint John the Baptist Greek Catholic Church in Pittsburgh’s South Side before distance, inclement weather and a lack of transportation presented a problem for the relocated families.
Out of this adversity, the parishioners decided to establish a new church and more than 100 years ago on August 7, 1910, in a small hall on Saline Street, Reverend Alexis Petrasovich celebrated the first Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church.
In that same year and month, five lots were purchased on Saline Street and construction began on a permanent structure. Numerous liturgies followed in the small hall until the first church – an old wooden building – was completed at the end of 1910.
Led by Greek Catholic Union No. 255, the founders and the earliest contributors of St. John Chrysostom were as follows:
Stephen Buchko, Matthew Yalch, Andrew Skovran, John Borsh, Alex Lopata, Frank Zak, Harry Huchko, Peter Kuzma, John Mihalich, Harry Panchura, Frank Druga, Mitro Yalch, Andrew Ilash, Michael Kuzma, John Lipchik, George Kranyak, Nicholas Pasko, Alex Hudak, Andrew Sopira, Michael Chornyak, John Kocan, Michael Klopko, Andrew Yalch, Frank Vakerak, Michael Rimm, John Gall, Basil Blicha, Thomas Kocsuta, Michael Kranyak, John Gula, Basil Moroz, Andrew Sopira Jr., Andrew Prohinsky, Basil Fitzurka, Peter Bajcura, Paul Smolinsky, George Chakurda, Michael Mohnach, Metro Hapchak, John Gula, Onufer Yalch, Basil Rado, Andrew Kovach, Andrew Barnishin, George Sopira, Basil Niskach, John Regrut, George Shuster, Andrew Chornyak, Alex Harpsah, Michael Papyak, Joseph Lipchik, Anna Volensky, Stephen Yalch, Michael Raybik, Nicholas Haburchak, John Kuzma, Augustine Petrik, Harry Lipchik, Frank Koman, Sam Medvid, Michael Druga, George Hahalyak, Frank Tarball, John Hosak, John Slivka, Steve Hamas, Frank Kulevich, Sam Lisak, Michael Lisak, Steve Burcin, Frank Lipchik, Michael Yalch, Steve Nezbala, Steve Babikov, Joseph Madey, Basil Hahalyak, Steve Bajay, John Basarab, H.S. Svarc, Basil Goch, John Kovach, Michael Karaman, Paul Yalch, Basil Turko, Andrew Rohaly, Michael Kusko, Frank Hnidak, John Kusko, Andrew Halahan, John Halahan, Basil Zak, John Lazorchik, George Zvizdak, John Rohaly, Joseph Vakerak, Peter Demko, Anna Kolesar, Eva Kotyuh, Julia Gula, Helen Laschak, Anastasia Haburchik, Pauline Borsh, George Lazorchik, Helen Rohaly, Basil Zihal, Manus Galager, John Boyle, Andrew Hornyak, P. Tays, Steve Baycura, P. Kopecinsky, Sam Steranchak, John Praschak, George Bodnar, Mikita Slebodzan, Michael Savulak, John Dzurov, Harry Burcin, Michael Kostik, Pete Demyanovich, Alex Sboyan, Pete Hayko, Pete Shuty, Metro Mohnach, Steve Slivka, John M. Macosko, John W. Gulyasy and Basil Chornyak.
In August 1910, the first baby girl, Anna Gall, was baptized and confirmed in the church; the first boy, Andrew Lipchik, to be baptized and confirmed followed in November 1910. Also in November 1910, Father Petrasovich performed the first nuptial ceremony between Andrew Halahan and Julia Kovach, and just three weeks later in December 1910, the first funeral service, of one-year-old Anna Lisak, was performed in the church. Father Petrasovich served for one year in the church.
Soon after the church was erected, plans were underway to decorate it and to build a rectory. Through the generosity of the parishioners and with assistance from the Greek Catholic Union these plans reached fruition within the first decade of the church.
Bishop Ortynski made three special visits to St. John Chrysostom, twice in 1914, and again in 1915.
In 1916, John Lugovich of the South Side of Pittsburgh built the first portion of the Iconostasis, and John Hegedus of Trenton, N.J, painted the icons. The second part of the Iconostasis was completed in 1919 by John Bajcura of Butler, Pa., and painted by Peter Nimcinsky of Pittsburgh.
On October 28, 1917, the very Reverend Gabriel Martyak, the Apostolic Administrator of the Carpatho-Rusyns in America, formally dedicated the church and the parish rectory. Like many parishes though, the parish grew and by 1925 under the pastorate of Father Nestor Volensky, a need for a new and bigger church became necessary.
Construction on the new and present church began in 1932 under the pastorate of Reverend Stephen Kozak. In order for the church to be constructed at the present location (Saline and Anthony Streets) and to still have a place to worship during the building process, the wooden church had to be relocated alongside the rectory. The building thereafter was used for more than 30 years as an auditorium for both social and athletic events hosted by the church, its organizations and the GCU Lodges.
By 1933, construction of the present church was completed and the church was dedicated on May 26, 1935, in the silver or 25th year of the parish. The Very Reverend Dean Mihalich officiated at the ceremony and Reverend Stephen Kozak and Fathers Michael M. Staurovsky, Theodosius Vasochik, D.D., and D. Zubritsky assisted him.
Around the time of the 25th year of St. John Chrysostom, World War II was underway and 284 sons and daughters of the parish served in a number of branches of the armed service; three of them made the ultimate sacrifice. By 1946, during the pastorate of Father John Gaspar, the church was installed with stained glass windows and the large window in the back of the choir loft was installed in honor and memory of those who served and died for our country.
Another son of the parish, Reverend Joseph Chornyak was ordained into the Holy Priesthood on June 6, 1953, by Bishop Daniel Ivancho. Joseph’s father, Basil, was one of the founding members of St. John Chrysostom.
On May 29, 1955, St. John Chrysostom was the site of the ordinations of 11 young men into the Holy Priesthood. The Most Reverend Bishop Nicholas T. Elko imparted, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Mystery of Holy Orders to these young men.
Originating in 1956, St. John Chrysostom was the first to feature radio broadcasts of Sunday liturgies known as the Archdiocesan Radio Apostolate. Reverend John M. Bilock was the celebrant for the inaugural broadcast on October 8, 1956. The broadcasts initially aired by radio station WLOA in Braddock have continued from other churches on WEDO in Mckeesport, over the years.
Soon after the inaugural radio Liturgies began, Reverend Bilock, then pastor of St. John Chrysostom, and Reverend Fathers John J. Kostival and Daniel P. Maczkov, were installed as Monsignori-Papal Chamberlains on August 15, 1957. The Most Reverend Bishop Nicholas T. Elko solemnized the ceremony.
As 1960 rolled around, St. John Chrysostom prepared to celebrate the Golden Anniversary Year of the parish. Sadly, in January 1960, Professor Peter M. Korpos, cantor of the parish for more than 33 years, passed away and left the parishioners and Monsignor Bilock saddened. But, the golden year ended on a happier note, when on November 26, 1960, a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was con-celebrated by the Most Reverend Bishop Nicholas T. Elko and various clergy from all over the Pittsburgh area. The Western Pennsylvania Byzantine Catholic Choir, under the direction of Reverend Michael Hrebin, sang the responses.
Following the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, more than 400 parishioners and guests were present at a special Golden Jubilee Dinner where Bishop Elko and others paid tribute to the founders, pastors, cantors and members of the parish.
In October 1963, Reverend Andrew Pataki became pastor of St. John Chrysostom when Monsignor Bilock was appointed Rector of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Munhall, Pa. Father Pataki would remain pastor of St. John’s until 1970. In 1973, Monsignor Bilock was made Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh.
Under Father Pataki’s leadership a number of monumental events involving St. John Chrysostom took place. The first one took place May 11 and 12 of 1968, when the Most Reverend Stephen J. Kocisko made a canonical visitation to the parish. On November 11, 1969, during the pastorate of Father Pataki, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a decision in a lawsuit that contested the allegiance of St. John Chrysostom Church to the Holy See. The court found that the church was, in fact, a Byzantine Catholic Church and had been since its founding in 1910. Almost two weeks later, on November 23, 1969, the Most Reverend Archbishop Kocisko resealed the church cornerstone, where the documents that were used as evidence in the lawsuit, were returned.
This inscription marks the face of the cornerstone: “St. John Chrysostom Eastern Rite Russian Greek Catholic Church – OR. 1910, A.M.D.G. – Built 1932.” A.M.D.G. or “Ad majorem Dei gloriam” in Latin means “to the greater glory of God.”
The Most Reverend Stephen J. Kocisko said the following prayer as he resealed and blessed the cornerstone with Holy Water: “Let the true faith, fear of God, and fraternal love increase here, and let this be a place of prayers, a place established for the calling upon and praising our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Father Pataki served as pastor until February 26, 1970, when he received a temporary appointment as the pastor of the Mingo Junction, Ohio, Byzantine Catholic Church prior to his departure for Canon Law Studies at the Oriental Institute in Rome. He went on to be made Bishop of Passaic. Father Pataki was succeeded by Reverend Father John J. Borodach who served the parish until February 1983.
Father Borodach was instrumental in developing and supervising a fine catechetical program during his 13-year tenure and he also encouraged youthful participation in various church services and functions.
During this period, it was also time to do a little internal maintenance and upkeep. An air-conditioning system was installed and with the help of the Our Lady Guild, a modern kitchen was installed to assist the needs of the parishioners during social functions and luncheons. The church interior also received some attention as the iconostasis and altar were redecorated for the greater Glory of God. Adding to the church’s beauty, new icons were also painted and installed in the Iconostasis and behind the Holy Table.
On August 20, 1977, St. John Chrysostom was honored by its second canonical visit by His Grace, Most Reverend Metropolitan Archbishop Stephen J. Kocisko.
By February 1983, Father Borodach received a new pastoral assignment and he was followed by Father Regis Dusecina. Leading St. John Chrysostom into its 75th anniversary, Father Dusecina based his pastoral ministry on the belief that all members of the church make up one large parish family working and living not only for the greater Glory of God, but also for the salvation of their immortal souls. Father Dusecina was well respected and loved by the parish where he served for 9 years.
He was followed by Father Richard Lambert who joined the parish on March 15, 1992.
In 1994, with the approval of the parishioners, Father Richard began the monumental task of renovating the church in a truly Byzantine-style. This renovation project included painting, new lighting, a new sound system and new icons throughout the church. New Guild Studios, out of Braddock, Pa., were the artists and supervisors of the renovation. A formal blessing ceremony took place on February 9, 1997.
Father Richard remained at St. John’s until December 2002, when Father Thomas Schaefer joined the parish as interim pastor, under the direction of Father Richard. Father Tom served as this until August 1, 2003, when Father John Cuccaro was appointed pastor.
Father John began the task of organizing and preparing for the 100th Anniversary Celebration of St. John Chrysostom. He started by encouraging greater participation of the men in the parish to serve the Lord by becoming acolytes.
He was also instrumental in completing major parish projects including the restoration of the upper deck and steps, and had a stair glide installed so the parishioners could better navigate the four flights of stairs into the church.
Father John also sought out the teens of the parish and encouraged them to join the “ByzanTEENS.” In 2009, the teens traveled to California for the annual ByzanTEEN Conference.
While Father John was charged with preparing the church for the 100th anniversary, he was unable to complete the anniversary plans as he was transferred in January 2010.
Father Thomas Schaefer returned as pastor of St. John Chrysostom in January 2010 and he was able to eloquently continue the anniversary arrangements set forth by Father John. Father Tom led a beautiful anniversary Liturgy where not only the 100th anniversary was celebrated, but he also led a Panachida service, that remembered the parish’s former pastors, family and friends. The service included a candlelight vigil where hundreds of lit remembrance candles were on display featuring the image of Christ the Pantocrator from the church’s ceiling. The glow from the hundreds of candles lit in remembrance of the parish’s deceased loved ones was a sight that many parishioners have said they will never forget.
On the Feast of the Exaltation, a large cross featuring blessed icons that was originally in St. John Chrysostom more than 50 years ago, was installed between the church and the rectory. The cross still holds the same beauty and majesty that it did a half a century ago.
Another major event the parishioners and Father Tom celebrated took place on November 13, 2010, on the Feast of St. John Chrysostom. The Feast of St. John Chrysostom brought the entire congregation together to celebrate the holy day and parish fellowship. On this day, the exterior of the church was permanently illuminated by the Astorino Corporation of Pittsburgh. In The church now stands as a visible sign of beauty and grace for all of those who travel the Parkway East each and every day – and night.
As St. John Chrysostom and the parishioners look back over the past 100 years and prepare for anniversaries yet to come, the church stands as a visible sign of the faith and generosity of its people from the early founders to today’s parish family.
We wish to acknowledge those who gathered much of this information in former editions of commemorative books including Bishop John Bilock, Reverend Stephen Kozak, and Michael Roman.