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MICHEAL PUPIN-Mihajlo Pupin
HISTORY of ST SAVA CATHEDRAL -NYC
History of St.Stephen
Just before the Great War began, the Serbs of America, motivated by their love for their homeland and the spirit of liberty and unity, formed the Serbian National Defense Council of America (SND) in July of 1914, in New York City. Many of the émigrés in America were young intellectuals, averaging in age between 25 and 30. There were older émigrés as well, among them the renowned Serbian scientist especially known for the advances he made in long distance telephone communication, Michael Pupin, who had come to the United States in 1874. He became the founder and the first president of this new Serbian-American organization dedicated to the preservation of Serbdom. Though based in New York, 83 local lodges soon formed in city centers throughout the United States. With the onset of World War I immediately upon its inception, the SND Council of America would find itself contributing to the Allied war effort overseas in the most meaningful of ways
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Serbian Association of New York was founded in the spring of 1992 in Queens.
Motivated by the events in the fatherland and by a desire for Serbs in Queens to have something "of their own," a group of local Serbs decided to establish an association with goals to gather Serbs of New York City and their friends in one, united community; to nurture Serbian culture and tradition and to carry the Serbian traditional values over onto the Serbian youth that is brought up outside of the fatherland. Shortly after the founding, the Association have bought the building which is, to this day, the residence to the institution known as the Serbian Club.
For 14 years, SANY is striving to accomplish the original goals and set new ones. The membership has been in a steady rise and it's closing in on 100. Hundreds of young Serbs and their friends have come out of the ranks of the Dance Ensemble "Opancici" and the Soccer Club "Serbia," and thousands of others have filed through the Club halls socializing with their fellow Serbs or enjoying the good, old Serbian cuisine.
The Serbian Club continues to exist as the only Serbian place in the New York City and as the gathering point for many Serbs looking to have good fun, good meal, to socialize, to play sports, even to look for work.
The Association is governed by the Executive and the Supervising Board, both elected at the Annual Assembly of the Members of Association, in February of 2006. Both bodies are elected to one-year term with the possibility of re-election.
MICHEAL PUPIN-Mihajlo Pupin
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HISTORY OF ST SAVA CATHEDRAL
The Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava In New York City What became St. Sava Cathedral in 1944 officially began in 1850 as Trinity Chapel. In the late 1840's, the Episcopalian Trinity Church located on Broadway and Wall Streets in lower Manhattan, former parish church to founding father Alexander Hamilton, realized that New York City's "midtown" residential area was rapidly developing. The character of the Wall Street neighborhood, once exclusively fashionable, was rapidly becoming a commercial district. Trinity was losing its congregation because of its location. People could no longer be counted upon to make the long trip down to Trinity from the newly residential areas of Washington Square or Union Square. On November 2, 1850, in order to stem the tide of defections by parishioners, the Committee of Church Extension decided to purchase land to erect a chapel in "upper New York." Trinity fixed on a parcel of 5 lots (which were to be followed by three more) just off Fifth Avenue which it promptly purchased from the proprietor, Mr. Drake.
Highly satisfied with his now famous work on Trinity Church, the committee turned once again to Richard Upjohn, the foremost architect of his day, to build the new structure, thus ensuring a continuity of style. Progress apparently was rapid, since records of a March 1852 meeting show the rector was asked to arrange the cornerstone laying just two years after the original planning. However, as with all building construction, costs increased as modifications and alterations were made. The original plans for the chancel were changed, and the interior walls, originally to be of light brick were changed to Caen stone imported from Northwestern France. These, as well as other alterations, eventually raised the original cap from $40,000 to $79,000 to $230,000 upon the chapel's completion. In his record of church history, the Rev. Morgan Dix, rector of Trinity, dryly observed: "The persuasive power of architects and the docility of building committees must always be taken into account when estimates for new structures are taken under consideration. "
The architectural style of the church, early English Gothic, was considered unique on the continent at that time. Among its more unusual and immediately apparent aspects were the lack of a tower and the lack of ornamentation. Its fine proportions, and edifice, rugged, but pleasing in character, reinforced with large buttresses, quickly won Upjohn acclaim as did the picturesque and charming Clergy House attached to the rear of the building.
But it was the interior of the chapel which has often been assessed as Upjohn's masterpiece. Its loftiness and brilliance of proportion make it entirely different from anything else of its time. The most striking features, the long single aisled nave and open roof ceiling, resemble St. Louis' 13th Century Sainte Chapelle in Paris. When combined with the fully exposed truss ceiling of Norway pine, the beautifully polychromed panels with gold stars on a field of blue, and the painted apse walls (by German artist Habastrak), the chapel interior becomes as ecclesiastically proper as its Mother Church.
On the second Tuesday after Easter, 1855, the new chapel was consecrated with a large congregation present. Very shortly, a fashionable and wealthy congregation filled the chapel. Trinity was the only one of the six chapels in the parish in which pews were rented (the numbers still exist on the outside of the pews ). The records list the names of 125 parishioners who held pews between 1855 and 1856. It was only a simple wedding, but 30 years later, Pulitzer Prize winning author Edith Jones was married to Edward R. Wharton in April of 1885. The wedding was arranged by the bride's mother who lived across the street. A few years later Edith Wharton would immortalize the society and the church where she was married in her The Age of Innocence, the classic novel of Victorian New York.
By 1874, Trinity was a thriving center of evangelism. That year there were 648 communicants, 30 baptisms, 20 weddings, 47 confirmations, and 28 burials. The Sunday School had 39 teachers and 325 students; the Industrial School 35 teachers for 255 students and the daily Parish School which was free, had two teachers for 83 students. In addition, the chapel sponsored the Missionary Relief Society, the Sisterhood of the Holy Cross, the Mothers Aid Society, the Employment Society of Trinity Chapel, and the Trinity Chapel Home for Aged Women.
At the turn of the century, the area around Trinity Chapel began to change, becoming more commercial, as it once did around Trinity Church. The Episcopal Diocese realizing that families were beginning to leave the area for more fashionable parts of the city sent the Rev. J. Wilson Sutton in 1915 to serve as priest-in-charge until the chapel could be closed and the property sold. The shocked parishioners rallied around the dynamic leadership of Rev. Sutton, who in order to raise spirits and derail the planned sale began to beautify the chapel by adding carved oak choir stalls in 1931 and by commissioning the artist Rachel Madeley Richardson to do a series of religious paintings in the 14-foot wall niches located along the nave. Begun in the 75th anniversary year of the chapel, the project occupied Miss Richardson for ten years and was dedicated in the spring of 1940. But the effort of holding off the sale of the property was not to be. Within two years after commissioning future viability studies, the Trinity Corporation decided to sell 3 chapels in the system: St. Agnes, St. Augustine and Trinity Chapel.
When word leaked that Trinity would be sold, Russian, Greek and Serbian Orthodox congregations became interested. Ironically, Trinity Chapel's ties to the Eastern Orthodox Church extended back to March 1865, when the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox rite was celebrated for the first time in an Episcopalian church in America. The next day the New York Times and other papers covered not only the American Civil War, but also the liturgy with headlines reading; "A Novel Religious Service", "A Remarkable Event in History" and "Inauguration of the Russo-Greek Churches in America".
The organization of the Serbian Orthodox Congregation that eventually purchased Trinity began when a group of Hercegovinian friends met on May 6, 1937 (St. George's Day) in Corona, New York at the Stajcich-Boro home of Vido and Petrice Stajcich. Five others were present as well: Nikola Boro, Ilija Grbich, Djura Vujnovich, Krsto Gasich and Petar Soldo. After initial conversation, they began to regret the fact that there was no church in which the devoted could meet. One thought led to another, and after the initial conversation the group became confident and enthused enough to each pledge a donation. As word of a proposed church spread, other Serbs rallied to the cause. The community of Serbs, though small, was not afraid to assume the sacrifices and immense preparations of starting a church in New York City.
Anxious to establish their church according to New York State laws, a petition and articles of incorporation were written and signed by Djura Davidovich, Nikola Boro, Mirko Baranin, Ruza Triklovich, Djura Vujnovich and Lazar Balich. On March 20, 1940, under the name of Srpska Istochna Pravoslavna Crkva Svetoga Save u New Yorku (Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church of St. Sava in New York) the first Serbian Church in New York City officially began.
Since it was not financially possible to purchase a church immediately, services were held at different locations. The first of these locations was the original meeting house for the oldest Serbian organization in America, the Serb National Benevolent Society, (1869), located at the Hartley House, 413 W. 46th Street in Manhattan. The premises were found to be suitable, and Rev. Vojislav Gachinovich was found to officiate. However, Rev. Gachinovich's term ended shortly thereafter. As result of questionable political activities he was removed from the parish and defrocked by the Church Consistory of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese due to his communist inclinations.
On January 1, 1942, Rev. Dushan Shoukletovich of Gary, Indiana, arrived in New York and took charge of the parish. Within a year a fire-damaged property at 25 E. 22nd Street was purchased with the intention of converting it into a church. While the Serbs still held this property, Bishop William Manning, Episcopal Bishop of New York, provided them with the use of an interim church building located on East 116th Street in Manhattan. A short time later, a remarkable development materialized. Church Board President Dushan B. Tripp and his officers were called to be apprised of the availability of the West 25th Street Trinity Chapel by the Trinity Corporation of New York. After many years of sacrifice and prayer it now seemed that a Serbian Orthodox Church in New York City was becoming a reality; but not until one last obstacle was overcome: for a short time it was not certain that the property would pass to the Serbs because of a lack of funds.
By the time the Serbs became aware of the property, the Episcopalians had already turned down two earlier offers to buy the church from both Russian and Greek congregations. Aware of their limited financial capabilities Mr. Tripp was ashamed and hesitant to offer any amount. However, because of the insistence of the Trinity Vestry he made an offer of $ 25,000 (the same sum offered earlier for a much smaller church). The Board of Directors of the Trinity Corporation accepted the offer requesting that the sum be raised to $30,000 for which the Serbs would also receive all the furnishings in the house, two valuable pianos, a satisfactory reserve of coal and a variety of church objects. They happily agreed and began to search for a way to actualize the bargain.
The decision in favor of the small but dynamic Serbian congregation was made by the vestry, and rector of Trinity Parish, Dr. Frederick S. Fleming, for a number of reasons. First, it would be the only Serbian Orthodox Church on the East Coast. Second, it would draw a congregation from New York City and surrounding areas. Third, the project was supported by His Majesty King Peter II along with Canon Edward N. West, Sacrist of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich and most significantly, Bishop Manning. Manning, who along with Canon West shared a particular fondness for Serbs and often spoke with great emotion of the suffering of the Serbian people during the war. He enthusiastically quoted St. Sava, and was familiar with the history and traditions of the Serbian Church and her people, whom he considered to be part of his spiritual flock. He was also very proud that one of the three Bishops at his consecration was Bishop Nikolai.
As the paperwork and legal parameters were being established, the property on E. 22nd Street was sold in late 1942 with the proceeds going toward the new church; but it was hardly enough. The congregation turned to the SNF for assistance, but received only moral support. After a nationwide campaign, additional money was collected from immigrant pioneers of Serbian descent already in the United States, but again the amount was too little. Running out of time, Mr. Tripp, a Vice President at Chase National (Manhattan) Bank, turned for help to his personal friends, and received from them the amount necessary to consummate the agreement. In November 1942, notices were published indicating that the property had been sold to the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese for the United States and Canada. The dream had finally materialized. After so many years of hard work and persistence, the New York City congregation, which until one year ago had held services wherever it could manage, now had the largest Serbian Church in all of America!
The terms of the agreement were "cash over a purchase-money mortgage of $30,000", and included a clause giving Trinity Corporation the right to repurchase if the buyer discontinued using the property for religious purposes". It was as future Dean of the Cathedral Rev. Shoukletovich wrote to Dr. Fleming, ". . . a matter of Church to Church, to continue God's work among those that have been deprived of that privilege in the past". Title passed to the Serbians on the first of March 1943 with Dr. Fleming explaining in the New York Times that it "would become a real center . . . with religious, educational, and cultural contacts" for the Serbian Orthodox faith.
On June 11, 1944, with over 1,400 Serbian-Americans present, the church was consecrated by the late Bishop Dionisije with Bishop Manning participating. Among the clergy present were: Rev. Dr. Frederick Fleming, Canon West, Bishop Polizoides, representing Archbishop Athenogoras of the Greek Archdiocese, Bishop Makarije of the Russian Orthodox Church, five Serbian Orthodox priests from America, and St. Sava's very own Rev. Dushan Shoukletovich. Lay attendees were Constantin Fotich, the Yugoslav Ambassador-in-Exile, Assemblyman John J . Lamula, who represented New York Governor Thomas Dewey, and George Philles of the Greek Orthodox Church in Buffalo, N.Y. The kum at the consecration was Mr. Bozidar Martinovich of Gary, Indiana.
This impressive service, as the one 75 years earlier, symbolized the close friendship between the Episcopal and Holy Orthodox Churches. Prayers were offered in "full and complete fellowship in the faith of the Lord and Jesus Christ" (two years later the Cathedral Choir of St. Sava would sing at the 150th Anniversary of the 1796 founding of the Trinity Church Parish). A reception dinner followed at the Hotel McAlpin on Broadway and 34th Street, and the next morning Serbs all over New York woke to Monday's New York Times headline: "Serbians Dedicate Cathedral in City."
Though the dream of having a Serbian church in New York City was now realized, the real work of creating a cohesive parish was to follow. Without the vision, charisma and organizational abilities of Rev. Shoukletovich the church may not have progressed into such a viable and important Christian community so quickly. If any one person can be singled out for seeing to the proper development of the Cathedral in its formative years it was he. A Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and former attorney, Rev. Shoukletovich spoke fluent Serbian and English, an important factor in communicating with both immigrants and the American born. His persistence, wit and familiarity with the intellectual currents of his time, combined with his unwavering faith and optimism made Rev. Shoukletovich the perfect minister for New York City. For 14 years, Father Shoukey (as he was affectionately called by his congregation) enthusiastically worked to enhance parish spiritual life as Dean of the Cathedral. Skillfully and wisely, he led his congregation in times of war, and of peace, when prosperity was enjoyed and when economic uncertainty affected the lives and circumstances of his parish. Blessed with the ability to truly inspire others, he moved a tiny group of Serbs to accomplish more under his leadership than they ever considered possible in their private thoughts. On November 21, 1951, he was given the Grand Cross of St. Sava Third Degree by King Peter II, and appointed by his decree as Instructor of Religion and Serbian Language to Prince Alexander. Shortly before his retirement from the Cathedral, in April of 1955, Rev. Shoukletovich was given the Medal of St. Joanikije (the first Serbian Patriarch in the 14th Century) and was awarded the title Dean Emeritus for life by the Board of the Cathedral. He passed away in 1981 in San Diego, after further associations with St. Elijah Church in Merriville, Indiana, St. Petka Monastery in St. Marcos, California and other parishes throughout the west.
As capable as Rev. Shoukletovich was at administering the Cathedral, it would not have flourished without the commitment of the Cathedral Executive Board, the Auditing Board and the Board of Trustees. Responsible for the temporal obligations of the Cathedral, the Executive Board - headed by Dushan B. Tripp (Tripcevich) saw to its proper direction. A dignified man, and a respected and successful banker, Mr. Tripp (as everyone called him) together with Rev. Shoukletovich, saw to the establishment of proper administrative procedures, a Circle of Serbian Sisters (St. Petka), the development of a Christian social life, a youth group (Omladina), and an active church choir led by several enthusiastic directors over the years such as Madam Slavianski, Michael (Misha) Boro Petrovich, Deacon George Lazich, Dushan Georgevich and future priest, Dragoljub Sokich. Mr. Tripp, a former secretary in Michael Pupin's Sloga served as Cathedral President for almost 10 years. His distinguishing presence, and accomplished demeanor added a sense of integrity and respectability to those early critical years.
In its early years, the Cathedral served as a magnet to Serbs from all areas of the country and the world. Academy award winning actor Karl Malden found his way to St. Sava's on occasion during his early theater days, as did actor Brad Dexter, and the 1950 Rookie of the Year Walt Dropo of the Boston Red Sox. King Peter II then in exile. participated in church services with Queen Alexandra and their son Crown Prince Alexander. On the occasion of his first visit to the Cathedral in 1944 he was led in by a colorguard of the American-Serbian Society carrying a banner presented to them many years before by his grandfather King Peter of Serbia. During his sermon, Rev. Shoukletovich addressed the congregation saying: "As we celebrate Easter . . . thousands of Serbs who are starving and homeless in Europe look to this King as a symbol of unity . . . no bells will ring in the towers of the churches in Yugoslavia this Easter to call the faithful to prayer because God has been forbidden by the unbelievers ruling the country. Today in Yugoslavia, as during the first Easter, people meet behind closed doors and greet each other with whispered words of: 'Christ is Risen'. The time will come when the young King will go back to a free Yugoslavia and take his rightful throne. Long live the Kingdom of Karageorgevich!" The Cathedral was also a magnet for people of less renown as well. Throughout the ten year immigration, wave following World War II, the Cathedral provided the only meeting ground for Serbs in New York City. The new immigrants clung to their Serbian language, traditions and customs in the new world. They felt the need to preserve their native cultural patterns, and the Cathedral provided the forum. But the Cathedral was also instrumental in helping the newcomers assimilate into their new nation, helping them adjust, to learn its language, customs and democratic principles. It also provided them with Christian fellowship and understanding as well as financial help. For a great many years young men new to the city slept in the Cathedral's third floor offices for a night or two until they found jobs. Eventually many of these immigrants moved on to other destinations, some even to help found new churches in other areas of the country.
The spirit of any church era is clearly marked by the lives, writings and influences of her apostles. Among these luminaries stands the late Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, who during the post war years made St. Sava Cathedral his home. A prolific writer and eloquent orator; a prophet and visionary; a mystic and apologist; an effective archpastor and a diplomatic statesman; Bishop Nikolai's presence at the Cathedral created a sensation and a feeling of specialness. The echelon of intellectual society in New York City flocked to him spellbound. His beloved Srbiantsi trailed him night and day asking questions and advice about their concerns, all of which he found time to respond to during his busy schedule.
Bishop Nikolai's presence at St. Sava Cathedral, which began in 1948, provided a great source of hope, courage, and grace to the parish. He seemed to be everything to all people, not only a Bishop, but also close friend. As "luminary-in-residence" and "elder statesman", parishioners would respond in kind with great love and attention by seeing to it that meals were provided for him, his living quarters maintained, his sermons typed, and that he would not forget to take his medicine, which he would mischievously do from time-to-time. Bishop Nikolai served St. Sava's Cathedral while teaching at St. Vladimir's Seminary in Crestwood, NY. Shortly before his death he left the Cathedral to teach at St. Tikhon's Seminary in South Canaan, PA, where he continued to commune with his spiritual children in New York City in letters and telephone conversations. On the morning of March 18, 1956 the news reached the office that Bishop Nikolai had passed away during the night. Funeral services at the Cathedral were arranged where Bishop Nikolai laid in state for three days before being buried at St. Sava Monastery in Libertyville, Illinois.
Among Bishop Nikolai's many friends and admirers was Canon Edward N. West. Canon West was a remarkable man who became deeply involved with his Orthodox Christian friends in the New York area. The inception and early history of the Cathedral would be very different were it not for him. With a dramatic and flamboyant personality, Canon West was well respected by the St. Sava parish and enjoyed his part in the cultural life of the Cathedral by attending functions at the hall where he would indulge in his love of Serbian food, particularly sarma.
Through Canon West's Anglican contacts in England following WWII, he arranged to bring to the United States five young Serbian men: Mihailo Jovanovich, Veselin Kesich, Milan Kovachevich, Bogdan Mishkovich and Dragoljub Sokich - all to study at Columbia University, and St. Vladimir's Seminary, providing for their scholarships and housing, while at the same time being their kind friend. To that group, Bishop Nikolai asked that two more students be added - Zoran Milkovich who was already in the United States, and Milan Savich from Europe. West agreed and further responded with his usual keen interest in assisting and encouraging other Serbian students to join St. Vladimir's Seminary. Throughout the years, Canon West, Knight Commander of the Royal Order of St. Sava remained a faithful friend to the Serbian Orthodox of New York City. He passed away on January 3, 1990 in his quarters at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
Following the retirement of Rev. Shoukletovich, and a brief stay by Rev. Dushan Klipa, Rev. Firmilian Ocokoljic was installed as new Dean of the Cathedral. A benign and comforting man, Rev. (and subsequently Bishop) Firmilian moved to consolidate the impressive gains made in the prior years. Led by his effective and intelligent guidance along with the important contributions of assistant priest, Rev. (and subsequently Bishop) Vasilije Veinovic, the Cathedral built up the largest Serbian community in the United States. Throughout his tenure St. Sava's continued as an active parish where many people came to participate in the wonderful cultural and spiritual life the Cathedral offered. They came to hear visiting dignitaries, speakers and lecturers such as former cabinet members and ambassadors of King Alexander I, artist Danilo Popovich a successful painter of his time with offices both in Rome and New York, and to help Prince Tomislav and Princess Marguerita celebrate the Karageorgevich Slava, St. Andrew's Day, in the Cathedral Hall. During this period the Cathedral under the committeship of Dushan Tripp and Tihomir Topalovic unveiled the bust of Dr. Michael Pupin in the Cathedral courtyard. A year later it would also place one of Bishop Nikolai through the efforts of his former students. Throughout the 1950's and 60's the Cathedral also endorsed the immigration of hundreds of individuals from the former Yugoslavia through the Church World Service under the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 by the Department of State.
Unfortunately, in the early 1960's a tragic and unfortunate schism occurred in the Serbian Orthodox community across the United States and St. Sava's in particular. This sad period, lasting over 25 years, created an unpleasant split with two opposing "sides". It was never a religious or doctrinal division as each side was still committed to its Orthodox faith, dogmas, spirit and love of St. Sava, but nevertheless it tore the Serbian community apart. History records that the Orthodox Church has always struggled and survived over the centuries. For almost 500 years, the Serbian Church and its people survived the Ottoman invasion of the Balkans, and as it did in medieval Serbia, history and events would continue in New York. Throughout the 1960's, the buildings making up St. Sava Cathedral began to undergo renovation.
Major repairs to the social hall were made in the mid and late 1960's under the leadership of Board of Trustees President George Perunichich. These repairs included adding steel beams to reinforce the 100 year old hall floors which sagged dangerously under the weight of kolo dancing. A devoted man to his church, Mr. Perunichich also worked to make the Cathedral self sufficient. For almost 20 years the Cathedral struggled to make ends meet each month, but by transforming the courtyard into a parking lot during the week for nearby shop owners and by continuing upgrades in the cathedral brownstone (which a decade before had undergone renovation that created a series of smaller apartments), Mr. Perunichich finally solved the nagging problem. Major repairs were made to the Church as well, due to a significant bomb explosion at 23 West 26th Street, the former headquarters of the Communist Party in New York. The explosion ripped through the neighborhood and destroyed the original stained glass windows of the Cathedral apse. A major fund raising drive was initiated to replace the windows and stabilize the building which was beginning to show its age. While regretting the loss of the original windows, the Cathedral moved in order to add the current Byzantine style windows, with their Orthodox saint associations. Another addition to the interior of the Cathedral was the crystal and gold chandelier above the nave (donated by the Perunichich Family), which continued a long process of adding Byzantine elements to the original Gothic interior, thus further distinguishing St. Sava's in the family of New York City churches.
The first such Byzantine style addition in 1961, commissioned by Executive Board President Jovan Tomich and Secretary Bogdan Mishkovich was the hand carved oak iconostasis created in the tradition of 10th century religious art. Painstakingly researched by the two, and hand carved by craftsmen at the Monastery of St. Naum in Ochrid in South Serbia, the new altar piece was dedicated on June 24, 1962. The artistic detail and great beauty of the iconostasis represented an artistic milestone for it was the first altarpiece in the tradition of Byzantine art to arrive in the United States. Its 40 icons were painted by Prof. Ivan Meljnikov, a refugee of the Russian Revolution and a highly regarded exponent of Byzantine iconography. On April 18, 1968, a few months before the installation of the new stained glass windows, the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission officially proclaimed The Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava a landmark of the City of New York stating that its "striking appearance commands special attention" and that its "special character, historical significance and aesthetic interest and value as part of the development, heritage and cultural characteristics of New York City" make it irreplaceable.
As the Cathedral commanded special attention with authorities dedicated to preserving historical structures, it also continued to do so with its parish as well. Under effective guidance in the early 1970's by the Bishop Vasilije and the Executive Board of Tihomir Topalovic, and after a new wave of immigration, the Cathedral's membership rolls approached the startling figure of over 700 members. The Cathedral social hall, which usually is capable of housing large yearly assembly attendances, could not handle the large numbers. Arrangements were made during these years to hold assemblies at large banquet halls around the city such as the St. George Hotel in Manhattan. The astounding growth in only 25 short years had managed to place the Cathedral's membership at one of the highest numbers in New York City, rivaling such eminent churches as St. Thomas Church and St. Patrick's Cathedral!
The social life of the Cathedral continued as well. King Peter II continued to attend services at the Cathedral and take part in its activities. His moving final visit shortly before his death, occurred in 1970. For over 30 years in exile, King Peter had found at St. Sava's a warm home with many friends. Most recently, another generation of Karageorgevich has become associated with St. Sava's. In 1990, following an absence of 41 years, King Peter's son, Prince Alexander Karageorgevich attended services at the Cathedral. The reception at the social hall attracted more than 500 people where Prince Alexander spoke briefly about the then impending crisis and civil war in the former Yugoslavia. Last in attendance as a child of 9 years, tears welled in his eyes as memories flooded back, and well wishers swarmed toward him in outward demonstrations of emotion once granted his father in 1945.
In December of 1982, St. Sava Cathedral achieved one of the highest designations granted a building in America. The United States Department of the Interior officially placed the 128-year-old Cathedral on the National Register of Historic Places acknowledging its value as an important landmark in the historical development of the United States. St. Sava Cathedral could now officially claim its rightful place among the great family of churches and cathedrals along New York's avenues. Currently St. Sava's is working to obtain the same distinction to the social hall. The whimsical Parish House, is the last remaining building in New York City designed and built by noted architect Jacob Wrey Mould.
Within the last few years, the gap between the Cathedral's two communities has slowly and hesitatingly started elevation to Patriarch, began the unification and healing process in very recent years. On Monday, October 5, 1992, his Holiness, as part of a larger trip to across the country, traveled to New York City, where a doxology service was held at the Cathedral attended by over 1,300 people. It was the first time a Serbian Patriarch had ever visited America. While in New York City for three days, His Holiness visited the National Council of Churches, attended a vesper service and banquet at the Greek Archdiocese with Archbishop Iakovos, and met with Secretary General of the United Nations Boutros Boutros-Ghali to discuss the terrible civil war in the former Yugoslavia. Part of the legacy of his visit will be, with God' s help, more trust, more cooperation, and eventually complete and true unity.
Most recently the Serbian Orthodox population of New York City has begun to finally realize that only through true reunification can the Cathedral grow and address the challenges facing it at the dawning of a new century. Today with its aesthetic grandeur and structural integrity threatened, the Cathedral is in need of serious renovation. Over the many years, its roof and drainage system have slowly deteriorated, moisture has broken through the envelope of the building, and its resistance to the elements, severely compromised. Through grants and donations, the Cathedral has begun the expensive and important process of restoring and repairing the largest, the first, and the most historic Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in the United States of America.
A History of the St. Stephen Serbian Orthodox Church of Lackawanna
The first Serbian immigration took place from 1900 to 1918. Shortly after the first settlers came to Lackawanna, they began to fraternize forming the St. Stevan and Balkan Lodges. Almost immediately, the lodge members began to think in terms of establishing a church.
On January 16, 1916, the first church board was elected. On February 16, 1916, the name of the future church was selected-Saint Archdeacon Stephen. The first services were held on the first floor of the parish home with Rev. Zarko Trifkovich celebrating the first Liturgy.
Under the guidance of Rev. Trifkovich, enthusiasm spread and a building committee was organized on May 27, 1917. Several trustees pledged their entire personal property to secure a mortgage for the building of the church. The contract for the new church was $20,902.00. A loan was secured on August 3, 1917 and, in addition, Bethlehem Steel donated $2,500 toward the project. August 12, 1917 marked the cornerstone blessing by Bishop Aleksander Nemolovsky. In October 1917 services were held for the first time in the church although it was not entirely completed.
On November 18, 1917 the church bells arrived from St. Louis, Missouri at a cost of $836.67. The church was blessed on January 9, 1918, which also is the feast of St. Archdeacon Stephen. The ceremony was performed by Archimandrite Uskokovich who later became the first Serbian Bishop in America. Our first Priest, Rev. Trifkovich passed away in 1924.
In spite of the worst depression in American history, the first mortgage was paid off on July 19, 1936 leaving the parish debt free.
The 1940s saw the first generation of American born Serbs come to the foreground. In 1939, the Kosta Manojlovich Choir was organized. Riverside women organized a Kolo. Church community life was interrupted with our entry into the Second World War. Approximately 100 of our men were inducted into military service and several lost their lives defending this Country.
During the years following the death of Rev. Trifkovich, our spiritual leadership changed many times, many priests only staying a few months, most less than two years. This situation changed in 1951 with the arrival of Rev. Miodrag Djurich.
Along with Father Djurich, the 1950s ushered in a time of positive change. The Serb Club was built in Riverside. In 1951, with most of the return of the male population from the war, the Kosta Manojlovich Choir resumed rehearsals.
Due to an increasing congregation and a deteriorating neighborhood, the younger generation at the time began to exert pressure to relocate the church.�A parcel of land was purchased at Abbott and Weber Roads in an area that was then known as the Weber tract. Many new homes were being built near by at that time. The congregation paid $400 for the parcel.
In December of 1954 a new church board was elected with Steve Korach as president. Steve and most of his original board remained in office until the Golden Jubilee in 1967.
March 19, 1956 marked the death of Bishop Nikolai, who was in exile in the U.S. Bishop Nikolai had spent a lot of time here in Lackawanna and had a special relationship with the people here. He was laid in state in our church on his way to his resting-place in Libertyville, IL. In 1991 his body would be moved to its final resting-place in Lelich, Serbia. In 2003 our Bishop Nikolai would be officially recognized as a saint.
In 1958, the property on Church Street was sold to the 2nd Baptist Church for $35,000. In July 1958, ground was broken on the new church. On February 1, 1959, Proto and Protinica Djurich occupied the new parish home. The last Divine Liturgy was served in the old church on February 22, 1959 and the first services were held in the new church hall the following week. The church was ready on August 15, 1959 and the church was dedicated on August 29th and 30th of 1959. Father Kiprian was brought here to paint the icons for the new church. The cost of the new complex was $289,959.15. The congregation obtained a $125,000 mortgage from M&T Bank, which was paid off in 1967, our Golden Jubilee year.
January 2, 1970 marked one of the saddest days in the history of our parish with the untimely death of Father Djurich. He died of pneumonia, which he contracted while in the hospital recuperating from another aliment.� Protinica Djurich remained in our community�until her death in 1992.
During the 1970s Fathers Milorad Dobrota, Bogdan Zjalich, and Srboljub Bulich served us. Father Bulich would serve until 1984 when Father Rastko Trbuhovich arrived.
It was decided to renovate and build an addition to the then existing hall. Jim Raditic headed the building committee. On October 21, 1980, the new St. Stephens Cultural Center was dedicated. The new hall strained our finances at first, but was paid off in seven short years.
Serbfest, first started as way to help pay the new mortgage, and then became an annual event. We opened our complex for the public to come and see our religious and cultural traditions and to sample our food. Serbfest became an example of true fellowship within our Parish.
The period since the early 1980s have marked a decline in our parish population along with the decline in the economy of Western New York.
The 1990s would bring in a legal ban on smoking in public buildings. This ban would bring about an end to Bingo at St. Stephens, which for years had paid off mortgages and maintained the complex. The board anticipated this and had for several years had been studying stewardship programs of other Orthodox Churches, after which we introduced our current Stewardship Pledge program. Our people did what they had done in the past; they rose to the occasion and gave generously. We were able to replace the lost income and the program continues today.
In 1992 we celebrated our 75th anniversary at St. Stephens. The event was co-chaired by Steven and Mary Korach and Jim and Joanne Raditic. Shortly after that event, we lost Steve Korach who had been a visionary and a leader in this church for so many years.�Steve's wife Mary M. Korach passed away this year. They both served as examples of leadership, of what could be done, and are missed.
The 1990s marked new problems in the old country. Wars brought many new comers to the United States and to Lackawanna. A committee was formed to raise donations for both the new comers and for those who were left behind in Serbia. Our parish was generous in their support.
For many years father has spoken about how wonderful it would be to complete our church with frescoes. That idea is becoming a reality. The parish again is rallied around a cause. The donations to the Fresco fund continue to come in and there are now fewer and fewer compositions left to be purchased.
With the declining Western New York population, we as a parish seem to be getting smaller. Our workers and supporters are passing away. The current and future leadership will need everyone's help and especially Gods help. We need our current Stewards to continue to support us financially and to continue giving their time and talent as well. In addition, we need others, who are not active to get active and join in the stewardship and traditions of our St. Stephen Church.
On October 27, 2007 the St. Stephen church community celebrated its 90 th Anniversary. At that time the full text of this historical survey, excerpted above, was presented to the gathering by its author, Peter D. Stevanoff, Congregation Treasurer, 90 th Anniversary Co-chair and Master of Ceremonies.
Don't forget Jasenovac - Industry of Death 1941-1945
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