EXCERPTS FROM "ST. GEORGE CHURCH" BY JOHN E. USALIS
Liths Come to America
Alexander Carolius Kursius is the first recorded Lithuanian immigrant to the United States, settling in New Amsterdam (New York City) in 1659. A former professor in Lithuania, Kursius remained in the teaching profession in the New Netherlands, instructing his charges in Latin. He was known as the "Schoolmaster,"and is known as the father of the American high school.
The first large immigration of Lithuanians into the United States began in 1867, though a smaller contingent of immigrants can be traced back to 1850. The reasons for this exodus from Lithuania included a severe famine in 1850, bitter religious, political and national persecution, and compulsory military service in 1874.
After coming to this country, most Lithuanians settled in the Boston-Chicago-Baltimore "triangle," with the majority settling in Pennsylvania and Chicago. Some settled as far away as Wyoming, on land donated to the Lithuanian families by "Wild Bill" Cody.
It is very difficult to say how many Lithuanian immigrants entered the country, since many entered on passports identifying them as either Russian or Polish.
The borough of Shanandoah, and Schuylkill County in general, was a magnet to immigrants during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, due mainly to the then growing coal mining industry.
Lithuanians first arrived in Shenandoah in 1869, some coming from Danville, Pa., the first Lithuanian community in the area. At first, the new immigrants worshipped at Saint Fidelis German Catholic Church, Mahanoy City, and Holy Family German Catholic Church on Chestnut Street in Shenandoah.
Among the first families who came to settle in Shenandoah were those of Peter Kazakevicius, John Rackus, John Bobbin, John Slavickas, Matthew Matulevicius, Matthew Karalius, Stanley Miliauskas, Vincent Bagdonas, Anthony Bagdanavicius, John Skritulskas, Brother Augustine Zaica, John Jakubauskas, John Bradunas, Vincent Cizauskas, and the Andriukaitis family.
The "firsts" include:
The influx of the large amount of Lithuanians into Shenandoah, known as "S[h]enadorius" to generations of Lithuanians, gave it the distinction of being referred to as the Lithuanians' "American Capitol." The First Lithuanian Band was organized in 1885 in Shenandoah, and while in existence was very popular, performing in Philadelphia, New York and other cities. It disbanded in 1928.
During the 1920's and 1930's, over 10,000 Lithuanians were numbered as residents of the borough, making it by far the largest ethnic group and the most influential, especially in politics. From 1918 to 1932, Casimir (Magalenga) Magalingo served as chief burgess, an office which was held by Lithuanians for most of the first half of the 20th century.
A Church Needed
With the increasing Lithuanian population in the area, and the need to have a Lithuanian-speaking priest to care for the spiritual needs of the ethnic group, the first Lithuanian Roman Catholic Church in America was built: Saint Casimir Church.
Constructed in 1872, the first pastor of Saint Casimir's was Rev. Andrew Strupinskas, who had come to America from Lithuania in 1866, and had been serving at the Church of Saint Raymond in New York. He arrived in Shenandoah in 1872, and lived with his sister, Mrs. Peter Kazakevicius.
After funds were raised, thanks to the aid of the Saint Casimir Beneficial Society, two lots were purchased on North Jardin Street, where a frame church was built. Measuring a mere 20 feet wide and 40 feet long, it was an unpainted, unplastered, plank structure roofed with boards. The church was named Saint Casimir after the beloved patron saint of Lithuania.
Rev. Strupinskas served as pastor from 1872-1877. He died November 24, 1892, and was buried in Old Saint George Cemetery.
At a time when immigrants arrived faster than parishes could be organized and built, membership to Saint Casimir's was granted to Polish immigrant families, much as Saint Fidelis and Holy Family had been used by the first Lithuanian immigrants who lived in Shenandoah, Mahanoy City, Gilberton and Maizeville.
An "Error" Appears
Problems developed with the transfer in 1877 of Father Strupinskas, who was fluent in both Lithuanian and Polish, and the appointment of the new pastor, Rev. Alexis Lenarkiewicz, who could speak only the Polish language. He was unable to gain the confidence of his Lithuanian parishioners, who were so outraged by the new appointee that they went so far as to barricade the church doors to prevent the appointment. The lawsuit that resulted lasted for two years.
During a legal search of archdiocesan and civil records, it was found that Saint Casimir Chuch had been registered in the office of the Recorder of Deeds in Philadelphia as a Polish church instead of Lithuanian. While there have been several different explanations for this "oversight," such as a slip of the pen or some effort to keep the Lithuanians and Polish together, the most likely explanation involves the grouping of many different ethnic groups into one category.
With the immigration of large groups of Europeans to the United States in the late 1800's, the newly-arrived foreigners were categorized by immigration officials in several different ways, particularly by religion: Lutherans were considered to be German, Orthodox were Russians, and Eastern European Catholics were Polish. So when the church was recorded as a Catholic church, it was apparently considered to be Polish Catholic, and recorded as such.
This error had been used as a basis for a certain amount of friction between both ethnic groups, though there apparently was nothing intentionally done to wrest the church from the Lithuanian parishioners.
Whatever the case, many Lithuanians left Saint Casimir Church to build a new church for the now disenfranchised parishioners. The same group that had been instrumental in the formation of Saint Casimir Church, the Saint Casimir Beneficial Society, took its charter and treasury and reorganized under a new name: Saint George Beneficial Society, one of the first exclusively Lithuanian organizations in the country.
Efforts to gain permission and form a new parish was not without strong opposition, particularly from Father Lenarkiewicz and the church organist, Dominick T. (Boskowzski) Boczkowski, born in Poland and a resident of Mahanoy City, who together started a printing shop and began publishing a weekly Lithuanian paper in 1888 called "The Saule" in order to keep the parish intact, and to meet with the wishes of Polish-speaking Lithuanians of the parish who had little interest in being burdened with the building of another church. Boczkowski served as editor and publisher of "The Saule."
The opposition failed. Rev. Alexander Burba (1854-1898), a member of the Lithuanian intelligentsia who came to America in 1889, and who was serving in Mahanoy City at the time, was authorized by Archbishop Patrick J. Ryan, D.D., of Philadelphia to form and direct a Lithuanian congregation in Shenandoah. The permission was granted in 1889 after a committee of three men, led by Adolph P. Tabor, approached Archbishop Ryan repeatedly through correspondence and personal visits with the request.
Until a church could be built, Robbins Opera House on North Main Street, later known as German's and later still as Maher's Hall, was used for the celebration of Masses and other religious services. Several months after the services began in Robbins', Father Burba left Shenandoah to go to Plymouth, Pa., where he established a parish there, and for a time published a weekly newspaper called "Valtis" ("The Skiff"), along with other writings and poetry.
With the departure of Rev. Burba, it left the Lithuanians without a pastor. The drive to build a new church continued, nonetheless, being moved along by the appointment of Rev. Peter Abromaitis as director of the formation of the congregation. He also continued to have services in Robbins' hall until the completion of the church.
On March 31, 1891, over 1000 Lithuanians met at Robbins' Opera House to discuss the formation of the new parish. The formation of the new congregation drew over 1500 parishioners from the membership rolls of Saint Casimir Church. After looking at several sites in Shenandoah, Rev. Abromaitis helped negotiate the purchase of land along South Jardin Street from James B. Lessig, using part of the $40,000 raised through a financial drive to construct the new church. The money had been raised by April 27, less than 30 days from the beginning of the fundraising effort.
The Laying of the Cornerstone
On Sunday, October 25, 1891, it must have seemed that the entire population of the area came out to gather and witness the laying of the cornerstone of Saint George Church.
Over 5000 came to Shenandoah to observe the beginnings of the brand new Lithuanian church. The station agent of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, Patrick J. Ferguson, estimated that over 3000 people traveled by rail to Shenandoah, with over 500 coming from Mahanoy City alone. People came from an area that stretched from Shamokin to Plymouth, Pa.
While the citizens of Shenandoah and its visitors waited for the parade to begin, a great deal of socializing and imbibing ensued, with some gatherings considered to be "very enthusiastic."
Before the cornerstone was laid, a parade that consisted of 34 religious societies marched down Main Street to the sight of the dedication at Jardin and Cherry Streets. Not counting the 14 bands in the parade, there were over 1900 men in a line that took over 22 minutes for an onlooker to see as they passed by.
When the parade ended, Rev. Henry O'Reilly, pastor of Annunciation B.V.M. Church, Shenandoah, formally laid the cornerstone, and was assisted by Rev. J. Zlotozinskas of Pittston, Rev. Peter Abromaitis of Mahanoy City, Rev. Alexander Burba of Plymouth, Rev. Simon Pautienius of Baltimore, Md., and Rev. Schuttlehoefler of Holy Family Church, Shenandoah.
The frame of the church was completed after several months - a wooden structure sheated in tin - and Rev. Abromaitis, who had participated in the laying of the cornerstone, was named pastor by Archbishop Ryan. On May 12, 1894, the church was blessed, and within a short period of time, the parish could boast of a membership of 1200 families.
On December 14, 1891, three acres of land was purchased by the parish from Girard Estate for a cemetery in West Mahanoy Township near Shenandoah Heights. In 1900, two more acres were purchased, and in 1909, seven additional acres more were acquired. The parish today has five cemeteries: Old Saint George, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Dawn, Our Lady of Lourdes and Calvary Hill.
Rev. Peter Abromaitis
The first pastor of Saint George Church was a native of Lithuania, in what was then the Suwalska Governmental District of Russia. After his ordination in Suwalska, Rev. Abromaitis moved to the United States around 1880 and was assigned to the Diocese of Scranton.
Transferred to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, he was then assigned to form a Lithuanian parish in Mahanoy City, and was instrumental in the founding of Saint Joseph Church, where he remained pastor for seven years, until his appointment as pastor of Saint George in 1891.
Rev. Abromaitis was well-liked by his parishioners, who were extremely disappointed when he was transferred back to Saint Joseph Church in May of 1908.
Rev. Abromaitis died from pneumonia at the age of 57 in Minersville on February 27, 1911. After services in both Minersville and Shenandoah, he was laid to rest in Old Saint George Cemetery.
The growth of the parish soon taxed the size of the church, prompting alterations and renovations to be made in 1901-1902, and again in 1907, with improvements inside and out, during which there was no interruption of religious services. A large $4,000 pipe organ was also installed, which is still in use today. The original organist and choir director was Professor John A. Zemaitis. During this time, the three-story church rectory, measuring 20 x 100 feet, was also built.
Also included in the renovation were large mural decorations, depicting Biblical scenes, painted on the ceiling of the church. The artist, Francis (Bogden) Bogdan, a Lithuanian, was well prepared for the task, due to his training at the Academy of Fine Arts of Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) in Russia. The murals were considered to be among the finest in the state at the time and attracted many visitors to the church.
Another addition to the general overall improvement to the church in 1907 were 10 large bells, weighing a total of almost six tons.
On Wednesday, January 1, 1908, Rev. Matthias (Juodisus) Youdiscius, assistant pastor of Saint George Church, officiated at the 9 a.m. service when the newly remodeled church was dedicated, which included the blessing, or baptism, of the bells, placing them in service to the Lord.
For the blessing, the bells had been placed in the vestibule, and the next day, workmen arrived to haul the bells almost 100 feet into the towers from the inside of the church, working in the near-zero temperatures in the towers.
The bells are made of copper and alloyed with the finest East India tin, and were guaranteed for 15 years by the manufacturer, McShane Company of Baltimore. Considered the finest in the state at the time, the bells were an appropriate addition to the largest church, at the time, in Schuylkill County, which measured 65 x 120 feet.
The names of the bells and their weights are:
At the present time, only three bells are in operation to avoid any type of structural weakening of the towers.
Rev. Abromaitis Transferred
After the first pastor, Rev. Abrpmaitis, was transferred, the parishioners became concerned that the situation that had occurred with Saint Casimir Church would be repeated. Meetings were held and a committee was formed to try and keep Rev. Abromaitis at Saint George.
The reason for the transfer was apparently due to the large increase in the membership rolls of the parish. Archbishop Ryan felt that Saint George could no longer handle such a large congregation, and that plans were being considered to form another Lithuanian parish in Shenandoah.
However, the archbishop felt that the popularity of Rev. Abromaitis would make it difficult to form another parish due to the reluctance of parishioners to leave the pastoral care of the popular and respected pastor. This reasoning seemed to be the cause for the transfer.
Rev. Antanas Milukas
Born in Sestokia, county of Marijampole, Lithuania, on April 13, 1871, Rev. Antanas (Anthony) Milukas, the second pastor of Saint George Church, may also have been one of the most influential beyond the confines of any of the pastorates he was assigned.
At the age of 18, he entered the theological seminary in Seiniai, Lithuania, but was expelled shortly after by the ruling Russia government on the charge of participating in Lithuanian nationalist activities.
He left his native country, but continued in efforts to preserve the Lithuanian language and culture, mostly through the publication of "Varpas" (The Bell), on which he was assistant editor, and other printed material that had to be smuggled into Lithuania.
After arriving in the United States in 1892, he continued his training for the priesthood at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary at Overbrook (near Philadelphia) in 1893, and was ordained in June of 1896. After ordination, Rev. Milukas first served as a curate at Saint George Church, Shenandoah, for a few years, after which his assistance was needed in the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y. While in Brooklyn, he built a large Lithuanian church in a parish near the eastern end of the Williamsburg Bridge.
After two years in Brooklyn, he was transferred back to Saint George, serving as assistant pastor until 1902, when Rev. Milukas traveled to Switzerland to study canon law at the University of Fribourg for one year. It was at the university that the idea of starting a Lithuanian religious teaching order was formed and promoted, helped along by Rev. Milukas and 12 other Lithuanian priests studying there.
Rev. Milukas returned to the United States in 1903, and once again became assistant pastor at Saint George. In 1906, he was assigned to form a twin pastorate in Girardville and Maizeville, saint Vincent de Paul Church and Saint Louis Church, respectively.
He remained in the two parishes for 16 months before his transfer to the pastorate of Saint George Church in May 1908.
Very interested in the publishing industry, Rev. Milukas was a highly regarded publicist, editor, and the largest publisher of Lithuanian magazines and books in America. He was the publisher of 66 books of educational, historical and fictional content. He was author of more than a dozen books on Lithuania, including "The History of Lithuanians in the United States." He spoke several languages fluently.
Rev. Milukas remained as pastor in Shenandoah only until January 22, 1909, when he was promoted to pastor of Saint George Church in Philadelphia.
Rev. Milukas died on March 19, 1943 at the age of 72.
Rev. Albinus Kaminskas
When Rev. Albinus J. Kaminskas became pastor on January 22, 1909, he began the process that had caused Archbishop Ryan to transfer Rev. Abromaitis: the forming of another Lithuanian parish in Shenandoah.
The first order of business was to take a census of the parishioners to see how many families would be interested in joining the new church, and to secure signed pledges and cash. He was to report his findings within six months.
After completing the census, it was found that 655 families, numbering 3275 people, were willing to become members of the new parish. Rev. Kaminskas reported to the archbishop that he had collected $25,300 in cash and $45,000 in signed pledges.
But before anything further could be done, Rev. Kaminskas was transferred on October 1, 1911. His successor, Rev. Simon Pautienius, did not agree with the breaking up of the parish. His suggestion to the archbishop that the status quo be preserved was accepted, ending the project for good.
Rev. Simon Pautienius
A native of Lithuania, Rev. Simon Pautienius was born on October 28, 1863. He was a graduate of the college in Marijampole, Lithuania, and entered the theological seminary in Seiniai, Lithuania. At the age of 24, he was ordained in Saint Ann's Cathedral, Seiniai, on May 22, 1888.
Entering the United States in 1891, he was first assigned to Baltimore, Md. Due to his excellent pastoral abilities, Rev. Pautienius was transferred to Saint Joseph Church, Mahanoy City, which was experiencing rapid growth.
He was transferred to Saint Vincent de Paul Church, Girardville, and then back to Saint Joseph's before coming to Saint George Church in 1911.
When he arrived in Shenandoah, Saint George Church had a red brick exterior with brown stone facings. Rev. Pautienius set about the task of making improvements in 1915.
One of the improvements was extending the back of the church to Ferguson Street, which increased the seating capacity by one-third, or to 1200. The church now measured 150 feet long, 65 feet wide and 175 feet high, measuring from ground level to the top of the crosses on the twin towers.
Other improvements included lining the outside wall with granite stone, the adding of a new sanctuary and sacristies, and the enlargement and remodeling of the basement.
On February 6, 1923, Rev. Pautienius died at the age of 60 in Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia following a lengthy illness. His Requiem Mass was celebrated in Saint George Church on February 10, 1923 by Bishop Michael Crane, D.D., of Philadelphia, with interment in the parish cemetery.
The duties of the pastorate for the next two weeks were handled by Rev. Joseph A. Karalius, assistant pastor, who's appointment to the church had been requested by the ailing Rev. Pautienius.
Rev. John Dumcius
After the death of Rev. Pautienius, Rev. John Dumcius, the pastor of Saint Francis of Assisi Church, Minersville, was appointed as pastor of Saint George, taking over the post on February 21, 1923. At the same time, Rev. Karalius, who had ably served as administrator during Rev. Pautienius' illness, assigned the pastorate of Saint Francis.
A native of Lithuania, Rev. Dumcius was born on November 10, 1870, at Mockupia, county of Sintautai, in the Suwalska Governmental District of Russia. He took courses at Marijampole and studied for the priesthood at the theological seminary at Seiniai, Lithuania, and was ordained May 27, 1893.
After ordination, he served as assistant pastor for 12 years in Lithuania before coming to the United States on October 8, 1905.
Leaving the United States for Europe in 1929, he resigned his post at Saint George, which opened the door for the priest who was considered one of the most outstanding and influential figures in Lithuanian Catholicism.
Msgr. Joseph A. Karalius
He was known throughout the Lithuanian community in the United States and Europe, and Saint George Church had him as pastor for almost 41 years.
Msgr. Joseph Anthony Karalius was born on February 4, 1888, in Yesenauka, Lithuania. He came to the United States at the age of 13 in 1902, and lived with his parents in Cumbola and Mahanoy City. As a boy he worked in a store owned by his stepbrother, Matthew Supernavage.
He entered Saint Mary's College, Orchard Lake, Michigan, in 1909 at the age of 19, and after completing his studies there, he entered Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, Overbrook, Pa., and later studied canon law at Catholic University of America, Washington, D,C. He was ordained in Baltimore, Md. on December 20, 1919, by Bishop E.B. Corrigan.
Traveling through Europe, he was very supportive to the various Lithuanian institutions on that continent, including the Lithuanian Education Society, the Saint Casimir Lithuanian Seminary in Rome, and the February 16th Academy in West Germany.
Rev. Karalius first served as assistant pastor of Saint Casimir Church in Philadelphia (1919-1921), and then pastor of Saint John the Baptist Church in Coaldale (1921-1922).
At the request of the ailing Rev. Pautienius, Rev. Karalius was transferred to Saint George in 1922 to serve as assistant pastor/administrator, which he did until February 21, 1923, when he was assigned to the pastorate of Saint Francis of Assisi Church, Minersville, where he started the parochial school which, under his guidance, produced more than its share of vocations to the priesthood.
Rev. Karalius returned to Saint George Church on October 30, 1929, as pastor, and spent the remainder of his service to the Catholic Church here. He managed the church through some of the most difficult times, through internal unrest between priest and trustee, to outside influences as the Great Depression and World War II.
A supporter of Lithuanian books and publications, much like Rev. Milukas, Rev. Karalius had contributed to the publication of "Encyclopedia Lituanica," "Monograph" by Professor A. Dovydaitis, "The New Testament in Lithuanian," "Archives of World Lithuanians," "The Youth Journal," and "Chronicles of the Lithuanian Catholic Church in Lithuania," an underground Lithuanian publication which [was] smuggled out of the country and translated into other languages, including English.
Rev. Karalius was elevated to monsignor in 1966 by Pope Paul VI. He retired as pastor emeritus on June 3, 1970, and died at St. Joseph's Home for The Aged, Holland, PA on October 8, 1982, at the age of 94.
Bishop Joseph McShea, D.D., celebrated the Requiem Mass on October 14, 1982 in a crowded Saint George Church. Msgr. Karalius was laid to rest in Our Lady of Fatima Cemetery.
The 1938 Fire
A fire in the early morning hours of March 1, 1938, caused extensive damage to the church, with firemen having to battle fatigue, frigid temperatures, and the structure of the church itself.
After being alerted of the fire at 1 a.m., both Rev. Karalius and Rev. Andrew Degutis, assistant pastor, rushed to the church to first save the Blessed Sacrament, and then to remove statuary and anything else movable before the water poured in.
The cause of the fire was determined to be a cracked chimney and an unusually strong draft brought about by very low temperatures and very high winds. The above-normal heat ignited materials around the chimney within the walls.
After the fire was extinguished, the damage was found to be extensive, with damage estimates reaching $33,000. Saint Joseph's altar, the closest to the fire, was completely destroyed, while the rest of the church sustained a great deal of smoke and water damage.
Repairs were started within a few weeks. The interior design, which expressed a definite Lithuanian flavor, was designed by Paul H. Daubner of Philadelphia.
With the original murals along the center arch being heavily damaged by smoke and water, Daubner replaced them with 12 x 18 foot murals depicting the Fifteen Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, with the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary located behind and above the altar, in an area where there were originally three windows.
Other additions included the Holy Family and Mother of Sorrows (Pieta) shrines in the vestibule, the large crucifix above the sanctuary, stained glass with designs of the United States and Lithuanian great seals in the national colors above the main entrance doors, bronze altar railings, two angel holy water fonts, and new tile flooring. The pipe organ, which was damaged by water, and the altars were also rebuilt. The church basement was also remodeled, adding a modern kitchen, and a new coal stoker was installed.
Msgr. Joseph Neverauskas
Born in Minersville on December 31, 1908, Msgr. Joseph A. Neverauskas was the second pastor of Saint George Church to be elevated to the rank of monsignor.
After being educated in both Minersville and Branch Township schools, he furthered his education by attending Bucknell University and Kutztown State College.
Called to the priesthood, he studied at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, and was ordained on May 26, 1938 by Bishop Hugh Lamb in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.
His first pastorate was at Saint Louis Church in Maizeville (1955-1964), after which he was appointed administrator of Sacred Heart Church, New Philadelphia, from January 30, 1964, until the beginning of his 13-year pastorate of Saint George Church.
He had served on the Diocesan Council of Priests and as a diocesan consultor. He was elevated to monsignor on March 14, 1977 by Pope Paul VI.
Very interested in getting the word out about Lithuanian history and culture, Msgr. Neverauskas translated many Lithuanian historical articles, texts and poetry into English, organized special radio programs for Lithuanians, including the making of recordings of popular Lithuanian choirs and societies. He was the author of the book, "The Adventures of Ziggy Zilch."
Msgr. Neverauskas retired in August of 1983 as pastor emeritus, and resides at Holy Family Manor, Bethlehem.
Rev. John Sabas
After the retirement of Msgr. Neverauskas, Rev. John Pascal Sabas was assigned to Saint George. He was born in Philadelphia on July 23, 1923. After completing studies at Franciscan seminaries in Philadelphia, Ohio, New York and Washington, D.C., he was ordained in 1954.
After coming to the Diocese of Allentown, Rev. Sabas held assistant pastorates at Saint Francis of Assisi Church, Minersville (1963-1964); Saint Francis of Assisi Church, Allentown (1964-1965); and Saint Patrick Church, Pottsville (1965-1967).
Rev. Sabas became administrator, and then pastor, of Saint Vincent de Paul Church, Girardville (1967-1977), and Saint Ignatius Loyola Church, Sinking Spring (1977-1983).
On October 1, 1985, Rev. Sabas returned to the Franciscan monastery at Kennebunkport.
Rev. Robert Potts
When Rev. Robert J. Potts took over the reigns of Saint George Church, he also became involved in the largest renovation project in the 100-year history of the church.
Born in Saint Clair, the son of Andrew and Anna (Stavesky) Potts, he attended Saint Clair public schools. He received his priestly training in Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, and was ordained March 7, 1964 by Bishop Joseph McShea in the Cathedral of Saint Catharine of Siena, Allentown.
He served assistant pastorates in Jim Thorpe, Easton, Minersville, Lansford and Bethlehem. Rev. Potts also was a teacher at Marian High School (1967-1969), Cardinal Brennan High School (1971-1972), and Nativity B.V.M. High School (1972-1976).
Before coming to Shenandoah, he was pastor of Saint Vincent de Paul Church, Minersville (1977-1979), and Sacred Heart Church, New Philadelphia (1979-1985), where he guided the renovation of the beautifully muraled church. He has also served as an advocate on the Diocesan Marriage Tribunal.
On March 29, 1987, Rev. Potts was named pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Shenandoah, where he has also taken on the responsibilities of a renovation of that church.
After a leaking roof had caused extensive damage to portions of the interior walls of the church in the early 1980's, plans for specific repairs limited to the damaged areas were expanded to include an overall renovation of the entire interior and portions of the exterior. This need surfaced when consideration was made as to how many years had past since the last remodeling in the late 1930's, and the upcoming centennial of the church.
Over 15 different contractors, working under the direction of WJP Engineers of Pottsville, took over three years to transform the church into the elegant and heavenly white and gold "House of God" that stands today. Michael Mezalick of Mezalick Studio, Norristown, was artistic consultant and provided restorative work to the church's artistic treasures.
Work done on the church included:
Replacement of almost all of the stained glass windows with brand new designs depicting the life of Jesus Christ, using colors with a "Lithuanian flavor."
The Stations of the Cross, which were made in Munich, Germany, in the 1920's, were stripped, repainted and shellacked, gold-leafed and re-lettered.
All 38 statues were repaired and repainted.
The crucifix above the sanctuary, which weighs from 800 to 1000 pounds with the almost nine-foot tall corpus of Jesus Christ on it, was refinished while it was hanging 55 feet above the floor.
The 12 x 18 foot murals along the main arch were cleaned, repaired and refinished.
The main altar and side altars were taken apart and totally redone. The tabernacle was placed in the Saint Joseph side of the church. A large table altar was built, the size determined by the proportions of the church, with a new depiction of the Last Supper, carved in Northern Italy, adorning the front of the nine-foot by 40-inch altar.
All new pews and wainscoting along the walls were installed, and over 250 gallons of paint, weighing close to two tons, was applied to the walls. The visible organ pipes were also painted, taking over 100 hours to complete. Gold leaf was applied generously in many areas of the church.
The entire sanctuary and sacristies were redone, new carpeting was laid, a sound system tailored to the acoustics of the church installed, and lighting was adjusted for proper illumination. Major repairs were made on the pipe organ, with many adjustments made on the control mechanisms and its 2000 pipes.
The stairs outside were replaced, complete with new railings. New stained glass front doors, with depictions of the four Gospel writers, were installed, and spotlights were added to the twin towers, making them visible for miles around at night.
As part of the renovation, and also to help raise the needed funds through fundraisers and other functions, the basement of the church was totally remodeled. Old classrooms were removed, the church hall expanded and renovated, a new kitchen was built, and new bathrooms were installed. The hall has become a center for parish social events, including the very popular Saint George Bingo, which was started as a weekly fundraiser for the church's renovation program.
In 1991, a total renovation of Saint George rectory was completed, which included the demolition of the garage along Ferguson Street. The rectory is used as the administrative office for both Saint George and Our Lady of Mount Carmel churches.
St. George School
In order to provide a Catholic education to the parish children, property was purchased in October of 1934 from Holy Family Church along West Washington Street between Chestnut and Highland Streets, which included a four-room school, the convent and rectory.
The first order of business was repairing the buildings, which were in deplorable condition, and adding a central heating plant. The existing school building was repaired, and the rectory was remodeled into a school building, adding four more classrooms.
The ground around the buildings was sinking due to undermining, so the area was backfilled with several hundred truckloads of soil and rock. Afterwards, a stone retaining wall and wire fencing were added to provide a safe schoolyard. At one time, over 300 children attended Saint George's in the Highland and Chestnut Street buildings, as well as the three grades in the basement of the church, all taught by the Sisters of Saint Casimir.
By the 1960's, the declining borough population was taking its toll on the local parochial schools, so at the beginning of the 1968-1969 school year, the parish schools of Saint George and Annunciation B.V.M. consolidated as Annunciation-Saint George Parochial School.
In 1990, both Annunciation-Saint George and Saint Casimir-Saint Stanislaus Parochial Schools merged into one educational institution under the name, "Father Walter J. Ciczek Elementary School," named in honor of the Shenandoah native whose cause for sainthood is being promoted by the Byzantine Catholic Diocese of Passaic, New Jersey.
The Lithuanian heritage of Saint George Church has been preserved throughout the century of its existence, mostly through the great pride its parishioners have for those that came before, and the indomitable will that has kept the Nation of Lithuania alive through all of the many attempts to extinguish it's national identity.
The premier celebration of the parish is Lithuanian Independence Day, celebrated on or near February 16, beginning with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which includes special prayers for freedom and peace in Lithuania, followed by an ethnic meal in the church hall, complete with ethnic entertainment. It is a way for parishioners to experience their Lithuanian ancestry, connecting them to their brothers and sisters in the homeland of their predecessors.
In Service to Christ
During its 100-year history, Saint George Parish has been blessed with a richness in vocations. Many men have been ordained to the priesthood, and many more women have entered Lithuanian religious orders. May their service to Christ and His Church be richly rewarded in Heaven.
St. George's Living & Deceased Religious Sisters of St. Casimir
Sister M. Delphine Grigas
Sisters of St. Francis (Franciscans)
Sister Mary Benigna (Helen Paulosky)
Sister Anthony Marie Unitas (Deceased)
Priest Sons of St. George's
Rev. Ronald Jankaitis
Saint George Church has always been overflowing with great people willing to offer their time and expertise to their parish, either individually or through affiliated organizations, in religious, fundraising and other activities within the parish community.
St. George Parish Organizations & Other Groups (1991)
"Young at Heart Choir" - Arlene Sadusky (Organist), Anna Bender, Clara Bobbin, Pat Dougal, John Karpovich, Mary Karpovich, William Karvois, Marge Marousky, Helen Matunis, Mary Ellen Quirk, Cheryl Toborowski, Mary Ann Toborowski, Jacqueline Ann Walukiewicz, Margaret Walukiewicz, and Mary Yanushefsky .
Jubilee Choir - Arlene Sadusky (Organist), Anna Bender, Clara Bobbin, Erin Cuff, Amanda Dargis, Patricia Dougal, John Karpovich, Mary Karpovich, William Karvois, Barbara Krystopolski, Mia Light, Helen Matunis, Margaret Marousky, Julia Norcross, Mary Ellen Quirk, Anne Sikora, John Sinkiewicz, Cheryl Toborowski, Mary Ann Toborowski, Leonard Visgaitis, Jacqueline Ann Walukiewicz, Margaret Walukiewicz, and Joan Wassell.
Children's Choir - Arlene Sadusky (Organist), Mia Light (Directress), Amy Boxter, Lori Boxter, Erin Cuff, Amanda Dargis, Thomas Dargis, and Amanda Light.
Eucharistic Ministers - Joseph Babatsky, Daniel Banonis, Linda Cieslukowski, Joseph Crea, Jack Karpovich, Mary Karpovich, Al Kokus, Dan Murphy, Maryann Richardson, Dot Setcavage, John Shevalla, Edward Stefanowicz, William Supernavage, Florence Yanall, and Joseph Yanall.
Lectors - Joseph Babatsky, Clara Bobbin, Nicole Bugden, Barbara Busila, Leonard Chaikowsky, Joseph Crea, Kelly Finn, Tammy Finn, Barbara Hardy, Jack Karpovich, Al Kokus, Mary Najda, Maryann Richardson, Dot Setcavage, John Shevalla, Florence Yanall, and Joseph Yanall.
Altar Boys - Jason Boxter, Tommy Dargis, Michael Dougal, Thomas Finn, Matthew Harrison, Anson Light, Joseph Link, John McGauley, Joseph Mensick, Chuck Nowak, Michael Quirk, Steve Supernavage, Mark Wasko, Michael Wasko, and Michael Wishnefsky.
Women's Alliance Branch 59 - Helen Matunis (President), Anna Bender (Vice-President), Margaret Marousky (Secretary), Anna Snoich (Treasurer), Nellie Gouba and Anna Twardzik (Trustees), Gertrude Alex, Isabel Banonis, Margaret Bozis, Mary Budusky, Helen Chesko, Julia Dopkin, Isabel Downey, Anna Dunlap, Helen Dougert, Margaret Gervalis, Anna Ginley, Anna Gouba, Anna Grutza, Mary Kegolis, Mary Koons, Helen Kegolis, Helen Kratulis, Anna Navitsky, Mary Najda, Patricia Nitolo, Julia Norcross, Estelle Nojunas, Sally Marcavage, Anita Makarczyk, Helen Mourey, Anna Poska, Sally Rittle, Mary Sakovich, Anna Sheeler, Jean Stemmy, Isabel Subach, Helen Tomcavage, Dolores Tichy, Catherine Yanchulis, Florence Yanall, Eva Yurkiewicz, Blanche Yackabonas, Alice Yokimas, Mildred Wychulis, Anna Wallace, Helen Walentis, Alberta Zarcufsky, and Victoria Zarcufsky.
Holy Name Society - Mamero Abrachinsky, George Abrachinsky, John Buchinsky, Frank Blashock, Dominick Brozosky, Joseph Crea, Joseph Dopkin, John V. Finn, Leon Jevelle, Eugene Kaledas, Charles Marcavage, Albert Markunas, Charles Parfitt, Leon Paskey, Edward Stefanowicz, Robert Yablonsky, John Yanal, Joseph Yanall, Joseph Yanushefsky, and Leonard Yudinsky.
St. George's Guild - Mary Yanushefsky (President), Helen Matunis (Vice-President), Anna Gouba (Secretary), Patricia Dougal (Treasurer), Bertha Amberlavage, Anna Antonavage, Ann Astrumsky, Anna Arminas, Lillian Abrachinsky, Violet Baldigo, Anna Barkauskas, Julia Bernatonis, Anna Bendee Kathryn Bernosky, Adele Bolich, Anna Bolich, Robert Bolich, Marie Bogden, Mary Budusky, Stella Butts, Anna Blewis, Mary Brozosky, Mary Barno, Isabel Blugis, Isabel Casper, Helen Chernesky, Mary Chernesky, Emilda Cinco, Corinne Crea, Leonard Chaikowsky, Mayme Davis, Fran Dereskiewicz, Jean Dougert, Helen Dougert, Agnes Dopkin, Julia Dopkin, Helen Dudis, Anna Dunlap, Violet Examitas, Florence Ferrence, Dorothy Finn, Florence Frye, Margaret Gervalis, Anna Ginley, Nellie Gouba, Josephine Guber, Anna Glowatsky, Mary Greener, Stasia Hama, Sophie Hobin, Julia Juck, Mary Karpovich, Mary Koons, Adele Kostelnick, Helen Kane, Helen Kutchinsky, Anna Lauritis, Clement Lapinsky, Anna Little, Rosemary Lynn, Eleanor Mackey, Helen Mays, Lillian Mankiewicz, Margaret Marousky, Sally Marcavage, Anna Markunas, Isabel Meffesky, Joseph Metscavage, Frank Metscavage, Helen Meluskey, Helen Mourey, Sara Mitchell, Helen Mackalonis, Florence Matakonis, Colleen McCabe, Maria McCabe, Natalie Mussari, Anna Navitsky, Mary Najda, Rose Norris, Patricia Nitolo, Veronica Ocealis, Helen O'Haren, Mary Pappas, Antoinette Palchus, Margaret Parfitt, Anna Poska, Helen Paskey, Mary Ellen Quirk, Sally Rittle, Helen Romaka, Dr. Mary Romeika, Adele Rittle, Frances Rauba, Helen Stefanowicz, Mary Sakovich, Anna Sheeler, Bertha Stauffer, Violet Sursavage, Helen Sikorsky, Anna Smetana, Anna Sands, Helen Strelkus, Mary Shaulis, Victoria Sampson, Florence Seilick, Sophie Suslavage, Anna Snoich, Helen Tomcavage, Anna Twardzik, Isabel Tancredi, Dolores Tichy, Anna Tacelosky, Anna Valento, Beatrice Wasley, Jean Walukonis, Jennie Walen tis, John Walentis, Helen Walentis, Anna Wallace, Antoinette Wynavage, Pat Wargo, Margaret Walukiewicz, Mary Wasko, Blanche Yackabonis, Albert Yackabonis, Albert Yanushefsky, Violet Yanushefsky, Florence YanaIl, Joseph Yanall, Catherine Yanchulis, Alice Yokimas, Alberta Zarcufsky, Veronica Zomick, Helen Zagorski, and Violet Zucosky.
St. George Catholic War Veterans - Robert G. Dominitis (Commander), Leon M. Jevelle (Adjutant), George Abrachinsky, Albin Aleshuski, Vincent Baltacavage, John J. Bartholomew, John A. Bashus, Anthony Bernosky, Dominick Brozosky, Stanley Burkevage, Leonard Chaikowsky, Alex Chesonis, Joseph P. Chowanes, Edward Christie, Albert Drumblusky, John Dubinsky, Albert Examitis, Albert Idacavage, Robert W. Jevelle, Anthony Kalenkosky, Peter Kalkowsky, Leonard Kerewich, Michael Lazer, Charles A. Marcavage, Vincent Marousky, John J. Metkus Jr., Joseph Metscavage, Charles Noraka, William Noraka, Andrew Ocealis Jr., Joseph B. Popalis, Bernard G. Ramer Jr., Joseph C. Rittle, Leona D. Rupert, Frank S. Sadusky, Bernard John Savakinas, Frank Savakinas, Peter Schultz, Regina Shockites, Paul Shockites, Charles J. Sincavage, Edward Stefanowicz, Joseph Stone, Charles Valetske, William Varkala, John Walentis, John Yanal, Joseph Yanall, Joseph Yanushefsky, Leonard Yudinsky, Andrew A. Yuodsnukis, Albert Yurgenc, and Edward Yurgenc.
Ushers and Collectors - Adolph Antanavage, Dominick Brozosky, John Buchinsky, Leonard Chaikowsky, Joseph Dopkin, John V. Finn, Leon Jevelle, Edward Macknis, Charles Marcavage, Edward Obzut, Charles Parfitt, Peter Schultz, Edward Stefanowicz, Roger Truck, John Yanal, and Joseph Yanall.
Activities Committee - Rev. Joseph J. K weder (Chairman), Anna Bender, Julie Buchinsky, Madeline Buchinsky, Pat Dougal, Barbara Hardy, Betty Kankowski, Jack Karpovich, Mary Karpovich, Helen Matunis, Anna Poska, Mary Ellen Quirk, Helen Savakinas, Margaret Walukiewicz, Mary Wasko, and Mary Yanushefsky.
Bingo Workers - Rev. Robert J. Potts, Rev. Joseph J. Kweder, Leon Paskey, Julie Buchinsky, Madeline Buchinsky Michele Chernewski, Pat Dougal, Dot Finn, Barbara Hardy, Florence Karahuta, Betty Kankowski, Jack Karpovich, Al Kokus, Charles Marcavage, Sally Marcavage, Delmy McGauley, Phyllis Paskey, Leona Rupert, Helen Savakinas, Dot Setcavage, Jeanette Stickler, Mary Wasko, Florence Yanall, and Joseph Yanall.
Bingo Kitchen Workers - Helen Matunis, Margaret Marousky, Helen Kratulis, Anna Bender, Helen Walentis, Clara Bobbin, Rose Norris, Mary Lou Popalis, Anna Poska, Mary Waiks, Dolores Tichy, Anna Snoich, Helen Kane, Alice Krish, Anna Gouba, Anna Lauritis, Betty Mescavage, Joan Schistle, Mary Karpovich, Pat Wargo, and Mary Yanushefsky.
Church Staff - Rev. Robert J. Potts, Rev. Joseph J. Kweder, Sister Marie Farrant, Ann Bolich, Julie Buchinsky, Dot Finn, Sophie Jakubac, Jack Karpovich, Mary Karpovich, Al Kokus, Charles Marcavage, Toni Pancerella, Leon Paskey, Phyllis Paskey, Anna Poska, Dot Setcavage, Jim Setcavage, Lucy Sherpensky, Bob Yudinsky, Len Yudinsky, and Joan Yurgalavage.
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