The First 50 Years
The 1950s through the 1970s
The 1980s and 1990s
Since the nearest Orthodox Church for the people of Olyphant was in either Old Forge or Mayfield, John Chichilla led a group of Russian immigrants, most of who came from Galicia, Austria-Hungary Empire, to found a brotherhood and build a parish church. The following men agreed to help in organizing a parish and in finding new members: Nekita Beckish, Onufer Bubniak, Wasil Dragon, Harry Dzjama, Joseph Fetchina, Wasil Glowatz, Trifon Havirlak, Andrew Hovansky, Benedict Kowalchik, Artemi Krett, Michael Kurilla, Joseph Musho, Harry Pasterchik, Simon Podhisky, Andrew Pronko, Jacob Repella, John Rotko, Theodore Skritnansky, Jacob Smolley, Alex Tomaskevitch, Anthony Witiak, and John Woytovich. Later Constantine Kurilla, who greatly assisted in the construction, joined the parish. The first gathering was held in the home of John Chichilla and a committee was selected to travel to Old Forge and approach Fr Elias Klopotovsky for his assistance. The first religious service was also held in the Chichilla home. The V. Rev Klopotovsky, pastor of St Michael’s Church in Old Forge, participated in the service and delivered such an inspiring sermon that those present organized a committee to purchase a piece of land from the Hull Estate for the purpose of building a new church. The lot was purchased for an unknown amount of money at the corner of East Lackawanna and Gravity Ave (then known as Hill St and Gravity Rd). Fr Klopotovsky kept Archbishop Tikhon informed of the efforts of the church committee and with the Archbishop’s blessing, plans were drawn up, ground was broken in March 1904, and the building project began. St Nicholas would become the third Orthodox Church in Lackawanna County. Pleased with the progress, Fr Klopotovsky requested that Fr John Olshevsky (Mayfield congregation) assist him in providing services for the new congregation. Since more space was needed than provided by the home of either John Chichilla or Joseph Fetchina, accommodations were arranged with the Olyphant School Board to hold services in Washington School, located directly across the street from the newly purchased lot.
On December 19, 1904 (St Nicholas Day on the old calendar), Archbishop Tikhon and local clergy gathered to consecrate the newly founded church and named it in honor of St Nicholas of Myra. Fr Alexis Bohovslowsky, pastor of St Basil’s Church in Simpson, was instructed by the Archbishop to alternate services between Simpson and Olyphant. Through the efforts of the parishioners, a cemetery was obtained on Scott Rd in Blakely shortly after the church was dedicated. St Tikhon was the original owner of the plot of ground used for a cemetery. The fact that his name was on the deed when it was purchased indicates that the Czar may have contributed to the original building of the parish. With the increase of emigrants from White Russia, the parish grew and in 1908 Fr Thomas Poznansky was named the first resident pastor. Through his effort a rectory was built at the cost of $489 and completed in the next year. In 1914, icons were added to the interior of the church and a choir loft was constructed through the efforts of the choir. In 1923, the exterior of the church was remodeled. New cupolas with mirror reflecting crosses were added and blessed by Metropolitan Platon in the same year.
In the early thirties pews were added to the church; the pews gave the church a modern appearance but reduced the number of people who could attend the services. The church and rectory were given asbestos siding in 1935 and the interior of the rectory was remodeled in 1937. A new Iconostas, Altar of Oblation, Lord’s Grave, and Golgotha, Crucifixion of Christ were dedicated by Archbishop Adam on October 31, 1937. At the dedication, he installed relics of St Nicholas in the new altar. In December 1940, a Table of Oblation (Zertvenick) with an Icon of Christ praying before the chalice was installed as a memorial to the deceased members of the Fetchina family by Vladimir Fetchina. Archbishop Arseny blessed the new Altar on December 19, 1940. In 1942, St Mary’s Women’s Club put inlaid linoleum in the church and the Olyphant “R” Club purchased rugs for the altar. A modern heating plant was added the same year. During World War II, ninety parishioners served in the armed forces. Ignatius Glowatz, a parishioner, was the first Olyphant soldier to die in North Africa on February 14, 1943. In 1944, a flagpole was erected as memorial to the men and women who served in World Wars I and II. Later the Korean and Vietnam wars were added to the memorial. During the war years, evergreen trees were planted along Gravity and Lackawanna Ave but these became too large. They caused damage to the church 35 years later and were removed in 1980. A new stone entrance was added to the church along with sidewalks to the rectory in 1944. Bishop Sawa, Assistant to the Metropolitan of Poland visited the church for Divine Liturgy and Vespers on December 18 and 19, 1944. Twice the church suffered cave-ins or mine subsidence. The first occurred in 1932 when a cave-in occurred near the church and mildly damaged the structure. The Hudson Coal Company brought canvas to cover the damaged church and paid for its repair. At the same time the walls and ceiling were covered with icons painted on canvas and modeled after those in St Vladimir’s Cathedral in Kiev. They were painted by the talented Russian artist Photius Bodasiuk; his son Sergei painted the rest of the icons in the Church in early 1970s. On November 5, 1933, Bishop Benjamin of the Pittsburgh Diocese and a native of Olyphant rededicated the Church. In the 1930s, the church’s picnics ran for a week and yielded about $500; in contrast, in 1986, the last year the parish held a picnic, $9000 was raised in two days.
In 1944 a fortieth anniversary was held on November 19. Metropolitan Theophilus celebrated the Divine Liturgy.
In 1948, the parish purchased the building and lot just south of the church. The house was converted into a parish house and extensively modified throughout the years so that it now can accommodate more than 100 persons at a sit-down dinner. During Fr Pelesh’s pastorate the second floor was remodeled into an apartment that is currently occupied by Fr Howanetz and family. Extensive repairs and a new roof were installed in the church in 1954. A men’s club, St Nicholas Russian-American Home Association, was organized in 1954. In the previous year, two large chandeliers were installed in the choir loft and the Sunday School donated the stained glass window over the entrance to the church. A cemetery annex was also obtained in the fifties. In 1954, the fiftieth anniversary was observed on October 10. Metropolitan Leonty officiated at the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. A banquet attended by more than 75 people followed the Divine Liturgy. Vladimir Fetchina was the anniversary chairman.
A second cave-in occurred in 1955. The damage was restricted to the basement of the church. Again the Hudson Coal Company repaired the church and put the tie rods in the walls in order to prevent the walls from collapsing if another subsidence occurs.
In 1955, the borough of Olyphant combined its elementary schools and abandoned Washington School directly opposite the church on Lackawanna Ave. The parish paid $1400 for Washington School but recovered most of the money by salvaging and selling much material from the school. The parish demolished the building and built the 45-car parking lot that currently stands there.
Through the years, the rectory deteriorated due to mine subsidence in the neighborhood. Fr Pelesh, the rector at the time, and his family moved into the apartment above the parish hall when the rectory needed serious repair. In September 1959, while the rectory was empty and the parish council was investigating means of replacing it, it caught fire. The building was gutted by the fire and was totally demolished. A new rectory was built in 1961 at a cost of $25,000 and was blessed on October 28 by Archbishop Dimitri.
Fr Pelesh died in 1964 while serving the parish. He was an energetic person having started a number of new enterprises including a band which he called the Sputniks after the first Russian space satellite. The band provided music at parish and FROC functions including the dance when the new rectory was blessed. He served as spiritual advisor to the district FROC for 12 years. On October 30, 1965, new stained glass windows and carillon bells were dedicated as a memorial to Fr Pelesh.
In 1965, on the Feast of the Translation of the relics of St Nicholas of Myra, Fr Daniel Donlick was appointed rector by Archbishop Kiprian. It was his first assignment after being ordained a priest and he remained the rector for six full years.
Fr Donlick served the first full English Liturgy in 1969 but English had been introduced into the services on a limited basis for some years prior to becoming the language of the church. During Fr Pelesh’s tenure, English frequently was used for both Vespers and Matins.
In 1968, aluminum siding was put on the church. A Byzantine chandelier from Greece as well as three new cupolas were added to the church in 1972. On May 6, Archbishop Kiprian rededicated the newly remodeled interior and exterior of the church.
In 1974, a seventieth anniversary was held. His Grace, Bishop Herman celebrated the Liturgy, and an addition to the cemetery was blessed immediately after the service. Dr David Witiak was the banquet speaker and J Chichilla was the anniversary chairperson.
The seventy-fifth anniversary was held in October 1979, when new stained glass doors were installed in the church. An anniversary booklet and history was prepared by Joan Pelesh Lengel. Letters of congratulations were received from President Jimmy Carter, His Beatitude Metropolitan Theodosius, Governor Dick Thornburgh and His Eminence, Archbishop Kiprian. Congratulations were read into the minutes of the State Legislature and the Borough of Olyphant. A Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was celebrated by Metropolitan Theodosius and a banquet was later held.
In 1982, the parish adopted the New Julian Calendar when it became the official calendar of the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania. Even though the parish grew little throughout the 1980s and 90s, it was very active. Each year it sponsored a dinner on the last Saturday of October.
In the mid 1980s, the parish began sponsoring a breakfast on Bright Saturday. This has become a tradition and many parishioners and priests from other parishes attend.
In 1987, the parish council, realizing that there were many parishioners that either had no family or were unable to visit with their families on Thanksgiving Day, instituted a Thanksgiving dinner for all who wish to attend. The parish, through the collection of green stamps, provided the turkeys and each attendee brought some dish for the dinner. The Holiday began with a Molieben and continued in the parish hall with a gala dinner. The dinners have become a parish tradition, attended by not only parishioners but others, including foreign students from the University of Scranton.
In 1992, the exterior of the church was remodeled, new siding was put on the exterior of the church and the entrance was covered to give protection to those who were coming out and going in the church. These renovations were blessed by Bishop Herman on September 1992.
In December 1992, St Nicholas became part of the historic Lackawanna County architecture tour. The architect leading the tour commented on how the parish had taken the basic American country frame church and turned it into a beautiful Orthodox church. About 40 people made up the tour.
On October 29-30, 1994, the parishioners of St Nicholas Church celebrated the 90th anniversary of the founding of the parish. The church had undergone some extensive interior remodeling for this occasion. A fresh coat of paint, a new carpet, and new lighting are to name a few projects undertaken at this time. The iconostasis was restored to its original white color. On Saturday evening, a vespers service was held. Afterwards, a reception was held in the church hall as a reunion for past and present church members. On Sunday, a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was celebrated by His Grace, Bishop Herman (now Metropolitan). Responses were sung beautifully by the parish choir. A banquet followed at the Lakeview Lounge in Jermyn, PA.
In 1998, a decision was made to replace the old Schulmerich carillon bell system since it had been malfunctioning occasionally and repairs were costly. A bell fund was established to help cover the costs and a new state of the art Y2K compatible digital carillon was purchased from Schulmerich to ensure that we will continue to ring out to the community for many years to come. A dedication plaque for the carillon honoring all parishioners, both living and departed, was erected in the church vestibule. The new carillon was blessed by Archbishop Herman on the Feast of St. Nicholas in December 1998.
In the year 2003, a committee was established and plans were begun to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of our parish. Many events were planned throughout the year. Special centennial tee shirts were made and sold as a fund-raiser for this event. Other events such as a New Years Eve movie night featuring some unseen footage of past church events, a pre-lenten cocktail party, and a summer outing are to name a few. The celebration concluded with a glorious celebration held on September 4-5, 2004. Vespers was held Saturday night with a reunion social following with almost 80 people in attendance. The Divine Liturgy on Sunday began with the greeting of His Beatitude, Metropolitan HERMAN, and the St. Nicholas Choir sang the responses. A festive banquet followed that evening at the Lakeview Lodge in Jermyn, PA with over 200 people in attendance. Dinner and dancing were enjoyed by those in attendance.
As St. Tikhon of Moscow consecrated our church in December 1904, another Bishop Tikhon celebrated the Divine Liturgy on December 5, 2004 to mark the 100th Anniversary of the consecration of the church.