History provided with credit and thanks to: Anna Mae Harhai
The church on Atwood Street
Prior to 1907, Greek Catholics from Oakland, Soho and Frankstown (an area encompassing parts of Greenfield and Hazelwood) attended the original Saint John the Baptist Ruthenian Catholic Church located on the South Side of Pittsburgh.
On the June 8th, 1907, at the request of a committee comprised of Father John M. Szabo, John Hornyak and Michael Ciptak, approval was received to organize a Greek Catholic parish in the Oakland area. The property selected was a vacant church building on the corner of Bates and Atwood Streets. The new parish was placed under the patronage of the Holy Spirit, and Father Szabo became the founding pastor. The cost of the building was $10,000, and a down-payment of $3,000 was required. At a special meeting called by Mr. Hornyak for prospective parishioners, the necessary payment was raised the very next day. In one week, the church edifice was cleaned; icons were donated by the people to adorn the church; and the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated subsequently on June 14, 1907. Father Szabo, however, served the parish for only two months and he was followed by Father Michael Balogh.
In August of 1907, His Excellency, Bishop Stephen Ortynsky, the first Ruthenian Bishop in the United States, made a pastoral visitation to Pittsburgh. Bishop Ortynsky arrived from Philadelphia where he resided and where he already had established his episcopal jurisdiction. The parishioners from Oakland marched to the Union Depot to greet the bishop, and then they later marched to the Ruthenian Catholic Church of Saint John the Baptist at Seventh Street on the South Side for the celebration of divine services. The church would later become Saint John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church. Oakland’s committeemen had an audience with Bishop Ortynsky, and they requested a priest following Father Balogh’s transfer. But when the committee refused to surrender the deed to the church, Bishop Ortynsky refused to supply a priest for the new parish.
The Oakland committee men turned to Bishop Canevin, who made arrangements for Father Anthony Kecskes from McKees Rocks to serve Holy Spirit Parish. Through the efforts of Paul Zatkovich, the editor of the Greek Catholic Union Messenger (Viestnik), Mr. Hornyak learned of the arrival of the Reverend Father Theodosius M. Vasochik, D.D., a highly educated priest, who had come here from Olyphant, Pennsylvania.
With the approval of Father Kecskes, Father Vasochik went to present his credentials to Bishop Canevin, and he subsequently was assigned to be the pastor of Holy Spirit Church. Father Vasochik, who was ordained in 1902, had received his theological education and his Doctoral Degree from the University of Budapest.
He had served parishes in Hazelton, Plymouth, and Olyphant before his arrival in Pittsburgh. Under the spiritual leadership of Father Vasochik, the new parish flourished. The rectory adjoining the church was completed in 1909, and the property next door to the church on Bates Street was purchased in 1910. The old wooden church building was covered with stucco in 1922 and then completly remodeled in 1928, replacing the stucco with brick and changing the entrance from Bates Street to Atwood Street.
In the year 1924, because of the increasing number of immigrants coming to America from Eastern Europe, the Holy See of Rome responded to the pastoral necessities of the Byzantine Catholic faithful in the United States and appointed His Excellency, Bishop Basil Takach to be the first Bishop of Pittsburgh. Prior to his episcopal appointment, Father Takach had served as the Spiritual Director of the Eparchial Seminary in Užhorod, the capital city of Carpatho-Ruthenia. Later that year, when Bishop Takach arrived in Pittsburgh, he assumed his responsibilities as the eparchial bishop and proceeded to organize his ecclesiastical administration. The parishioners of the Oakland parish were delighted that they now had their very own bishop in the City of Pittsburgh.
With the passage of years, the heavy pastoral duties took their toll on the aging Father Vasochik who became ill in 1947. Due to the pastor’s ill health, His Excellency Bishop Daniel Ivancho, the second Bishop of Pittsburgh, assigned the newly ordained Father Paul Shogan to serve as assistant to Father Vasochik. Four months later, Father Michael J. Dudick, from the eparchial Chancery Office, who later would become the second Bishop of Passaic, New Jersey, came to Oakland to assist Father Vasochik. During this particular period, Holy Spirit Parish adopted the Gregorian calendar in February of 1949. After a lingering illness, Father Vasochik passed away on September 18, 1950. Following his death, Father Michael G. Pipik was assigned to the parish. Under his guidance, the Ladies’ Altar Guild was organized, and the parish house was renovated. Father Pipik served until 1951 when Father Valerian Jaeger, O.S.B, was assigned to serve the parish for several months.
In July of 1952, Father Michael Hrebin was appointed pastor of Holy Spirit Church. During Father Hrebin’s pastorate, the parish increased and attained its highest enrollment for its Golden Jubilee. The parish celebrated its Fiftieth Anniversary publicly on October 6, 1957 with a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy in the church and a Golden Jubilee Banquet at the Penn Sheraton Hotel. The celebrant at the Divine Liturgy was His Excellency, Bishop Nicholas T. Elko, and the Master of Ceremonies at the banquet was Father Thomas V. Dolinay, who would become the first Bishop of Van Nuys, California, and then later the second Metropolitan, Archbishop of Pittsburgh.
Mid-20th Century and move to Fifth Avenue Under Father Hrebin’s guidance in 1957, Holy Spirit Parish purchased the city-block-size property on Fifth Avenue from the Eparchy of Pittsburgh. In 1959, Father John M. Volosin was assigned as pastor to the Oakland parish. During his administration, the present church edifice was constructed, and the first Divine Liturgy in the English language was celebrated in September of 1960. Bishop Nicholas T. Elko solemnly broke ground for the new Holy Spirit Church complex on October 23rd, 1960. Likewise, on November 26, 1961, Bishop Elko blessed the cornerstone of the new church and auditorium. As the eparchial hierarch, Bishop Elko’s name appears on the cornerstone.
The general contractor for the new church building was the Mellon-Stuart Company; the architectural firm was Williams, Tribilcock, Whitehead and Associates. The interior decorations were completed by the Rudolph Rohn Company of Pittsburgh. The Solemn Dedication of the new Holy Spirit Church and Auditorium took place on May 6, 1962. Constructed along modern Byzantine lines, the church is 80 feet wide, 140 feet long and is cruciform in shape. Three Byzantine-Slavic-DEDICATION DIVINE LITURGY: MAY 6, 1962
style crosses surmount the church and above the entrance are anodized gold canopies.
The auditorium kitchen was completed and dedicated on January 6, 1963. The blessing of the newly decorated church took place on February 2, 1964. The stained glass windows and exterior façade triptych subsequently were blessed on the 11th of September in 1966. After a short period of only ten years, Holy Spirit’s parishioners gratefully observed the burning of the mortgage on February 8, 1970.
On March 1, 1970, the Right Reverend Monsignor John M. Macko was appointed pastor of Holy Spirit Church. Ground was broken on August 15, 1976 for the new rectory, which was then dedicated on the 12th of June in 1977. It is constructed of brick to match the existing church, and the architect was Thomas Stephen Terpack, A.I.A, a member of the parish.
In 1982, the 75th Diamond Jubilee of the founding of Holy Spirit Church was observed on the Feast of the Dormition of the Most Pure Virgin Mary in tribute to the deep devotion that the Oakland parish has had for the Most Holy Mother of God. For decades, the Akathist to the Honorable Dormition of the Mother of God was celebrated daily throughout the summer lenten season of the Savioral Fast from the 1st to the 14th of August in spiritual preparation for the Feast of the Holy Dormition. His Grace, Metropolitan Archbishop Stephen J. Kocisko officiated at the festivities marking the Diamond Jubilee.
After serving twenty-two years as pastor, Monsignor John M. Macko retired in August of 1992. Upon Monsignor Macko’s retirement, Father John Kasarda was assigned by Archbishop Thomas V. Dolinay to shepherd the parish for the next three years, until June of 1995. It was at this time that the new Metropolitan Archbishop, Judson M. Procyk, called upon the Right Reverend Monsignor Russell A. Duker to server as the 11th pastor of Holy Spirit Church.
Monsignor Duker, who had received his Doctoral Degree in Historical Theology from the Gregorian University in Rome, had just completed a five-year term of office as the Rector of the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius. He had recently been appointed to serve as the Protosyncellus and Chancellor of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh. On June 15, 1995, in addition to these archeparchial responsibilities, Monsignor Duker was assigned to the pastorate of Holy Spirit where he has served for the past 17 years.
The 90th anniversary of the founding of Holy Spirit Church was celebrated on Holy Pentecost Sunday, May 18, 1997, and was presided over by Metropolitan Archbishop Judson M. Procyk.
Special Events at Holy Spirit
Inasmuch as Holy Spirit Church is located in the academic and medical centers of the City of Pittsburgh, and because of its large seating capacity, the church has served over the years as the site of many archieparchial events, in effect serving as a pro-cathedral. These include Ordinations to the Sacred Priesthood, the Solemn Investiture of Papal Honorees, the Installation of Bishop Stephen J. Kocisko as the fourth Bishop of Pittsburgh, the Installation of Archbishop Stephen J. Kocisko as the first Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh, the Episcopal Consecration of Bishop John M. Bilock as the second Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh, the 40th and 50th Jubilee Celebrations for Archbishop Stephen J. Kocisko and the Funeral of Metropolitan Archbishop Thomas V. Dolinay.
Organizations and parish life
Also playing a very important part in the life of the parish were the local lodges of the Greek Catholic Union, the fraternal insurance organization of the Byzantine Catholic people. General Branch Lodge 437 dates back to January 18, 1907. Its members were most instrumental in assisting with the formation of the parish. Other lodges that have aided the parish were Lodge 105 organized in 1908; Lodge 48 founded in 1912; Lodge 790 organized in 1915; and Lodge 356 organized in 1936. The five lodges were merged into one single lodge in 1990 and took the name of the oldest lodge, Lodge 437. Lodge 437 members are still very active in the various parochial activities.
In the 1930s Holy Spirit Parish enjoyed the theatrical performances of a group of its members called the “Dramatic Players of Holy Spirit Greek Catholic Church.” On May 6, 1932, they presented Lillian Mortimers charming comedy “Go Slow Mary” at Holmes Public School in Oakland. On may 3, 1935, they presented “Here Comes Charlie” at the Greenfield Public School. Both productions were directed by Andrew Zeedick, Sr. Productions in the Ruthenian language (po-rus’ky) were directed by George Pauly, the cantor at Holy Spirit Church, and were performed at Saint Michael’s Polish Hall on Bates Street. George Pauly became Oakland’s cantor and choir director. He served until illness forced his retirement in November of 1981. His tenure as cantor was three months short of fifty years of dedicated service to Holy Spirit Parish.
During the same period in the 1930s, the young members of the parish enjoyed volleyball teams among the girls and softball teams among the boys. They competed against teams from neighboring parishes. Also, the annual parish picnic was one of the more popular events during that time.
On March 2, 1951, the Ladies’ Altar Guild was established; the Holy Name Society was established on May 8, 1960, and the Rosary Society was organized on May 27, 1962.
Former cantors were Michael Nemeth, Basil Onishko, Andrew Hleba, Anthony Babinecz, Michael Mocskos, and George Hnatisin. Following Professor Pauley in 1981, Francis I. Kandravy, Andrew Spontak, Robert Spontak, and Joseph Metro and Stephen Suchan led the congregation.
Throughout the course of these 107 years, the parishioners of Holy Spirit Parish have followed the guidance of the Most Holy Spirit of God and were placed under the protection of the Most Holy Godbearer and ever-Virgin Mary. The legacy of love for the church was bequeathed by our early devout pioneers to their present-day descendants. The current generation must guard that legacy with the same love and devotion that was exemplified over 100 years ago. Prayerfully, it is our fervent hope that this legacy will be bequeathed to future generations.