Tag Archives: St Michaels Church

Constructing the New Church – Quasquicentennial of St. Michael’s Church

I would like to thank Mark S. Auerbach, City Historian of Passaic, NJ for the time he has spent detailing stories of early Passaic and for the images which he has so kindly given me permission to include in my posts about early Passaic and St. Michael’s Church.

By 1902, the landscape of Passaic was continually changing. More factories had come to the city and Slovak immigrants continued to exit Ellis Island and head to the neighborhood where their families and friends had settled before them. Many of the original Udol inhabitants who migrated to Passaic traveled back and forth between Europe and the United States, often bringing more countrymen with them.

Even the enlarged Dundee Evangelical Mission Chapel, now St. Michael’s Church and rectory, was too small to meet the needs of its parishioners. Plans were made to build a new church.

The First Ward, which included St. Michael’s parish, was a mixture of two-family homes rented by immigrant families, ethnic shops, and mills. The ever present train tracks were nearby.

View along the train tracks, Botany Mills ahead

The Passaic Woolen Mills, in the same neighborhood:

Passaic Woolen Mills, Passaic, N. J. - 1905
Factories and train tracks

Shops of all kinds were within walking distance:

Shopping in Passaic

The neighborhood was the center of St. Michael’s life and the new church would be built on the same site as the old one. In 1902, the cornerstone was laid for the building that became St. Michael’s that we know today.

Cornerstone, Laid in 1902

By 5 May 1905, the fifteenth anniversary of the founding of the parish, the new church had been completed and parishioners looked back with pride at what had been accomplished since the first steps had been taken in 1890.

The landscape of First Street took on an entirely new look with the beautiful new building in their midst. If you have any misconceptions about the proximity of the Dundee Canal to neighborhood life, these photos will clear them up:

St. Michael’s, c1907

If you exited the church and didn’t watch where you were walking, you could end up very wet!

The railroad tracks were such a vital part of the mills’ business, too.

When a new bridge was added to cross the canal, there was a ribbon cutting ceremony. The towers of St. Michael’s can be seen in the distance.

St. Michael’s, Down First Street

Now that you have a good idea of how the neighborhood looked, take a look at the beautiful inside of the brand new church:

Interior of St. Michael’s Church

By the time the church was finished, this new parish had had three pastors – Fr. Chanath, Rev. Szatala and Rev. Molscanyi. In early 1906, the sixth pastor came to the church – Fr. Janitzky.

It took fifteen years for immigrants to plan, purchase a building and found the parish of St. Michael’s and construct a new church to meet its growing needs. Next, Rev. Janitzky began the first of many projects that expanded and enhanced the religious life of his flock.

Tomorrow – As in the old country, the new church sits at the center of the lives of its members.

Making a Home in Passaic – Quasquicentennial of St. Michael’s Church

I would like to thank Mark S. Auerbach, City Historian of Passaic, NJ for the time he has spent detailing stories of early Passaic and for the images which he has so kindly given me permission to include in my posts about early Passaic and St. Michael’s Church.

The Slovak immigrants who processed through Castle Garden and arrived in Passaic were likely amazed by what they saw because Industrial Passaic couldn’t have made itself less like Udol if it tried.

The 1880 census of Passaic shows residents who were predominantly native born Americans with a spattering of immigrants from the British Isles.

The First, Second and Third Street neighborhood at that time was composed of native born Americans and immigrants from Britain, Sweden, Germany and one young couple born in Prussia. Most of the adults worked in the cloth mills nearby. In fact, they were so close that they all could easily walk to work. (The mills declined by the middle of the 20th century, but I’m old enough to remember a couple that stayed in business that long.)

The 1890 census is long destroyed, but in this case, the 1900 census gives an accurate look at how St. Michael’s neighborhood had evolved after 1880.

First Street Neighborhood, 1900
Source: Ancestry.com

Between 1880-1900, the neighborhood had completely changed. this census page shows seven native born Americans, all children of immigrant families. Most of the residents were from “Austria” or “Rus Pol” (Poland). Native language was not a question asked on this census, but many of the surnames can be identified as Slovak. Occupations were mostly laborers and mill hands.

In the middle of all this ethnic change, the Udol immigrants not only found a strange language and a neighborhood completely unlike the village, but these devout church goers also discovered there was no Greek Catholic church to be found.

For people whose life was centered around their church, this situation could not be allowed to continue. The church not only provided for their spiritual needs, but was the familiar rock that tied them to family, friends and their village lives.

In the 1880’s, there was only one Catholic church in Passaic – St. Nicholas. That is where the early Slovaks worshiped, but the church was Roman Catholic, not Byzantine (Greek) Catholic. By 1890, a group of Slovaks, which included many from Udol, met and decided to purchase the Dundee Evangelical Mission Chapel at the corner of First and Bergen Streets.

The First St. Michael’s Church, c1895

The chapel was enlarged and a rectory built and St. Michael’s Greek Catholic Church was a reality. Fr. Nicephor Chanath was the first priest to serve at St. Michael’s, which he did faithfully from October 1890 to December 1894., when he was transferred to St. Mary’s Greek Catholic Church in Scranton, PA.

Rev. Chanath was an appropriate choice to be the first pastor of St. Michael’s, a brand new church. Fr. Chanath was, himself, only about 25 years old in 1890 and was also a new immigrant to the United States, having been born in Hungary. His time at St. Michael’s was short, but he laid the foundation from which the church prospered and grew.

I have not been able to find a photograph of Fr. Chanath – perhaps none exist of him – but I was able to locate him at St. Mary’s after he left Passaic. Sadly, he died at the very young age of 34 on 31 December 1898 of influenza and is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Scranton.

The second pastor of St. Michael’s was Rev. Eugene Szatala, appointed to replace Fr. Chanath. His tenure was also fairly short. By the time Rev. Molscanyi arrived in March 1902, the parish had grown dramatically and had outgrown the space of the old church.

There now was a thriving, vibrant Slovak community that had extended its social customs and religious life from Europe to Passaic. Over six hundred families, many from Udol and Hajtovka, belonged to the parish and Passaic had not even reached its peak immigration point.

It was time to construct a new church building from scratch. Next, the cornerstone to the future was laid.

Udol & The Life They Left Behind – Quasquicentennial of St. Michael’s Church

Thank you to Joy Kovalycsik for permission to share her Udol postcard and to Steven Osifchin and Joy Kovalycsik for creating the Carpathian Connection website.

To recap yesterday’s post, Passaic had become a thriving factory town by 1890, with immigrants flocking in from Europe. Many of the immigrants were from two small, neighboring villages in today’s Slovakia – Ujak, which today is known as Udol, and Hajtovka – which sit in the foothills of the Tatras Mountains by the Poprad River.

Ujak (now Udol), Slovakia

For those interested in the Carpatho-Rusyn people and their immigration to New Jersey and other U.S. states, Steve Osifchin and Joy Kovalycsik host The Carpathian Connection, which is a great resource for anyone with Rusyn roots. The Udol postcard is courtesy of  Joy Kovalycsik.

Each village basically only has one main road passing through it.

The original St. Dmitry Church was a wooden structure which burned down in the mid 1800’s. The stone church was built in 1866 and served both Hajtovka and Udol for many years.

St. Dmitry’s Church, Google Earth Street View

A unifying force in their daily lives was the church. The villagers, down to almost the last person, were Catholics belonging to the Greek Catholic rite. It was in the church that babies were baptized, couples were married and from where everyone was buried. The parish priest was likely one of the only educated people in the village.

What prompted so many men and women in these two small villages, where their ancestors had lived for hundreds of years, to leave their home and make the trip to Passaic to begin new lives?

For centuries, the Rusyn people had no homeland of their own. This area of Europe has proven to be somewhat politically unstable in terms of borders and rulers. For the most part, in more modern times, it had been under the rule of Hungary and the Magyar people had all the rights.

Although the Rusyns have a rich cultural tradition in terms of dress, folk music, religion and ethnic rites, living under the rule of others meant no opportunity to improve one’s life situation. Residents in Udol and Hajtovka had little access to education. Although living in the somewhat isolated mountainous area meant a bit less interference from governmental authorities, it did nothing to improve their daily lives.

People in these villages were poor peasant farmers, accountable to the much wealthier landowners. Udol and Hajtovka were farming villages, but the soil wasn’t the best and they also had to “tithe” part of their harvests to the landowners.

The mortality rate at this time was quite high, particularly among young children and about every twenty years or so a typhus or diphtheria epidemic would decimate families.

By the 1870’s, Magyar interference was increasing even to the point of exerting more influence over more isolated places like Udol.

Back in Passaic, about 1880, George B. Waterhouse came up with an idea for staffing the new mills, which desperately needed many more low paid hands to make them successful. He believed that untrained, raw European immigrants would solve this worker shortage.

While Slovaks in the villages were making pennies per day for back breaking hours and work with only small returns for their efforts, factory workers in Passaic were making $2.00 for their hours in the mills.

The answer as to why the exodus from Udol and Hajtovka to Passaic began was – money.

And so the long trip began. First, the villagers had to get to Hamburg or some other port. That alone must have been an adventure since Hamburg was 650 miles away. Then they boarded the ship for the crossing. My grandmother sailed on the SS Batavia, in steerage, in November 1910:

SS Batavia

When the first Slovak immigrants arrived, Ellis Island was not yet open, nor was the Statue of Liberty in her place. Instead, they entered Castle Garden and hoped to be processed through and allowed to enter the country.

Passaic, their hope for the future,  was now only fifteen miles away.

Image sources: National Park Service and cenaprintscom.blogspot.com