During the early centuries of Christianity, the world was divided into the East and the West. The East included Byzantium (Greece), Africa, and Asia Minor. Rome (and the areas it governed) constituted the West. Through this delineation, the Catholic Church developed two subdivisions: the Eastern Rite and the Western Rite.
The early Eastern Rite Catholic immigrants sought the opportunity to worship God in America. In 1884, the first Greek Catholic parish in the United States was formed in Shenandoah, PA. Later that year, a sister parish was created in Shamokin. The first Pastor, Father Volians’kyi, visited Excelsior (where many of the immigrants found employment in the area hard-coal mines) within the first month of his arrival in Shenandoah. On subsequent visits, he would celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the local school hall. Thus, the first home of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church of Shamokin was the Whitney School in Excelsior, and the Parish can trace its roots to the devout Ukrainians that worshipped in Excelsior in December 1884.
As the number of Ukrainian immigrants continued to grow, a permanent Church building was suggested. The Brotherhood of Sts. Cyril and Methodius was organized in May of 1888. This organization assumed the responsibility of erecting a Church to conform to the Greek Catholic tradition. The first meeting was held on June 21, 1888 to raise funds for this venture.
In November of 1888, a lot was purchased in the Fifth Ward area of Shamokin, bounded by the streets of Pine, Pearl, and Vine. This parcel of land was purchased from Caroline Helfenstein for the sum of $400.00. Father Volians’kyi was involved in the decision to purchase of this property. However, in 1889, while the building of the Church was in progress, Father Volians’kyi was recalled and returned to the Ukraine. (The Pastor had been recalled in response to the opposition of the Latin Rite Church to the presence of married priests in the US.) However, Father Volians’kyi did bless the cornerstone of the new Church building prior to his return to the “old country”.
On Sunday, September 22, 1889, the new Greek Catholic Church of Shamokin was dedicated with great ceremony. Father Andruchowicz of the Shenandoah Parish blessed the wooden framed structure of Byzantine design. The Church was yet unnamed, but the property was officially recorded in the name of the Cyril and Methodius Society.
In 1892, the Church was chartered as the Achoma Greek Catholic Church of Shamokin, the first of several names that the parish would be given. At this time, the Brotherhood of the Cyril and Methodius Society appealed to Metropolitan Andrew Sheptycky for a resident priest. This request was granted when Father John Konstankewicz, a Lemko, was assigned. He arrived on May 1, 1893 and became the Parish’s first full time pastor.
Under his tenure, a rectory (at Pine and Franklin Streets) and the first section of the parish cemetery were purchased. The first Church Choir began in 1894, and a Ruthenian Band was organized. The Church was also chartered under the name “Russian Greek Catholic Church” in February of 1896.
By July of 1900, it was evident that the growing parish community needed a larger building. Therefore, a parcel of land at the corner of Clay and Shamokin Streets was purchased from John Mullen, owner of the Shamokin Iron Works. Additional lots were also purchased from Caroline Helfenstein (who had previously sold the “fifth ward” property to the Parish).
The Architectural firm of Luaife & Howe of Jersey City, NJ, drew the plans for the new Church. East & Lumg Company agreed to build the Church out of granite for the sum of $46,000. The stone was supplied by Rylston Stone of Gouverneur, NY, and the copper for the roof and domes was purchased from Horsch Brothers of Allentown, PA. Construction of the new Church began in 1904 and was completed in 1905. The original Church building was then sold to the Polish Independent Church.
As mentioned previously, the first Ruthenian Catholic Bishop was named in 1907. Therefore, the first resident hierarch in America, Bishop Soter Ortynsky, traveled from Philadelphia to bless the cornerstone of the new Church on October 29, 1907.
On November 11, 1913, the Church charter was changed to incorporate the new name of the Parish as the “Ruthenian Catholic Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord”.
In April of 1918, Father John Konstankewicz died after a short illness. He had served the Church faithfully for a quarter-century and is credited with fostering the early development and solidarity of the Parish.
Following the death of Father John Konstankewicz, there was a succession of several priests until Father Michael Oleksiw was named Pastor in February of 1924. Under his pastorate, the mortgage was completed and burned. In addition, the Mullen home on the corner of Webster and Shamokin Streets was purchased to be used for a parish convent and school.
On July 4, 1934, the Parish celebrated its Golden Anniversary with a Divine Liturgy in the pavilion at Edgewood Park, and entertainment by the Church Band and regional Byzantine Choirs.
After serving the Parish for eighteen years, Father Oleksiw died in 1942. He was succeeded by Father Michael Kuzmak, who began the development of the Parish School, but had to relinquish his parish duties due to poor health. He was replaced by Father Emil Sharanevicz, who also was named the local Dean. Father Emil supervised the remodeling of the property at 129 N. Shamokin Street into an eight grade elementary school. A Convent area was made on the third floor for the nuns of the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate (SSMI). The total cost of this project was $52,000. The first students graduated in 1944, and the school would continue to educate the youth of the Parish and the local community until 2009.
A succession of Pastors in the 1950’s included Fathers Stephen Pobutsky, Myron Plekon, Michael Kawola, and Constantine Berdar. Parish improvements continued with the installation of water pipes and macadamized roads at the Cemetery and new sidewalks around the Church.
In preparation for the 75th Anniversary of the Parish in 1959, the interior walls of the Church were cleaned and repainted, altars were renovated, the pews were refinished, and new flooring was installed. Paintings of the fourteen Stations of the Cross were donated by individual parishioners and placed on the side walls. An Iconostasis, a screen adorned with icons, was added through a generous donation of $9,500 by Christina Wilchatsky. This Byzantine partition was placed in front of the altar to separate the sanctuary from the congregation.
During the next twenty-five years, Transfiguration Parish was faithfully served by Fathers George Dubitsky, Adam Polischak, Theodore Danusiar, and Michael Batcho.
The 100th Anniversary of Transfiguration Church was celebrated in 1984 with a Divine Liturgy and a dinner attended by parishioners and honored guests.
Throughout the following quarter-century, the Parish was faithfully ministered by Father Michael Hutsko, Monsignor Michael Fedorowich, Father Mark Fesniak and Rev. Stepan Bilyk, also serves the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish in Centralia, PA, this was later changed to the Patronage on Our Mother of God parish in Marian Heights, PA and the Centralia parish was linked to Sts. Peter and Paul, Mount Carmel. PA.
Father Stepan was replaced by Rev. Ruslan Romanyuk and the church is currently under the leadership of Rev. Mykola Ivanov.
Through the generosity of benefactors and the tireless efforts of the parishioners, renovations and improvements continued. At the Parish Cemetery, trees were removed, and the roads were resurfaced. Numerous granite benches were donated to honor the memory of family members and enhance the beauty of this sacred resting place.
The St. Anna Society celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2003 with a Divine Liturgy and banquet. To mark the occasion, this benevolent organization donated a large granite monument. This lighted street-level sign prominently denotes the proper name of Transfiguration Church.
An air-conditioning system was installed in the Church through a generous bequest by Elaine Dwinchik.
The interior stained glass windows were cleaned and repaired, the altars were repaired and painted, and the Icons on the Iconostasis were cleaned and reguilded through the generosity of Sir. John Glowa.
Generous benefactors continue to assist the Parish. In particular, the tireless volunteers make more than 300 dozen pierogies each week and also sell potato cake batter. The Parish Festival (Block Party) is held annually on the first weekend of August. Revenues from these undertakings support the Parish financially.
Transfiguration Church will celebrate its 125th Anniversary with a solemn Divine Liturgy on Sunday, April 25, 2010. A dinner will follow at Masser’s Banquet Hall in Paxinos.
In the fall of 2011, the parish was hit by a devastating flood which destroyed our parish hall and kitchen. A year and a half of planning and hard work resulted in a completely renovated parish hall and modern kitchen facilities. They were blessed by Metropolitan Soroka in April of 2013.
2015 has the parish busy with several major endeavors. Plans are under way for building an addition to the church to house an elevator and an all weather access stairway to the church and hall. This is an effort to make the parish handicap accessible. The front stairway to the church will be completely rebuilt and we will also be repairing and covering the exterior of all the stained glass windows in the church. This and other projects will hopefully preserve the parish for future generations.
Finally, it is truly fitting that we acknowledge the pioneers that built this magnificent Church. These courageous immigrants faced tremendous difficulties in their quest to follow the spiritual heritage of their Eastern Christian Faith in this new land. When our ancestors founded this Parish, they thought not only of themselves but also about the future generations. They had a burning love for their Church, their uniquely beautiful Rite, and their cultural traditions.
Our Ukrainian Parish is truly grateful for the countless sacrifices made by its founding members. We offer them our utmost respect and unending gratitude.