The American Rusyn Messenger

The Greek Catholic Union

Greek Catholic Union Charter for the Mahanoy City Lodge (1893). Located in St. Mary's Center.
Greek Catholic Union Charter for the Mahanoy City Lodge (1893). Located in St. Mary’s Center.

In addition to his role in the creation of St. Mary’s and his reputation as a successful businessman, John Žinčak Smith was also one of the most active and influential Carpatho-Rusyn activists, and his effect on Carpatho-Rusyns throughout the United States can be seen most vividly in his role as the steward of two fraternal organizations: Greek Catholic Union (GCU) and the Russian Brotherhood Organization (RBO).

In the early years of the Carpatho-Rusyn immigration, Father John Volansky of Shenandoah was the first to lay the foundations for a society that would unite Carpatho-Rusyns across the country, and he first attempted this in 1884 by founding the the St. Nicholas Brotherhood and the first Carpatho-Rusyn newspaper, Ameryka. Volansky was forced to return to Europe in 1889, and without his leadership, both the St. Nicholas Brotherhood and newspaper ceased to exist. Since many of the local parish lodges continued to function, in December 1891, fourteen Greek Catholic priests met in Hazleton and proposed to unite these independent lodges under the direction of a new organization. A few months later on February 14, 1892, six of these priests and prominent members of the laity reconvened in Wilkes Barre and founded the Sojedinenije Greko-Katoličeskich Russkich Bratstv (the Greek Catholic Union of Russian [Rusyn] Brotherhoods). John Žinčak Smith was elected as its first president, and, as such, Mahanoy City became the Greek Catholic Union’s first home.

According to its certificate of incorporation, the Greek Catholic Union was to be “a central organization of local societies composed of persons of good Moral Character of Slavonic birth or descent and of the Russian Greek Catholic faith,” and this organization was to serve a number of different purposes. First of all, it was to provide financial support to workers and their families suffering from “sickness and distress,” typically in the event of a debilitating injury or death. It would also develop “free parish schools for the education of the children of Slavonic Russian parents” (Opportunity Realized 1994, 10). Finally, it called for the establishment of newspaper written in the Carpatho-Rusyn language that would broadly cultivate Carpatho-Rusyn culture throughout the United States.

Smith purchased a printing press for $700 from St. Michael’s Church in Shenandoah, had it installed in Mahanoy City at the corner of South Second and West Water Streets (now Linden and Market), and hired two Rusyn linotypists to get the paper up and running. This paper, the Amerikansky Russky Viestnik (ARV, or the American Rusyn Messenger), would become not only one of the most influential Rusyn-language periodicals in the United States but a crucial medium for the publication and circulation of Kubek’s work.

The American Rusyn Messenger and Paul Zhatkovich

Paul Zhatkovich. In Opportunity Realized: The Greek Catholic Union’s First One Hundred Years, 1892-1992 (1994).
Paul Zhatkovich. In Opportunity Realized: The Greek Catholic Union’s First One Hundred Years, 1892-1992 (1994).

The American Rusyn Messenger was a weekly paper that appeared every Tuesday (before 1894) and then every Thursday (after 1894) and in two parallel editions: one in the Cyrillic alphabet using pre-1918 orthography and another using Latin script. It typically was eight pages in length and included news articles relevant to the Carpatho-Rusyn communities in the United States and the homeland, information about the activity of GCU lodges and Greek Catholic churches, editorials on Carpatho-Rusyn linguistic and national questions, poetry and prose, and letters to the editor (Evans 1979, 4-6). While the ARV purported to be the media outlet of the GCU, for its first twenty-two years of existence it largely reflected the personality and point of view of its editor in chief: Paul Zhatkovich.

Born Pavel Jur’ievich Zhatkovich on December 16, 1852 in Uzhhorod, Hungarian Kingdom (now Ukraine), he studied in the Royal Gymnasium in Uzhhorod and in Velikij Varadin (now Oradea, Romania) and went to work as a government notary in various villages in the region (Opportunity Realized 1994, 19). While in Europe, he married Irma Zlockij and had six children, one of whom, his son Gregory Zhatkovich (1886-1967), would go on to became perhaps the most famous Carpatho-Rusyn politician who served as first governor of Subcarpathian Ruthenia, the autonomous Carpatho-Rusyn province within the First Czechoslovak Republic.

Zhatkovich moved his family to the United States in 1891 and settled in Passaic, New Jersey, and quickly became active in the organizational life of the early Carpatho-Rusyn community. In 1892, he participated in the first meeting in Wilkes Barre where the GCU was founded, was appointed as the editor of the American Rusyn Messenger, and immediately moved to Mahanoy City to assume his editorial duties.

Lithuanian Publishing House
W. D. Boczkowski Company, former home of the Lithuanian-language newspaper Saule (The Sun). The publishing house is still standing and is located at the corner of West South and South A Streets.

At the time, Mahanoy City had two English-language newspapers (the Mahanoy Tribune and the Tri-Weekly Record, which after a series of mergers became the Daily American) and one Lithuanian-language newspaper, Saule (The Sun), published by the W. D. Boczkowski Company. When its first issue appeared on March 17, 1892, the ARV became the only paper that catered specifically to the needs of the Carpatho-Rusyn community, which, judging by the coverage of the paper in the Tri-Weekly Record, was only vaguely understood by the English-speaking side of town. In a news brief entitled “A New Paper,” the Tri-Weekly Record announces the publication of the ARV‘s inaugural issue:

There was issued this week in this borough from the printing office owned by Mr. John Smith, a new publication, known as the American-Russian News [sic]. It is a five column, eight page paper, printed entirely in modern Greek [sic]. The heading, an elaborate electrotype, has as a centre piece an American eagle grasping an American flag and a Greek national symbol [sic] in its claws. On one side a farmer, unmistakably Russian [sic] in appearance, is plowing the earth, while on the other is a representation of a coal miner at work. The paper is the only Greek Catholic publication in America. It is the organ of the Greek Catholic Union, and is intended to educate the members of the society in the requirements of American citizenship, as well as to foster the interests of the Union. (March 19, 1892)

As we can see, even this short article twice confuses the identity of the paper’s publishers by calling them Greek and Russian, misidentifies the Cyrillic alphabet, and assumes that the three-bar cross must be a “Greek national symbol.”

The American Rusyn Messenger (1894)
The American Rusyn Messenger (1894)

In any case, the paper’s time in Mahanoy City was short-lived. In 1894, the ARV‘s printing press was moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, and, soon after, Smith took over the financial management of the paper to attempt to reduce its operating costs. In 1896, the operations were moved again to New York City and initially housed on 14 Avenue A, the location of the Rusyn American Bank and the Rusyn Emigration Home (both new Smith enterprises). In 1904, the paper would move one last time to Homestead, Pennsylvania.

Even though the location of the ARV changed multiple times in its early years, its editorial voice remained consistent with Zhatkovich at the helm. From the very beginning, he strove to turn the ARV into an educational tool that would cultivate “the sciences, enlightenment, and higher convictions” (July 17, 1894: 6), one which would also serve as a safeguard for Carpatho-Rusyn national identity. In a long article entitled “Something about the Newspaper,” he outlined the glaring needs that he hoped the paper would fulfill: 

[The American Rusyn Messenger] serves the interest of a certain nationality, the Rusyn nationality, and defends and aids it. In order to be represented as a nationality before the public at large, it must absolutely have its own newspaper, its own solid, official publication. Today our people are at a very low educational level. Thus, in their immaturity, they are in no condition to comprehend the great significance and societal function of any newspaper, not to mention a newspaper that is exclusively concerned with their spiritual and material welfare, and the glory and security of faith, nationality, and language. (July 24, 1894: 6, quoted in Opportunity Realized 1994, 18).

His editorial style was often bombastic and confrontational, which led to a number of attempted coups against him, but he always seemed to secure enough votes during the bi-annual GCU conventions to hold on to the editorship. For the first twenty-two years of the organization’s existence, he was its loudest and most consistent voice. Indeed, during his tenure (1892-1914), Zhatkovich, as one writer put it, “was the ARV, and the ARV was the GCU” (Opportunity Realized 1994, 57). However, one of the factors that assured Zhatkovich’s almost unilateral control was a confrontation in the first months of the paper’s existence.

When the American Rusyn Messenger was established in Mahanoy City, great lengths were taken to ensure that the paper would be balanced and represent the two primary groups of Carpatho-Rusyns immigrants. Zhatkovich, who was born in Subcarpathian Rus’ in the Hungarian Kingdom, was to share editorial duties with Dionysius Pyrch, who was from the Lemko Region in Austrian Galicia, but this arrangement did not last long. In March 1892, Pyrch resigned his position almost immediately after the publication of the first issue over concerns that the paper (and the GCU in general) did not sufficiently represent the point of view of Galician Rusyns. This break within the ARV was a harbinger of future problems, ones which created sharp divisions within the Carpatho-Rusyn community during Kubek’s lifetime and continue to influence the views of Rusyn-Americans today.

Liberty, Light, and Truth

In its first years, the GCU membership was largely (but not exclusively) from the Hungarian Kingdom, a fact with which Carpatho-Rusyns from Galicia struggled from the very beginning. At its first convention in Scranton in May 1893, the Galician faction proposed renaming the organization to “the Union of Russian People” to better reflect their Russophile (and anti-Hungarian) point of view, but the proposal was defeated by a vote of 48-19. Frustrated by the results, many of the Galicians left the GCU to create an organization of their own. Founded in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, the Russkij Narodnyj Sojuz (The Russian National Association, often known as the Sojuz) from the outset was a Russophile fraternal organization and published a newspaper Svoboda (Liberty) to rival Zhatkovich’s American Rusyn Messenger (Magocsi 1984, 46; Opportunity Realized 2003, 14).

Liberty (1904)
Liberty (1904)

Another group of Carpatho-Rusyns (overwhelmingly from the Lemko Region) who had left the Catholic Church and converted to Orthodoxy, also created their own competing fraternal organization and newspaper. This group was led by Father Alexis G. Toth, a well-respected Greek Catholic priest from the Prešov Region, who in 1889 arrived to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to tend to its Carpatho-Rusyn community. However, the local bishop, John Ireland of St. Paul, refused to acknowledge him as a Greek Catholic priest, but Toth served in his parish anyway. Eventually, Toth decided to find a bishop that would allow him to maintain the unique rite of the Carpatho-Rusyns and traveled to San Francisco, where he was accepted into the Russian Orthodox Church in 1891.

Father Alexis G. Toth
Father Alexis G. Toth

After establishing this new church (the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America), Toth later moved to Wilkes Barre, where he launched an effort to convert Carpatho-Rusyns from Greek Catholicism to Orthodoxy. By the time he died in 1909, he had brought over 20,000 individuals along with him, three-fourths of which were from the Lemko Region. This group of Carpatho-Rusyns published the newspaper Svit (The Light), which became the organ of their fraternal organization, Russkoe Pravoslavnoe Obshchestvo Vzaimopomoshchi (The Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual Aid Society) founded in 1895 in Wilkes Barre (Magocsi 1984, 46).

The internecine battles, however, were far from over. As the years went by, the Russian National Association became more and more dominated by Galician Ukrainians who began to walk back the Russophile (and later Rusynophile) tendencies of the organization. As a result, a group of Galician Rusyns (who a few years before had broken with the Uhro-Rusyn leadership of the GCU but felt alienated by these new Ukrainianizing forces of the Sojuz) joined with other members of the GCU who had grown frustrated with the conservative attitudes of its clerical leadership to form the Obshchestvo Russkikh Bratstv (Russian Brotherhood Organization, or RBO).

Russian Brotherhood Organization Pins. Located in St. Mary's Center.
Russian Brotherhood Organization Pins. Located in St. Mary’s Center.

The RBO explicitly excluded the clergy from membership and catered to Russophile Carpatho-Rusyn miners who “loved their nationality and wished to free it from exploitation by Ukrainian radicals and priests of pro-Magyar leanings” (“Russian Brotherhood Organization of the U.S.A.” 2003, 2-3). In fact, one of them was John Žinčak Smith, who resigned from the presidency of the GCU in 1899, helped found the new organization in 1900, became its president in 1901, and helped purchase the newspaper Pravda (The Truth) from Viktor Hladyk to serve as the RBO’s official publication in 1904. The exodus of these members from the Sojuz, combined with an influx of Ukrainians into the organization in following years, gave the Sojuz an overwhelmingly Ukrainian orientation. As such, 1914, it changed its name to reflect this new identity and became the Ukrainian National Association.

Kubek’s Journalism

By the time Kubek assumed his duties at St. Mary’s in 1904, he found himself at the center of a complicated struggle between publications, broadly speaking, favoring a Carpatho-Rusyn orientation with Hungarian leanings (The American Rusyn Messenger), a Ukrainian orientation (Liberty), and a Russian orientation (The Truth). As a Greek Catholic priest with strong sympathies for Magyar culture himself, Kubek naturally published most often in the American Rusyn Messenger but often sent articles to a variety of publications. Consequently, his principled stands on the importance of civility, education, and sophistication often placed him in the cross-hairs of fierce polemics from editors with deeply entrenched positions, and Kubek was not afraid to fire a rhetorical shot across the bow to defend his point of view.

Kubek’s journalism allowed him great linguistic latitude to flaunt the many aspects of his personality, and we can hear his clerical voice most clearly in articles dealing with church matters. No matter the subject, Kubek’s journalistic prose is particularly rich in its incorporation of anecdotes from Mahanoy City life, Biblical quotations, philosophical references, multiple languages, and his own unmistakable wit.

Kubek’s first publication in the United States was a letter to the editor published in the American Rusyn Messenger on October 20, 1904. In it, he rebukes a story published in the Truth about the visit to Mahanoy City by Very Rev. Andrew Hodobay, the Apostolic Visitator appointed by the Vatican to survey whether American Greek Catholic churches should receive their own Eastern-rite bishop. Since Hodobay was based in the Prešov Diocese, the Galicians assumed he was serving the interests of the Hungarian government and promptly refused to meet with him (Magocsi 1984, 29). As such, the Truth article described Hodobay’s visit to Mahanoy City as a complete failure and suggested that he was rejected by Kubek and his parishioners. Kubek’s letter comes to the defense of Hodobay, but what makes it remarkable is its wealth of references used, in effect, to submit a simple request for a correction.

“Letter to the Editor”
By Emil Kubek

Mahanoy City, Pa.
October [20, 1904]

Respected Editor,

In the defense of the truth, I request that you publish my following letter in the American Rusyn Messenger.

I have never taken part – nor do I want to, nor do I intend to – in the hatred used for battle (Bellum omnium contra omnes [“the war of all against all” –Thomas Hobbes]), which is directed by a few leaders of our good-natured people to fight and destroy their honor publically before the rest of the world, in newspapers, in brochures, they publish their abuses to the joy of our enemies and our holy church.

Gentlemen! If you want to be famous as an enlightener of the people, then write beneficial articles, disseminate them among the people, who will respect you, and you will find peace, agreement, unanimity, love, and faith. Don’t drown each other in the swamp of shame, because while you so often speak of your savior, the church, and science, you haven’t gained power. Haven’t you read – if you do read – the Holy Scriptures? For it is written “Dear children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18), like it is written in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 5:43-46). The same sentiment is also expressed in Mark, Luke, John, and the Acts of the Apostles – the entire Holy Scripture, this mirror of a true Christian, preaches love, but you are: “egotists … boasters, arrogant, abusive … unholy, inhuman, implacable … slanderers …” (2 Timothy 3:2-3) … although you are told: “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12).

These types of writers and newspaper correspondents damage the unsuspecting and modest heart of the good-natured reader and tempt him, “for it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes” (Matthew 18:7) and who disseminates these temptations. For the day is more and more full of adversity, unrest, hatred, persecution, and, because of your example, between our Rusyn people and the newspapers … there is a war. “Perditio et Izrael!” [“Destruction and Israel!”].

For what I have written above I pray for forgiveness from those who themselves are painfully amazed by this sad fight breaking out between our Rusyn newspapers and some individuals, in affliction and in spite, to the temptation of our people and the spoiling of their disposition and peace!

In the 34th number of The Truth (Pravda) on the first page (there are many other similar articles, but omne nimium vertitur in vitium [“every excess develops into a vice”]) I read the following: “Father Hodobay not long ago visited Mahanoy City, Pa. He wanted ‘to philosophize’ about something there, but the people mocked him. The church only had a quiet service because nobody wanted to hear his sermon.”

How it is possible to represent and distort something so cruelly and falsely? I don’t understand! This falsity has offended my own hospitality, for Father Hodobay was going – if I remember correctly – to Shamokin, Pa., for the evening, and arrived at my house on the 20th of September. He chatted for a bit with me and my family, and we went right to bed. In the morning around seven o’clock, we served a quiet liturgy on the day of the birth of the Virgin Mary and hurried to the train station. He didn’t speak with anybody and, therefore, had no time “to philosophize.” Nobody mocked him because nobody knew that he was here. And by the way, I can’t even imagine my parishioners being that harsh or ignorant. I don’t know this truth-loving correspondent, but I would be immeasurably ashamed if news of my arrival somewhere would be given over to the Truth. A lie is a sin, so let the Truth be the truth. “Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas” [“Plato is my friend, but truth is a better friend.”]

With deep respect,

Father Emilij Kubek
Priest in Mahanoy City.

Kubek begins by comparing these feuds within the Carpatho-Rusyn community to “the war of all against all,” a reference to Thomas Hobbes’ theory of the state of nature but one that would certainly be lost on the majority of Carpatho-Rusyn readers since Kubek leaves the quote in Latin: “Bellum omnium contra omnes.” He very subtly questions the intelligence of the correspondent with a wry joke and asks: “Haven’t you read – if you do read – the Holy Scriptures?” From this follows a torrent of Biblical verses that, with the help of the Epistle of Timothy, leads to a comparison of sloppy newsmen bent upon making their names at the expense of other with “’egotists … boasters, arrogant, abusive … unholy, inhuman, implacable … slanderers …’ (2 Timothy 3:2-3).” He extends a quotation from the Gospel of Matthew to imply that writers, like the journalist from the Truth, who “damage the unsuspecting and modest heart of the good-natured reader and tempt him” will be harshly judged by God: “’For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes’ (Matthew 18:7) and who disseminates these temptations.” Kubek even hints at the fact that his adversary is responsible for the suffering of Carpatho-Rusyns in exile by silently quoting God’s justification of the Babylonian exile from the Book of Isaiah. Kubek writes that “the day is more and more full of adversity, unrest, hatred, persecution, and, because of your example, between our Rusyn people and the newspapers … there is a war. ‘Perditio et Izrael!'” Again, this reference is made silently, without attribution, and in Latin, for the full verse reads: “Your first father sinned; those I sent to teach you rebelled against me. So I disgraced the dignitaries of your temple; I consigned Jacob to destruction and Israel to scorn” (Isaiah 43: 27-28).

Kubek finally pulls back on the fiery rhetoric, explains that Father Hodobay merely was passing through (thus, could not have been given a chilly reception since nobody knew he was there), and closes with a number of ironic linguistic puns on the name of the newspaper: “I don’t know this truth-loving correspondent, but I would be immeasurably ashamed if news of my arrival somewhere would be given over to the Truth. A lie is a sin, so let the Truth be the truth. ‘Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas.'” Again, the final line of his letter is also a play on words, as the quote, usually attributed to Aristotle, translates as “Plato is my friend, but truth is a better friend.”

The abundance of Biblical references and text in Latin suggests that Kubek has either grossly misjudged his Rusyn-American readership or, more likely, is primarily writing with an educated Greek Catholic clergy in mind. From this point of view, we can perhaps see evidence for the claim that Kubek was sent to the United States as an advocate for the interests of the Hungarian government owing to how forcefully he comes to the defense of Hodobay.

Wading into these conflicts often got Kubek into hot water himself, and he at times found himself the target of an impassioned editor’s pen. When Kubek’s Church Slavonic-Hungarian-Russian-German Dictionary was published in 1906, Zhatkovich published a negative review that implied Kubek plagiarized it by reproducing “similar dictionaries published by German and Russian authors” and that this type of dictionary was useless to the Rusyn people: “The ordinary Uhro-Rusyn people need … Rusyn books, written in the language of the people, which they understand well.” Kubek swung back by publishing a response in the rival newspaper Liberty, in which he excoriates Zhatkovich for not having read the dictionary and fundamentally misunderstanding the task of a lexicographer. “You truly have no idea what it means to write,” Kubek asserts: “I compiled this dictionary not only for Uhro-Rusyns. It can be used just as well by a Galician Rusyn, and a Russian, and a German and Magyar can use it, … because it’s written in four languages” (October 11, 1906: 6,7).

One can feel great irritation – and a touch of condescension – in Kubek’s voice, for as skilled as he was in responding to criticism, he seemed to grow tired of the factionalism that infected every conceivable topic. In the years to come, Kubek would be forced to weigh in again and again as conflicts within the Catholic church and among Uhro-Rusyns and Galician Rusyns intensified, ones that would ultimately create a permanent rift within Mahanoy City’s Carpatho-Rusyn community itself.

Walk to:
Smith Mansion
Corner of South Main and East Spruce Streets
Mahanoy City, PA 17948

West End Walking Tour - FINAL

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