It's sometimes difficult to imagine today what it was like for our ancestors as they made the perilous journey at the turn of the 20'th century to this new, promised land. No doubt many of them had been told that the streets in the United States were paved in gold, and that opportunity existed at every turn. Then they arrived here and were called 'immigrants' -- strange people with strange customs in a strange land, a land totally different from the one they had left. There were no mountain ranges in New York City to remind them of the Carpathians, no vast farm land or groves of trees; many probably wished they could return home -- or at least to a place that was something like the homeland they left behind. It was those people who were targeted by employment agents of many of the coal companies of Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, especially in the southern half of the state, and Eastern Ohio. They offered the people a chance to find employment in an area of the country which would remind them of home, not doing this out of the kindness of their hearts, but realizing that the cheap labor of immigrant workers would enable the owners to maximize their profits. What choices did the people have? None, really. Common sense tells us that we have to eat to live, and in order to buy food, we must work. One of the places where these immigrants settled was a coal mining town named Barton, Ohio.
At the turn of the century, Barton was indeed a bustling town. The mines were working and railroad traffic passed daily through the town. In fact, the railroad had a switching depot in Barton. There were company stores, a miners' hall, various taverns and establishments -- everything that the average person would need to lead a life that was better than they had in the old country. They had everything that they needed In Barton, but the people lacked one thing: a Church in which they could worship God according to the Faith and customs they brought with them from the old country.
It's hard to appreciate what it must have been like trying to start a new Church in the early 1900's. First of all, there was no Bishop in this country to whom a request for a priest could be made. This may not sound all that important, but building a Church without knowing whether or not a priest would be sent is like building a new home for someone that one can only hope will come and live in it. There were no guarantees that once the Church was built a Pastor would be secured. Obviously this did not stop the people of this community. A Committee was formed. Letters were addressed to the people's former Bishop in Europe, asking for assistance. Advice was also sought from a former Pastor from the old country, Fr. Orestes Chornock. Father Orestes had been assigned as the Pastor at St. Michael's Church in Osturna as his first assignment. This is the village that many of the people of Barton had once called home. Now in 1910, he was residing in Duquesne, Pennsylvania , and helped the Committee with detailing the procedure involved in forming a Church. Now things were rolling along, and on March 9, 1911, five men from the Committee met in the office of J.G. Heiuleiu in the Village of Bridgeport, Ohio, to formally incorporate St Nicholas Greek Catholic Autonomic Church #362. The incorporators were Jacob Kovalcik, Chairman, Samuel Zavatsky, Secretary, Stephan Smereck, John Kovalcik and Michael Vanecko. It was decided that a $2.00 initiation fee would be asked of any working man over 18 to become a charter member. Annual dues were set at $6.00. The following names appear on the Church Charter: Stephan Smereck, Jacob Kovalcik, John Kovalcik, Michael Vanecko, Samuel Zavatsky, Joseph Pavliscak, Samuel Kovalcik, George Zavatsky, Andrew Zavacky, Simon Vanecko, Andrew Vanecko, Andrew Zavaczky, John Kacmarak, Andrew Bednar, Peter Mudrak, George Szabolcsak, John Feyko, George Sutlyok, Michael Oprondek, Joseph Polak, Samuel Polak, Michael Kudos, John Bejaj, Stephan Smolionak, Matthew Zavatsky, George Romanak, Michael Romanak, John Stilmak, Vasil Krupjak, Andrew Voytichka, Andrew Vanecko, Andrew Vash, Michael Borcsok, Metro Kopral, George Kovalcik, George Shillon, John Dzadik, Jacob Repchak, Michael Vilcek, Samuel Zavatsky, Jr., Andrew Dvitanowsky, George Zavatsky, Jr., John Rusnak, John Fingvel, Joseph Figlar, John Yasenchak, John Trojanovich, George Kortunok, George Mick, George Mick, Jr., Michael Hobor, Metro Miassenzcek, George Fivejda, Joseph Pristas, George Repchak, Casimir Rusnak, Michael Hudak, Michael Plesa, George Tenjak, Andrew Vah, George Oienyj, Michael Vah, Michael Yorko, Gabriel Smolenak, Andrew Zavacky, Jr., Stephan Yourcko and Joseph Ehnacak.
Now that the people were in possession of a charter and were incorporated as a Church, they had to build a building. For a while, an arrangement was made with the Miners' Hall for services to be held whenever a visiting priest could be found. Every now and then the people were able to get the priest from Toronto, Ohio to come down down for services, baptisms or whatever. But in those days, this was a substantial journey, and not the hour ride that it is today. Many times, a few men would have to take a horse and buggy and go get the priest for services, and then return him to Toronto!
All the details of the building and dedication of St. Nicholas Church are not known. Church records are vague, and many of the first-person sources have already gone to their reward or were simply too young to remember all the details. What is known is that a number of very generous people gave $100 interest-free loans in order to build up a fund for the construction of the new church. By 1913, the cornerstone was laid and work was begun on an adjoining rectory. Both the Church and Rectory were completed by the fall of 1916, at which time Bishop Soter Ortinsky, Apostolic Administrator for the United States, officiated at the consecration of the new St. Nicholas Church. It was easy to see the Osturna influence in St. Nicholas Church. Pictures of St. Michael's Church in Osturna and St. Nicholas Church in Barton can easily be interchanged. The people now had a place to worship God and a land that reminded them of home. Father Basil Hrynak was assigned as the first Pastor prior to the completion of the building project. His Pastorate lasted until April of 1918. Following his transfer, no fewer than 10 priests served the Parish until March of 1926, when Fr. George Kandra was assigned. During his Pastorate, which lasted until October of 1928, the Church Recreation Hall was built and used to its maximum. There were plays and socials. Two new clubs were started to preserve our culture. It can truly be said that Father Kandra was probably one of the most energetic Pastors St. Nicholas Church has ever had. Following his transfer, a number of other clergy served the Parish until January of 1934, when Father Michael Hrabar was appointed as Pastor.
The late 20's and early 30's were an extremely difficult time for our Church and Her people. The Roman Catholic hierarchy was not thrilled to have 'Greek Catholics' influencing the members of the established Roman Catholic Church. They could not see the importance of Eastern Rite traditions and customs, and felt that only the established Western Rite should be allowed in this country. They were tragically wrong, and without realizing it, they would cause tremendous changes inside and outside the structure of the Greek Catholic Church.
There is no reason to go into all the details of the struggles of those years, and of the so-called 'Struggle Against Celibacy and Latinization'. Father Lawrence Barriger's book, Good Victory, gives insightful detail into the mood of the times. The end result of the conflict was the formation of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Diocese, and the first Bishop was none other than Orestes Chornock, a man who was held in great admiration by the people of St. Nicholas Church. There was no question that St. Nicholas Church would be a part of the new Diocese. Representatives from the Parish attended not only the installation of the new Bishop, but also attended the ormative meetings of the new Diocesan Club, the ACRY.
Fr. Nicholas Cheselka followed Fr. Hrabar as Pastor in April of 1939. He was followed by Fr. Stephan Skasko in June of 1940. He served the Parish until August of 1942. Father Basil Dudash was next in line and served until September of 1948. During his Pastorate, the St Nicholas Church Cemetery was purchased. On May 27, 1945, it was formally consecrated by Bishop Orestes. Fr. Maximilian Maruschak served the Parish from September of 1948 to May of 1953. During his Pastorate, the ceiling in the Church was lowered and the lnsulbrick exterior was applied. Father Andrew Sabak served as Pastor from May of 1953 to September of 1956.
September of 1956 marked a turning point for St. Nicholas Church. Up until this time, it seemed that the Pastor never really stayed long enough in Barton to really have a lasting effect on the Parish. All of that changed with the arrival of Fr. John Kossey, whose Pastorate would last until he retired from active service in September of 1979. During his Pastorate, new linoleum was laid-down in the Church, sanctuary carpeting was installed and a new roof was placed on St. Nicholas Church. Father Kossey specialized in daily visits of the Parishioners, and one could never tell when he might just drop in. It is safe to say that Father Kossey had a profound influence on the members of the Church and the community as a whole. His passing away in the Fall of 1985 was a great loss to everyone who knew him.
In September of 1979, the young and energetic Fr. John Fencik was assigned the Pastorate of St. Nicholas Church. With sleeves rolled up and a sense of humor, he began the task of preparing the Church for its 75th Anniversary. In January of 1980, he announced a 6-year plan to renovate and rebuild St. Nicholas Church and Rectory. Many people were skeptical, some openly rebellious, when it came to committing to a total restoration of the Parish, but Father's determination never wavered. By the Spring of 1981, a new Rectory graced the former parking area, and a St. Nicholas Chapel was constructed inside the Church proper. By 1982, the Church was completely rewired and brought up to the standards of the safety code. In 1983 & 1984, the Sanctuary was enclosed and proper Sacristies were built. Construction of a new kitchen and a total renovation of the Church Hall was undertaken. In 1985, central air-conditioning was added for everyone's comfort, a new church ceiling was installed, along with ceiling fans, and a new ceiling was installed in the Church Hall. The woodwork in the Church, along with the pews, were refinished and a new floor was installed. 1986 saw the installation of new stained glass windows, new carpeting and the restoration of the Icon Screen. The exterior of the Church was completed by the Spring of 1987.
Tragedy struck St Nicholas Parish in April of 1982 when the old Rectory caught fire early one morning. The Rectory was being rented by the SaIm Family, and five members of that family perished in the pre-dawn blaze. It was the first fatal house fire in the 30-year history of the Barton Volunteer Fire Department. The members of St. Nicholas Parish were extremely generous in their support and consolation of the surviving members of the Salm Family. That fire was easily one of the most tragic events in the history of the Church, and it profoundly impacted the town as well. But it served to draw the people together, as everyone helped each other cope with such a loss. The resiliency of the people of Barton and St. Nicholas Parish has always been their strong point.
Throughout our history there have been countless people, both clergy and laymen, who have done work over and above the call of duty to St Nicholas Church. Many are not named here, but our heavenly Father knows their names. Suffice it to say that most of the work of the restoration was done by volunteers from the Parish who took pride in their Church and wanted to see improvements. They are the worthy legacy of the history of the Church.
May our Patron Saint, St. Nicholas of Myra, always inspire us to carry on in the continuation of our earthly tasks as we prepare to receive our heavenly reward.