Today, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Holy Ghost Orthodox Church in Ambridge, we should pause in our festivities and reflect thoughtfully on its beginnings.
Shortly after the turn of the century, many Europeans sought to escape the religious and cultural persecutions of the Austro-Hungarian rulers by sailing to America.
Approximately 14 families, including those of John Bowan Sr., Wasil Blishak, Constantine Dzubinsky, Samuel Evans Sr., Daniel Holovach, A. Kohan, Nicholas Kraynak, Theodore Kushnir, Wasil Kuhta, Wasil Towcimak, Michael Turko, and John Zawoysky, settled in the North Side and South Side of Pittsburgh, where they attended St. Alexander Nevsky and St. Michael's Orthodox Churches.
However, these pioneers soon moved on to Ambridge where employment opportunities were greater. The American Bridge Company, which erected its first plant in Ambridge in 1902, offered such security.
Although settled in Ambridge, they continued to attend church in Pittsburgh. Each Sunday morning they walked the railroad tracks, more accessible than the unpaved roads, to Leetsdale, where they boarded a train to Pittsburgh. This continued until the group established a makeshift altar in May's Hall, Third and Merchant Streets, Ambridge. There, under the guidance of the Rev. J. Sechinsky, they continued their religious devotions. A little later, services were conducted in the residence of Samuel Evans, Sr., and still later in a little shelter on a vacant lot near Third and Merchant Streets. The reverends J. Sechinsky, P. Kohanik and Nicholas Koshevich were among the early pastors.
In October of 1907, guided by Fr. Nicholas Koshevich, this determined group purchased two lots at Second and Maplewood Avenue for $1,650. With their hands, they laid the foundation of their long-awaited church. It took them two months and cost approximately $6,000 -- lots, construction and materials included. The American Bridge Co donated steel for the foundation. This contribution so overwhelmed the group that they gathered on the grounds of the American Bridge plant with their icons and glorified the donors with prayers and singing.
On November 27, 1907, the first Divine Liturgy was served in the newly built church basement. Named trustees of the fledgling church were Wasil Blishak, John Bowan Sr. Samuel Evans Sr. and Daniel Holovach. Others who contributed their services were families of Timko Romanov, Paul Romanov, Dimitri Skomsky, Theodore Lapihuska, Timko Guch, Harry Kohanik, Stephen Felk, John Evans Sr., A. Zbigley, Nicholas Kuhta, Theodore Fecik, Wasil Liseyko, Joseph Hafiez, Anton Shpak, Nicholas Kulavchik, N. Polovischak, E. Polovischak, Timko Blishko, Harry Shepella, Michael Roman, John Towcimak, Wasil Zawoysky Sr., Wasil Guch, Michael Psinka and Wasil Hritzik.
On August 21, 1911, the parish was incorporated as the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Ghost. The congregation adopted as its patron, the Descent of the Holy Ghost (Spirit) upon the Apostles.
The first recorded christening was that of Nicholas Kuhta on October 27, 1907. The first marriage solemnized in the church was that of Theodore Hopta and Anna Hnath on February 8, 1908.
The parish grew steadily, and soon plans were being formulated for completion of the church. In 1912 a building committee was established. The church was completed in December 1914 at a cost of $14,000. The Rev. Andrew Ivanishin officiated at the first Divine Liturgy in the new edifice. The cornerstone, donated by Samuel Evans Sr., and the newly built church were consecrated by the Most Rev. Archbishop Alexander, assisted by Fr. Ivanishin and visiting clergy. The dream had become a reality. Just one year later, a parish home next to the new church was purchased for $5,100.
Now thoughts turned to the church interior. In 1927, led by the Rev. Damian Krehel, the church commissioned Michael Kupetz, a parishioner, to paint the murals for $2,200.
Two years later the present three bells were purchased. Metropolitan Platon blessed them.
The Great Depression ruled out further improvements until November 27, 1941, when, under the leadership of the Rev. Emilian Skuby, a new iconostas and newly renovated church interior were blessed by the Rt. Rev. Benjamin, Bishop of Pittsburgh and West Virginia. The new iconostas was designed and erected by the famous architect-artist Gennady Gordeyev.
That same year saw the outbreak of World War II, and 1950 brought with it the Korean conflict. Twelve young men of the parish were killed in those wars: Michael Chaykowsky, Edward Chumak, Peter Dudenich, Paul Durniak, John Kucer, Michael Kucer, Frank Pastrick, Steve Pastrick, Nicholas Sapovchak, Michael Sudik, George Torhan and Dimitri Wrobleski.
On November 21, 1954, a crystal chandelier was installed and dedicated to the memory of twelve young men from the parish that gave their lives to the service of their country in World War II and the Korean conflict.
In July 1974 a new parish home was purchased on Pilgrim Drive, Leet Township. The old parish home next to the church was converted into an educational center. There the church school organization, which was initiated by the Senior R Club (FROC) during the presidency of Mildred Erdelyn Mitcheil in 1947, continues to meet.
In February 1975 a fire started in the front of the church, severely damaging one corner of the interior. Fr. Vladimir Soroka and Church Council President Irene Bell led the ensuing restoration.
In 1975 The Holy Ghost Orthodox Youth Center began as a gift. The merged Russian Community Society and Russian Society of St. Michael donated the empty building at 405 Maplewood Avenue that formerly housed the Russian Community Society. A building committee was appointed, led by co-chairmen Frank Markvan and Ted Hritsko. The former building was mostly razed and a new structure erected under the guidance of architect George Ruscitto and builder Jerry Steinmetz Construction Corporation. In 1977, two years after the ownership was transferred to the congregation, the transformed building was opened as a center for both parochial events and public events. Today the Center is a hub our Annual Slavic Festival and other church related activities.
In the early 1990's, the parishioners of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Aliquippa were welcomed as members of the Holy Ghost congregation when their parish was closed.
In November 1996 the congregation undertook one of the most ambitious renovation projects since the founding of the church in 1907. Cupolas of reinforced gold fiberglass replaced the four deteriorating copper cupolas. This project was the centerpiece of a series of renovation projects that included the complete repainting of the interior of the church, enhanced internal and external lighting, and re-pointing the brick exterior of the church. All of these major projects were completed prior to the congregation's celebration of its 90th anniversary in 1997.
The congregation has just completed a 10-year capital improvements plan in time for the parish's 100th anniversary. These projects included all new iconography in the altar, including a new Platitera icon in the apse over the sanctuary, the total refurbishment of the chandelier, renovated restrooms in the church basement, new wall-to-wall carpeting, and new iconography on the proscenium arch above the iconostas.
From the original 14 families the parish has grown to over 200 adults and 30 children.
From those hard working immigrant families who formed the nucleus, to the present pastor, V. Rev. William Evansky, church council, church organizations and congregation, we are deeply indebted. To those now deceased -- May God grant them eternal rest. To those still in our midst--thank you for a job well done! God bless you and guide you in your continued efforts.