THE MEEK SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH
An Historical Memoir
The New Home in America
Nestled in a valley rich in history, the town of Farrell (also known as South Sharon) is situated in the Shenango Valley of Western Pennsylvania, on land once occupied by the Seneca Indian tribe and later also inhabited by a displaced clan of the Delaware tribe. The name “Shenango” is said to have been derived from the Indian who once dominated the hunting land along what is now the Shenango River. In 1795, the first recorded settlement was established in Sharon by Benjamin Bentley and his family of six.
Sharon grew very slowly. This began to change when around 1838 it was decided to build a canal that would connect the Erie Canal with the Pennsylvania Main Line and the Ohio River, thus extending the infrastructure to support the surge of people moving westward. This began to bring new prosperity to northwestern Pennsylvania by providing a safe and reliable means of moving commercial goods between cities. The Erie Extension Canal was completed for shipping to the Port of Erie in 1844. Winding through five northwestern Pennsylvania counties, it also incorporated the small town of Sharon, built on the Shenango River. The borough was incorporated on October 6, 1841.
About the same time, in 1835, coal was discovered in Sharon. From 1835 to 1876 old histories record the development of more than fifty mines. A company was started by the Strawbridge Brothers who made their first shipment to Meadville in 1842, by way of the Erie Canal. In 1868 D. C. Strawbridge opened what was to become the McDowell National Bank. Ore was soon also discovered and blast furnaces built into the hills. By 1876 all of the Valley furnaces were producing iron from raw native coal, and iron made from this coal was claimed to be the best made in America. A railroad station was added on account of the mining and iron industries, and from a population of 900 in 1860, the population jumped to approximately 4,000 by May 1, 1868, of which 2,435 men were employed. In 1871 gas street lamps were installed, and a telephone exchange in 1884. Sharon had begun to take the form of a thriving industrial town.
With its success and growth, came wealth. In 1882 Christian H. Buhl became the sole owner of the Westerman Iron Company. His son, Frank H. Buhl, was made general manager in 1887, and the company became known as Buhl, Sons and Company. Frank Buhl later went on to become president of Sharon Steel Castings Company, and then founded Buhl Steel Company.
Frank Buhl was a great benefactor to the community of Sharon. During his lifetime he and his wife created the Buhl Fund and the Buhl Farm, a playground of 500 acres, containing a lake, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course, a picnic grove, children’s playgrounds, and five miles of beautiful drives. All is free to the public to this day. He also built the F. H. Buhl Club which provides a downtown club with gymnasium, free public library, billiard rooms, bowling alleys and various other facilities. Additionally, his foundation provided free medical care for underprivileged children in the valley. Performing thousands of operations, eye exams, dental work, and up through the 1930s would also distribute coats, hats and one hot meal a day in winter. Many immigrants, including those in the Romanian community, were directly benefited by the Buhl family’s generosity.
In 1906 the production of pig iron in the Valley amounted to 1,208,294 tons, steel manufacture was 815,913 tons, and 676,261 tons of rolled steel were produced. Job opportunities thus existed for those willing to apply themselves. The combination of employment opportunity and societal benefactors made the Sharon/Farrell/Sharpsville area an ideal destination for men seeking stable work and a livable community for their families. Immigrants came from far and wide.
The Humble Beginnings, 1890-1934
It is for this reason that, at the turn of the century, the thriving Shenango Valley also became the destination for a large number of Romanians, most of whom migrated from the province of Transylvania. The majority of these settled in South Sharon, now also known as Farrell. Most of these immigrants had been farmers back home, and while some remained farmers, most had come to work in the mines and mills. This transition to an industrialized way of life was an added challenge to the cultural adjustments facing them in their new homeland. The new work was tedious and hazardous and in this early period many young lives were lost. For some, loneliness and homesickness were daily struggles, being thousands of miles away from their families. However, in spite of these hardships, the newcomers’ work ethic and faith in God enabled them to survive and flourish in this small community.
Records show that Romanians began to arrive around 1890. Shortly thereafter, seeing how other ethnic groups had organized themselves into societies and other organizations, they also began to organize themselves. The first Romanian fraternal society in Farrell, “Transylvania” was founded in 1905. In addition to their societies, the Romanian immigrants maintained their love for their Orthodox Christian Faith, although there was not a single Orthodox church in the Shenango Valley. They strove to keep the Feasts of the Church and baptize their children as they could. The first recorded Orthodox baptism was that of Augustin Vaduvoi, whose parents Zaheu and Maria were from Transylvania, and was performed on April 20, 1899 by a certain “Reverend Haris” of the “Russian Orthodox Church,” the godparents being listed as Mr. and Mrs. Porfirie Zeicu, also from Transylvania.
It was the need for a place to worship God in the Faith of their fathers that led to calls for the creation of an Orthodox parish. The trend amongst Romanian communities in the United States was the same. In November 1904, Metropolitan John (Metianu) of Sibiu had sent Fr. Zaharia Oprea to the United States on a fact-finding mission in response to appeals made by American communities for priests. In April 1905, the Sibiu Consistory named a 26 year-old priest Fr. Moise Balea (1875-1942), at that time in the third year of his ministry, to be sent to the United States. Fr. Moise arrived at Cleveland in December 1905, at the same time which the first organizational meetings towards the founding of a church in Farrell were being held. Shortly after his arrival, therefore, Fr. Moise came to Farrell and served the first Divine Liturgy in Carnegie Hall on the corner of Broadway and Bond, on December 31, 1905. At the insistence of Fr. Moise, a collection was made for the construction of a church right then and there. The charter for the parish was obtained by attorneys Addler and Horvath on January 15, 1906. The parish was named “Holy Cross.” On January 16, 1906, Mr. Oros of Chijasa and Mr. Bogorin of Ogna were chosen to solicit donations from the Romanians of the area. Within one year a lot was purchased from Mr. Horvath at 909 Lee Avenue in Farrell for $1000. The second Divine Liturgy was held in Max Hall on the corner of Spearman and Union, and the third in a hall above the Colonial Trust Building, on the corner of Haywood and Broadway.
The community grew and held services, despite not having a full-time priest or church building. Fr. Moise Balea, who served the parish off and on until 1910, would go from city to city serving the Divine Liturgy and other sacraments, organizing communities, and collecting funds to build churches. In 1906 alone Fr. Balea founded four parishes, and went on in the next years to found a total of fifteen churches, from Indiana Harbor, Indiana, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is buried in the St. Mary Cemetery at Vatra Romaneasca in Grass Lake, Michigan.
In response to the growing need, the Metropolitan of Sibiu began sending priests to serve in the newly-founded American parishes. In November 1906, yet another priest arrived, Fr. Trandafir Scorobetz (1883-1967), a young man with a solid theological education. Whereas Fr. Trandafir, like Fr. Balea, traveled and founded parishes, he also settled down to serve Holy Cross in Farrell in the period between 1907 and 1909. However, as in most of the merging communities, disagreements arose. Eventually, Fr. Scorobetz returned to Romania, and the lot purchased for the church under his guidance in Farrell was sold.
After the departure of Fr. Scorobetz, Fr. Balea returned to serve Holy Cross between 1909 and 1910. Collections for the church building resumed. By May 10, 1910, 738 persons had contributed to the building fund. The lot was re-purchased, and the new church was built at a total cost of $6482, of which $5100 was for the construction of the building and $1382 for the furniture, fixtures and adornment. The church was completed and blessed on August 15, 1910 by Frs. Moise Balea, Trandafir Scorobet and Simion Mihaltian. “Nasii” were Nicholas and Anica Shank.
Shortly thereafter, Fr. Balea again moved on, and was replaced by Fr. Ilie Pop (1874-1934), who served in Farrell and in Indianapolis until 1912; and also served by Fr. loan Podea, formerly of Cleveland. With the assistance of Pete Costea, Fr. Podea started the first children’s choir, teaching the children “Doamne milueste” and other simple responses; the children for their part were thrilled to take part in the services. Fr. Podea served from 1912-13, after having left Cleveland for Brasov, later returning in 1912 to pastor the parish in Youngstown, Ohio. In the subsequent years, several priests came to serve in Farrell, including Fr. Teofil Rosca and a certain Fr. Tarcea.
In the period 1915-1920, the parish enjoyed relative stability and growth with the arrival of Fr. Romul Doctor. On the very day he was installed at the parish, June 13, 1915, Fr. Romul began keeping the matriculation books, recording when the faithful were baptized, married or buried. He kept meticulous records. Fr. Romul also did his best to collect records from public notaries and families for the period from 1899-1915. In the six months of the year remaining after his arrival in June of 1915, Fr. Romul performed 50 baptisms. In 1916 he baptized 105 persons; in 1917, 101; in 1918, 66; and in 1919, 63, up to November 8, 1919, when he left the parish, signing the books on that date. The registers have been kept by each subsequent and visiting priest to this day.
Additionally, Fr. Romul held summer school classes for the children which were held each morning. The rudiments of Romanian language, history and geography were taught, as well as catechism. School ended the final week of August and was climaxed by oral tests given the following Sunday afternoon. A large gathering of parents, relatives and friends witnessed “the ordeal.” After it was over the children were treated to sandwiches, ice cream and sodas.
The First World War had several implications for church life, but the most obvious for the Romanians was the impossibility of travel between the U.S. and Romania. Because immigrants could not go home and began to earn better wages when the U.S. entered the war, they began to settle permanently. Furthermore, priests could no longer come from Romania to churches that needed them. The lack of priests, or educated priests, and of a central administration, often led to disorganization in church affairs. From this perspective, during those years the community of Holy Cross was enormously blessed to have Fr. Doctor, a stable and conscientious priest.
The six years following the tenure of Fr. Doctor at Holy Cross were marked by a great fluctuation of clergy who served the parish. Life in America was hard on all immigrants, priests included. Even the most capable priests from Romania had trouble adjusting to the sporadic nature of church life and to what was called the “democratic” mentality of parishioners, and at times found themselves in the midst of faction-inspired intrigue and accusations. Just as things would begin to stabilize, the priests would leave and disintegration would ensue. Often it took the new priest some time to raise the level of church life to the point at which the previous priest had left it.
Yet in spite of this, the membership of the parish grew enormously, and between 1906 and 1920 some 3,400 Romanians lived in the community. The community stayed large even after the First World War, when some returned to Romania and others went to larger cities in search of different opportunities. In this period, the church was additionally ministered by Fr. Faur (1919); Fr. Traian Demian (1921-22) who organized a Romanian school; Fr. Victor Muresan (1923) who organized the first Ladies’ Aid auxiliary; and Archimandrite Filaret Ghiorghiu (1923-24).
From 1925-30 the parish was served by Fr. John Stanila. Fr. Stanila would later become the priest of the Holy Trinity parish in Youngstown for almost forty years, himself playing an important role in the founding of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America. Fr. Vasile Pascau served from 1930-34, represented the parish at the Congress of 1932, and organized the church choir, “Rasunetul Carpatiilor” (“The Echo of the Carpathians”), which would serve the parish until 1975. In 1933, conducted by Victoria Luca, it was the youngest choir to participate in the Romanian Day Program at the Chicago World’s Fair.
On Palm Sunday, April 1, 1934, a young priest with his wife arrived in Farrell. They would serve the community for over 40 years. A new era was about to begin.
The Era of the Moldovans: 1934-1975
With the arrival of the young (24 year-old) Father Nicolae Moldovan and his Preoteasa Victoria (nee Bertza), church life in Farrell changed enormously. Fr. and Psa. Moldovan brought stability, direction, energy and vision to the parish community in all of its activities and endeavors, and embarked upon a ministry which would last for over forty years. The community finally had a pastor who was here to stay, who would dedicate his talents and energies to the education and spiritual formation of the parishioners, and who indeed whole-heartedly loved his church and his people.
Fr. Nicolae and Psa. Victoria not only played an enormous role in the life and direction of Holy Cross, but also in the formation of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, yet without ever seeking the limelight. They were tailor made for the job: Fr. Nicolae was born and raised in Romania, where he received both his spiritual formation and theological education. He completed his theological studies in Sibiu, the heart of Transylvanian Orthodoxy and location of the best theological minds and ecclesiastical figures of the era. He understood the mentality and personality of the “Old World.” Preoteasa on the other hand, though of Romanian parentage, was born in the United States and understood the mentality and personality of Americans. They met when, as a young teen, Preoteasa would go with her cousins and parents to Romania for the summer. They were married in Romania, and Fr. Nicolae was ordained a priest shortly thereafter by one of the great ecclesiastical personalities of the Romanian Church, Metropolitan Nicolae (Balan) of Sibiu. Fr. Nicolae was solicited by Fr. Trutza of Cleveland, also in Sibiu for theological studies, to come to America and take the Farrell parish. He agreed, yet stayed in Romania for one year to gain experience as a priest. The Moldovans left in early spring 1934, and arrived in Farrell on April l, 1934. From the first moment, Father and Preoteasa were a team par excellence.
The Moldovans arrived in the heyday of Sharon. The period of the First World War brought a great boom to industry, and following this period, in 1923, the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company purchased the plant of the Savage Arms Corporation in Sharpsville, and made extensive additions and improvements. In 1935 this included the largest one-story building in the world. The plant was used exclusively for the production of transformers for the Westinghouse Company. In 1935, Sharon numbered some thirty important industries and was an ideal location for practically any kind of new enterprise. The Romanian community, for the most part, was here to stay. And now they had a priest who was here to stay. It was a match made in heaven.
From the day they arrived, the Moldovans when straight to work. What they found was a large Romanian community that had built their own church, which had a huge, cast-iron pot-belly stove in the center of the church. There was no basement where the stove might go, but instead the men had dug out a room under one of the corners of the church to create a make-shift bar where they would sell whiskey. Right there on the first day of his arrival, Fr. Moldovan stated that a basement would have to be created for a heating system and classrooms. Some balked. Fr. Moldovan’s response was to get a shovel and start digging. Other men pitched in, and by summer time the pot-belly stove was gone and replaced with a gas furnace. The bar was replaced with a full basement extending the entire length of the church and fitted with classrooms. A church school was organized with 117 students enrolled between the ages of 3 and 16, and with classes beginning that very summer. In the school Romanian language, history, literature, geography, catechism and hygiene were taught. Later, traditional “hora” dancing was added. Father loved literature and knew all the great Romanian poets by heart. Preoteasa was an educated teacher and directed the school programs herself. She also assumed direction of the choir immediately, and would continue for more than thirty years.
The very next year, Bishop Polycarp (Morusca) visited the church and consecrated it in 1935. On the same occasion, he baptized the Moldovans’ first daughter, Adela Patricia. All was looking up for the Episcopate and for the parish.
Church life began to bubble within this organized framework. In addition to the parish school and choir activities, in 1937 Boy Scout Troop No. 20 was started by Phillip Balaban as scout master, later to become Troop No. 16 led by Phil Shank, continuing into the 2000s to meet as Troop No. 15. In 1939, Father and Preoteasa organized an Orthodox Sunday School program, the second of its kind in the United States at that time. Lessons were typed and explained to the teachers on Friday nights. In 1946, a Mothers-Teachers group was organized to help administer the school, which eventually became the Mothers’ Club, and the Ladies’ Aid was reorganized, becoming a permanent and active support to all church ministries to the present day.
The Second World War and Struggles of the Episcopate
As to the entire country, the Second World War brought turmoil to the parish as well. Many young men of the parish went off to the war and some did not return. One young parishioner, Ezekial Shank, was severely wounded in the Battle of the Bulge on February 1, 1945, receiving the Purple Heart and dying shortly thereafter at a military hospital. His mother was too devastated to allow the return of his remains. He is buried with the other fallen U.S. soldiers at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium.
Additionally, the war years spelled the beginning of turmoil for the entire Episcopate. Bishop Polycarp, who had returned to Romania in 1939 to solicit financial support for both building enterprises and a pension plan for clergy, was henceforth unable to return to his flock in America. He at first asked Fr. John Trutza of Cleveland to be the Episcopate’s administrator in his absence, but when Fr. Trutza refused, the Bishop appointed Fr. Simion Mihaltian. In confusion typical of the era, especially caused by the rise of Communism in Eastern Europe and the subsequent political activities even in the U.S., the Romanian churches in this country became divided over issues of policy, leadership, direction and in some cases, politics. During this division, Fr. Moldovan and two-thirds of the parish supported Fr. Mihaltian as the Bishop’s appointee.
However, Fr. Moldovan was never a member of any faction in the church but on the contrary, without ever seeking the limelight, always expressed his opinion in a straight-forward manner. In both his actions and opinions he always had the good of his people and the Episcopate first in mind. He was not afraid to act when circumstances demanded it. For this reason he was trusted by his people and his fellow priests on both sides of the issues. Although forthright, he was a peacemaker and a man of principle, characteristics which were evident throughout his lengthy ministry.
Thus, in 1947, Fr. Moldovan brought together the leaders of the two divergent factions of priests to a surprise meeting, at which peace was made. That same year the re-united groups came together for the first time in years to a common Episcopate Congress. At the Congress, Fr. Moldovan was elected to the Episcopate Council, and re-elected in 1948. He would serve on the council for over two decades.
Fr. Moldovan’s role of a peacemaker in the Episcopate would be seen on many occasions and was especially significant, given the fact that he was present at every major event in its history. When tempers flared and heated words were exchanged, he would call for a pause in discussions so that all could ask forgiveness of each other as priests and brothers. At the Congress in Chicago in 1951, at which Bishop Valerian (Trifa) was elected, Fr. Moldovan made a motion (which carried) that before the election began all should pledge to support the new bishop, whoever he may be, without harboring any resentment or hurt feelings. Similarly, throughout his ministry Fr. Moldovan was unafraid to voice his conscience on many occasions, yet without ever causing a schism or disruption in church unity. By his passionate honesty and balanced approach, which did not arise from any self interest, Fr. Moldovan made a solid contribution to the success and stability of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America.
The Youth and the Church
Both Fr. Nicolae and Psa. Victoria took their teaching ministries seriously, and always participated in much-loved activities with the youth. In 1949, Preoteasa extended her teaching experience to the entire Episcopate, helping to create the first Episcopate-wide Sunday School Teacher education program, which was held at the Vatra in July, 1949. She taught Old Testament at the first Vatra children’s camp, and also began to write a catechetical column in Solia (the Episcopate’s official publication), “Orthodox Information Please,” until 1956. Fr. Nicolae also helped with Solia in various capacities.
During the Second World War, Fr. Moldovan was solicited by mothers, led by Ileana Dragos, to prepare a prayer book in English. The prayer book, “Septima,” was printed, having been typed and bound by Aurelia Sirb, and the evening prayers recited at the church every Wednesday and Friday evening for the duration of the war. In 1954, the AROY Board meeting in Canton decided to re-publish this book, which was sent to all youth in AROY.
Fr. Nicolae’s concern for the young people of the church took many forms. He loved the outdoors and would take the youth of the parish on picnics to Yankee Lake and other favorite spots almost every summer Sunday after Liturgy. Father would ask, “who’s coming?” All would pile into cars to spend the afternoon together in nature.
During other times of the year, people would gather at the Romanian Hall, located next to the church, for a long lunch and a once-a-month cultural program, which would include theatre presentations by the youth of the church. It was the age before restaurants and television, when Sunday was the Lord’s Day and therefore a day for prayer, family, and social time with the entire community. The parish maintained a lively social calendar in conjunction with the Romanian Hall next door, the T.B.A. and other Romanian Societies in the area. This included a yearly Revelion (New Year’s Eve celebration) to which people would come from as far as Detroit to hear the Romanian bands and dance the hora. There were several banquets every year, the largest always being on Mothers’ Day.
The young choir was the center of the parish’s social activities. Holy Days were particularly festive. Four groups of young people would go caroling at Christmas, not including the children who went with Preoteasa on Christmas Eve.
The children would come home packed with fruit and various treats, while the older carolers paused for a snack at every home and so were festive for the entire community. On Christmas Day, getting into the church was next to impossible — unless you were one of the children. The children were dressed for the occasion, the youngest girls as angels, and as usual were sent to the front of the church for the Liturgy and to recite The Lord’s Prayer.
During Lent, the choir sang the Presanctified Liturgy once a week. By the end of Great Lent, the entire community had participated in the Sacrament of Confession. Most took Holy Communion on Palm Sunday. It was followed by the annual fish dinner, with 350 people on average in attendance. On Easter, as many as three churches were visited by Fr. Nicolae after services were completed at Holy Cross — the choir would pile into cars to visit communities in Niles, New Castle and Ellwood City, singing all the Paschal Hymns (and eating) at each stop. Yet no one grew tired, least of all Fr. Nicolae.
Fr. Nicolae and Psa. Victoria’s love and zeal for the youth extended for the entire duration of their 41 year ministry. Even those raised in the early l970s, during the final years of his ministry, felt this: “we always knew one thing for certain: he loved us with all his heart.” “Even when I would come home from college he was overjoyed to see me.” The whole community loved and respected Preoteasa with complete and total devotion. “She was our mother.”
Holy Cross and AROY
Beyond his own ministry at Holy Cross, Fr. Moldovan was of the opinion that youth activities should be organized on an Episcopate level. He and Preoteasa were instrumental in bringing this about, and contributed to the retreat, camp and educational programs offered at the Vatra.
Efforts to organize the youth of the Episcopate under one umbrella were begun by Bishop Polycarp’s “Festive Meeting of Youth” at the Youngstown Congress of 1936. The outbreak of the war hampered this tentative effort, and it was not until 1949 that the issue was raised again, when Fr. Moldovan was amongst the clergy calling for the establishment of a national youth organization. Organizational meetings were held, and in April 1950, a steering committee meeting took place at Holy Cross in Farrell to set a date for a founding convention. This occurred on September 29, 1950, in Cleveland, at which the American Romanian Orthodox Youth (AROY) came into being.
Fr. Moldovan had set a precedent: from the time of pre-convention meeting at Farrell, Holy Cross has played a large role in AROY. At the first convention, Pearl Serban of Holy Cross was elected the first Secretary. In 1951, the Second Annual AROY Convention was held at Holy Cross itself, at which another Holy Cross parishioner, Sylvia Muntean, was elected Auditor. She would spend ten years on the AROY National Board, nine as Treasurer. As a parish, Holy Cross would host several AROY Conventions and go on to boast of four National Presidents: John Regule, Andy Regule, Charles Hoyt, and Teva Regule; and four National Spiritual Advisors: Frs. Nicolae Moldovan, Nathaniel Popp, Joseph Morris and Calinic Berger.
Building Programs and the New Church
It was not long before Fr. Moldovan saw the need for a new and bigger church. When he first began to speak of this vision, it was met with apathy and even opposition. The choir held a picnic fundraiser that raised only $100, a fact which caused some to speak of the idea as undoable. But Fr. Moldovan was not one to sit down and quit.
After lobbying for a new church, others began to support the idea. Momentum began to grow. Finally, at the parish council meeting of September 25, 1949, a motion was made by Aurel Dragos, seconded by Mihail Barbat and Victor Sirb, to start a collection for the construction of a new church. A separate fund was started to which Aurel Dragos gave $1000, and Victor Sirb, Mihail Barbat, Fr. Moldovan each gave $500. Three years later in 1952, nine lots were purchased in Farrell for $6,000. By March 1956, $24,000 had been collected in the building fund, which included the $6000 for the lots. The young people of the parish began to get involved and converted the traditional Sunday picnics at Yankee Lake into fundraisers which raised over $90,000 between 1955 and 1962. The lots were eventually sold in 1960 for $18,000, and the next year the church purchased a 35 acre lot in Hickory Township (known today as the City of Hermitage), the site of the present church, from John Regule, Sr. for $18,000.
Plans for a stunning church with four domes and a round apse were drawn up at Fr. Moldovan’s direction. Alas, it was not to be: the expenses were too great to include an adjoining hall and other needed facilities. The present church was then designed, more modest yet still beautiful, and with all the required facilities.
The ground-breaking ceremony was held on April 1, 1962, and the new church was consecrated by Bishop Valerian on September 15, 1963, assisted by eighteen other priests, including Frs. Richard Grabowski, Vasile Hategan, Eugene Lazar, Nicolae Moldovan, Marin Postelnic, Gratian Radu, John Stanila, John Toconita, and Deacon Constantine Tofan. “Nasii” were John and Maria Luca. The total construction costs were over $210,000. The architect was Arsene Rousseau and the iconostas was designed and built by John Terzis of Chicago, being transported by George Roman and Virgil “Slim” Tolci. The parish in turn donated the old iconostas to Holy Cross Church in Alexandria, Virginia. The mortgage was burned on September 17, 1967.
Fr. Moldovan did not stop there. He envisioned a cemetery, a park, a camp-site for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, complete with swimming pool, basketball and tennis courts, and above all, a parish house. Most all of his vision was completed. The parish house was added in 1971, being built by a group of parishioners led by Nicholas Moga, as was a park with covered picnic grounds, the men of the parish helping Father clear over 350 trees.
It was not long after the consecration of the church that Fr. Nicolae began to help in another building project: Mother Alexandra (formerly Princess Ileana of Romania) had arrived from France where she had taken monastic vows, seeking to establish a missionary monastery in the United States. Western Pennsylvania was chosen as a suitable region, being both rural and beautiful, and it was Fr. Nicolae who drove her around in his car, helping look for land for the monastery. In 1967, Mother Alexandra established the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, a 30 minute drive from Farrell, and was henceforth seen with her sisters at the Sunday Divine Liturgy and other parish events for years to come.
The End of An Era
Fr. Nicolae retired from active ministry on December 7, 1975, having served Holy Cross, his one and only parish, for 41 years. On this day the hierarchical Divine Liturgy was celebrated by Bishop Valerian and followed by a testimonial dinner in honor of the Moldovans. They had finished their course, “fought the good fight,” and “kept the Faith” (2 Tim 4:7). The Moldovans left a lasting impression on all members of the parish family, especially the youth.
Fr. Moldovan’s contribution to the parish family of Holy Cross, to the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America and to the witness of Orthodox Christianity in this country cannot be overlooked nor taken for granted. His life was a blessing to all who knew him and to all of us who have come after him. He left his parish and his Church an inheritance and a legacy. He will always be remembered and valued as an outstanding example of priestly dignity, honesty, integrity, zeal for the Church, love for and dedication to his people and authentic Christian piety. He continued in his retirement to bless the community with his presence as Priest Emeritus. In 1989, the Lord gave one last command and Fr. Nicolae obeyed: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, inherit the Kingdom which has been prepared for you.”
Until her falling asleep in the Lord in 2006, Psa. Victoria continued to be a shining light to our community, a radiant personality and joy to all who knew her, a witness to life in Christ and the Spirit, a model of service to others, and an inspiration and a living pillar of the Orthodox Church.
The Next Generation: Father Nathaniel Popp, 1975-1980
To fill the legacy left by Fr. Moldovan was daunting to say the least. For this task, Bishop Valerian sent Father Nathaniel Popp, a young priest 35 years old, who had spent the previous five years seeking to start a monastic community at the Vatra, helping the Bishop with the youth, educational, liturgical and other ministries.
As far as his energy, Fr. Nathaniel was without question a successor of Fr. Nicolae. He had been sent to help the parish through a major transitional period: most of the parishioners were now second and third-generation Romanians and converts which no longer understood Romanian, even though they could sing the Liturgy and other services. In order to reach out to the younger generations - potentially at risk of leaving the Church, as was happening in many parishes using a language no longer understood — the decision was made to start using English in the Divine Services. Fr. Nathaniel became pastor in December 1975, and shortly thereafter the parish celebrated its first English-language Pascha. For many who had been Orthodox their entire life, singing the Paschal service in their everyday language was a new and momentous experience which they recall to the present day.
Fr. Nathaniel sought to open the wealth of the Church’s liturgical life to the community which by now had become for the most part Americanized. Pamphlets were created in a team effort with great labor for the festal celebrations of the entire year, with the Byzantine-Romanian melodies being transcribed along with the words into English. Congregational singing was introduced, as were adult religious education classes, including two six-week classes open to the general public in 1978 and 1979. As a result, many converts joined the church, among whom were ethnic Romanians who were not raised in the Orthodox Church. Additionally, a weekly Bible study class was begun. A great amount of enthusiasm for learning the faith characterized the years of his pastorate.
Fr. Nathaniel was energetic in several areas: organizing activities for the various auxiliaries of the parish, such as AROY, Ladies’ Aid and others; completing the needed facilities and beautification of the church, most notably by commissioning its superb frescoes, written by Robert Basil Gerwing (donated by Ladies’ Aid), as well as eight large icons of Romanian Saints written by Fr. Mark Forsberg; and initiating activities with other Orthodox churches in the Shenango Valley. Thus, for example, Holy Cross not only continued to be a part of Sunday of Orthodoxy and other celebrations, but also played a key role in organizing the Shenango Valley Eastern Orthodox Women’s Guild in l976.
Additionally, Fr. Nathaniel continued Fr. Moldovan’s tradition of being a great supporter of Episcopate-wide activities, and maintaining an active social calendar for the community. In his tenure, the parish hosted the annual Brotherhood Conference and an ARFORA retreat in 1976, and the Episcopate Congress for two consecutive years, in 1978 and 1979. The parish continued to host five annual banquets, including a new yearly “Sweetheart’s Dinner” in which couples married for 5, 10, 15, 20+ years were honored. Fr. Nathaniel and Vasile Barbarescu co-hosted the annual Romanian “Union and League” convention for two years at the church’s large social hall. The social hall was also utilized for two large exhibits: one on iconography and another on Romanian arts and crafts, done exclusively by parishioners.
Fr. Nathaniel’s last official Sunday at Holy Cross was November 9, 1980, after which he resigned in order to accept his election by the Episcopate Congress to serve as the auxiliary bishop to Archbishop Valerian. Two buses of parishioners made the trip to Detroit for his consecration. Upon the retirement of Archbishop Valerian in 1984, Bishop Nathaniel became the ruling bishop of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, which he remains to the present day. During his tenure at Holy Cross he guided the parish through a major transition to the English language. The ground was prepared for Holy Cross to perpetuate its traditional emphasis on family and youth, re-adjusted to the reality of its current situation: parishioners of both Romanian and non-Romanian heritage whose primary language was English. This would enable not only the survival of parish, but its effective witness and ministry for years to come.
The Mancantelli Family: 1981-1994
A native of Noranda, Quebec, Father John Mancantelli graduated from York University in Toronto and UCLA, where as a result of his studies he converted to Orthodoxy and was received into the Church by Bishop Dmitri (Royster). He went on to study at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York, where he met his bride and future Preoteasa, Clara M. Takesian, also a graduate of the seminary. Having been ordained a priest in 1974, Fr. John was assigned to St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, 25 miles east of Cleveland, Ohio.
Fr. John and Psa. Clara arrived at Holy Cross with their four young children, Rachel, Nicholas, Helena and Juliana, on May 12, 1981, to a newly painted and refurbished parish house, and celebrated his first Liturgy on May 17, 1981. He immediately began preparations for the parish’s 75th Anniversary.
With the arrival of the Mancantelli family, the church community underwent its next major change: the economic stability that the Farrell/Sharon region had enjoyed for the last 100 years suddenly and unexpectedly disappeared. The mines had been closed for years and the steel industry was relocating, but in their stead had arisen the massive Westinghouse Company, which in Sharon had the largest transformer manufacturing plant in the world. Westinghouse was also a significant military contractor which in Sharon had developed torpedoes and other naval weaponry since the Second World War. Soon after Fr. John’s arrival, 20,000 people were laid off and had no place to find work. The resulting anxiety directly affected the parishioners. The actual survival of the parish was in doubt.
Instead, through Fr. John’s Christ-centered ministry, the support of parishioners and tremendous Christian witness of his family, the parish thrived. A large donation was received, $250,000, as a bequest from the Schenk family, to be used for the youth of the parish. Fr. John had many, many meetings with parishioners to decide as to how to allocate the money. Among other things, the “St. Nicholas Rooms” were installed in the hall beneath the church, providing classrooms for Sunday School, a kitchenette and an Orthodox lending library for the parish, and a scholarship was established.
In addition, much was done in Fr. Mancantelli’s pastorate to maintain the beauty of the church property: a Cross was added to the front of the church, as was a sidewalk around the parish house, grading around the parking lot perimeter, and the social hall and facilities were remodeled and repainted. All this work, in the tradition of Holy Cross, came with the efforts of many selfless, dedicated and hard-working parishioners, who sincerely loved their parish.
With Fr. John, Holy Cross had another priest who took his teaching ministry seriously, as well as his ministry to the youth. An emphasis was placed on the missionary character of the Church, resulting in an increased number of converts. Divine Services were held regularly on feast days, and every year the parish would go to the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Ellwood City to both help with chores and attend their annual Patron Feast celebration. The parish continued supporting Episcopate activities and hosted the National AROY Conference.
The Mancantelli’s brought Holy Cross through a very difficult period, both through their joy and through their many educational programs and other activities which filled the parish life. Their welcoming nature and ministry went beyond official activities to the opening of their home to everyone. Preoteasa used to hand out “coupon” books — books filled with tickets for a free “dinner,” “snack,” or “dessert” to be redeemed at the parish house. After thirteen years at Holy Cross, Fr. John was transferred to St. George Cathedral in Regina, Saskatchewan, on April 1, 1994.
Fr. John and Psa. Clara went on to pastor the St. Nicholas of Zica Orthodox Church in Billings, Montana, before retiring. Two of their children have embraced the monastic life, and two are happily married with several children each. The Mancantelli family has remained an example to all who have been blessed to meet them, their devotion to Christ and love for Orthodoxy and the Church an inspiration.
Father Joseph Morris: 1994-1997
Father Joseph Morris was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and received his B.A. in Church Music at Susquehanna University, and his M.Div. from Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. Prior to his conversion to Orthodoxy, Fr. Joseph served a Lutheran parish in the inner city of Philadelphia, being in a missionary situation. There, he established a parochial school, ran summer day camps, educational programs, was active in various neighborhood organizations, and served in the Spanish language. He used his love for music to organize concerts and recital series for the parish.
After many years of searching and under the influence of an Orthodox priest who had converted from Lutheranism, Father Joseph was led to Orthodoxy in 1982. In preparation for ministry, he took a year of full-time course work at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in 1985-1986. He was ordained by Bishop Antoun of the Antiochian Archdiocese in 1986 and assigned to St. Luke’s in Garden Grove, California. The desire for a deeper spiritual life led him eventually to Archimandrite Roman Braga in the Romanian Episcopate, where he was received on August l, 1989, and assigned to help serve at the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Ellwood City. He received Monastic Tonsure in 1991 at the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Gregory Palamas in Perrysville, Ohio.
Fr. Joseph came to Holy Cross on September 1, 1994. He brought with him both pastoral and missionary experience, and a love for the life of prayer and the beauty of the Divine Services. His musical inclination led Fr. Joseph to revive an old Holy Cross tradition: the choir, which has continued to the present day. Another hallmark of his pastorate were daily services in the church which brought an added emphasis on prayer to parish life. Fr. Joseph also continued to hold regular education classes and instituted a series of guest lecturers, hosted at the church, and which subsequently led several people to Orthodoxy.
In preparation for the 90th Anniversary, a series of improvements to the church and property took place, such as adding a new roof on the church. The beautification of the interior of the church was completed under Fr. Joseph, the walls being painted its present rich blue, and through the work of Vasile Gheorgiu, several icons, a candelabra and other items were added. The candelabra was used first at the Vespers service of the 90th Anniversary celebration.
Fr. Joseph was transferred to Sts. Constantine & Elena Orthodox Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1997, where the parish thrived under his direction. He resigned from the parish in July 2006, leaving a healthy community with its own priest, to finally pursue his long-awaited desire of returning to monastery life at the St. Gregory Palamas Monastery.
Father Daniel Baeyens: 1998-1999
Father Daniel Baeyens, a native of Belgium, pastored the church for a short period in 1998-99. Fr. Daniel especially loved the Divine Services and created a beautiful chapel in the St. Nicholas rooms where he celebrated Vespers daily. He also continued to expand the choir’s repertoire and organized music for Holy Week. Fr. Daniel then moved to the Monastic Skete of St. Seraphim of Sarov in Rawdon, Quebec.
The Subu Family: 2000-2005
In the year 2000, the parish received a new priest: Father David Subu, who grew up in the Romanian Episcopate at the Sts. Peter & Paul parish in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. Fr. David and Preoteasa Stephanie were married in 1997, and after graduating from St. Tikhon’s Theological Seminary in 2000, he was ordained a priest by Archbishop Nathaniel shortly thereafter and given Holy Cross as his first parish assignment.
The parish grew with the Subu family and the Subu family grew with the parish. In January 2001, Fr. David and Psa. Stephanie baptized their first child, Stephen, who was the first clergy child born and baptized in the parish since Mariana Moldovan in 1937. During their tenure at Holy Cross, two more children would follow: Grace and Juliana.
With the young family came energy and a strong emphasis on children in the parish. Psa. Stephanie was in charge of the Sunday School, which became very large and active, developing its programs and also teaching. Fr. David arranged and conducted regular teen retreats, which attracted teens from neighboring parishes. He actively sought the participation of the youth in the parish, and under his guidance the local AROY chapter participated in numerous fund-raising and charitable activities. The Parents’ Association was reactivated and a beautiful playground was added to the grounds, an asset which is used (weather permitting) to the joy of the children and parents.
Also, with Fr. David came a renewed interest in learning the Faith: Catechesis, Bible Study, Book Club, and Inquirers’ courses were held; weekly worship programs printed; the bulletin mailed to the entire community and beyond; an emphasis was placed on pan-Orthodox events in the area and in the country, especially for young adults, such as Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF – campus ministry). Psa. Stephanie added to this emphasis on learning, herself being a convert to Orthodoxy. Several adult chrismations ensued, bringing new life and vibrancy to the community.
The Ladies Aid also was very active, hosting another one of the annual ARFORA conferences. Pumpkin rolls reached their highest production rate and values ever. The choir continued to expand its repertoire. Finally, the parish switched to a stewardship program which greatly improved finances and member support.
The parish remained very active and continued to grow under Fr. David and Psa. Stephanie. Fr. David’s last Sunday was December 31, 2005, after which he took up assignment as pastor of The Protection of the Mother of God parish in Falls Church, Virginia.
Father Calinic Berger, 2006-2015
Father Calinic Berger arrived on the Sunday of the Holy Cross, March 26, 2006. The grandson of Fr. Axente Moise, who served parishes of the Episcopate in the l960s, Fr. Calinic grew up in California where he finished high school and graduated from Santa Clara University with a degree in electrical engineering. Feeling called to serve the Church, he attended Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, graduating in 1994, and then earned his Ph.D. in Historical Theology from the Catholic University of America in 2003. He was tonsured by Archimandrite Roman Braga on August 5, 2005, and shortly thereafter ordained a deacon, serving at the Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan, until he was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Nathaniel on March 12, 2006, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, at St. George Cathedral in Southfield, Michigan.
Among other things during his pastorate, the community came together in preparation for the l00th Anniversary, making major improvements and repairs to the church property, including a complete refurbishing of the parish house, remodeling of the facilities in the social hall, repairs to the roof, and thanks to an anonymous donation of $20,000, the addition of air conditioning to the church itself. All of these activities were due solely to the selfless and tireless labors of parishioners laboring at their own time and expense, out of love for God and their church. Fr. Calinic also served as Spiritual Advisor of AROY, on the editorial staff of Solia and as instructor at the Episcopate’s summer camps. In February 2015, he returned to California to serve in the Antiochian Archdiocese.
The parish continues to support Episcopate-wide activities. Adela (Moldovan) Price served as National President of ARFORA, and Mary Sankey its Treasurer, while Marsha Klein served as Treasurer of the Episcopate.