Celebrating 100 Years of a Faith-Filled Community Serving God

As the number of Polish speaking people in Buttonwood and Korn Krest began to grow, so did the desire to have a parish of their own. Without the transportation, we have become accustomed to today, travel to other parishes was a hardship, and the practice of their faith was primary in their lives.

Taking this into consideration, several of them met and decided it was time to take steps to organize a parish. Rose DeMorat, one of our original members, was given the task of naming the parish. Rose, a deeply spiritual woman, previously lived in Poland and attended the church Podwyższenia Krzyża Świętego located in the village of Goworowo in the Ostrołęka diocese. In English, the name of Rose’s prior church translates to “The Exaltation of the Holy Cross,” and she decided that this was to be the name of the new parish.

On October 3, 1917, the first formal meeting for the new parish was held with a roster of 57 families. Rose and her sister, Frances Rominski, helped to gather the families together for the first committee meeting. Officers elected that day were: President, Anthony Kapuscinski; Secretary, Peter Stefanowicz; and Treasurer, John Urbanski. At this meeting, they discussed the strategy for establishing the parish as well as plans for the eventual construction of a church, rectory, school, and convent.

The first Mass for the parish was celebrated by Father Francis Dominiak at the Buttonwood School and continued to be celebrated there until March 1, 1918, at which time they were moved to a hall owned by Thomas Grondzik in Korn Krest.

The Bishop continued to send priests to celebrate Mass. When the number of people became considerable, the committee set out to meet with Father Drier that he might help them purchase or obtain a piece of land from the coal company to build their church. Father Drier willingly consented to this request, and the new parish of The Exaltation of the Holy Cross received an acre of land free from the Lehigh and WilkesBarre Coal Company.

Being in possession of the land, the committee requested a meeting with Bishop Michael Hoban to ask him to appoint a permanent Pastor. He granted that request with the appointment of Father Edmund Zawadzki as Pastor.

Now, having the land and a Pastor, the parishioners began the building of a church. The building of the frame structure was completed in February 1919 and on April 20, Father Zawadzki celebrated the first Mass in the new church. On July 25, 1920, Bishop Hoban arrived for the ceremony of the dedication of the new church.

After this memorable event, the parishioners began building the rectory on September 5, 1920. The first priest to live in the new rectory was Father Domasiewicz. In 1921, the parish purchased five acres of land for a cemetery in West Nanticoke during the Pastorate of Father Emil Sikorski.

The simple church was remodeled in 1938 with a new sanctuary, sacristy, heating system, electrical improvements, new paint, and a “bricktex” siding, popular at the time, on the exterior of the building. The balance debt of $4,850 was paid to the Plymouth National Bank on June 13, 1939.

Parish life went along well until the morning of December 27, 1946 when at about 3:00 a.m. smoke was noticed coming from the building by Miss Ann Clark passing by on the way home from a holiday party. The church, built with the financial sacrifices and personal manual labor of struggling coal miners, was destroyed. Despite the valiant efforts of the Hanover Green fire fighters assisted by fire companies from all of Hanover Township, the destruction was complete, since the metal ceiling of the church forced the flames downward, charring everything on the interior of the church. One of the brave firefighters risked danger by entering the burning church to remove Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Grateful the flaming embers did not ignite the rectory, the parishioners refused to accept defeat. Realizing that the basement was intact, they went about patching what was left of the floor and covered it with tar paper to make a roof over the basement, which then became their church, where they could still gather for Mass.

By May 1947, under the leadership of Father Casimir Wydra, excavation began for a new church, designed by local architect Michael Bochnik. The edifice was dedicated on September 19, 1947 by Bishop William J. Hafey. At the time, it was the most modern church in the Wyoming Valley. Built at a cost of $110,000, it boasted a cooling and hot air heating system, a sound system, new statuary, rubber floor and electric organ, with beautiful paintings in the Sanctuary. The stained glass windows were designed by the Baut Studios and include scenes of the discovery of the cross of Christ by St. Helen, the Emperor Constantine, her son, scenes from the life of Christ, the setting up of the bronze serpent by Moses in the desert, one of the Scriptural Readings for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and a magnificent crucifix window in the choir loft at the front of the church. The debt was paid off by 1963 through the ‘March of Quarters’ campaign.

On September 30, 1968, Father Wydra died, and was replaced by Father Albert M. Kaczmarek. This was the era of the exciting renewal of the church life and liturgy with the implementation of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, one of only twenty such councils held since the gathering of the Apostles in Jerusalem. The implementation of the Council’s Documents and the Diocesan directives based on them became the first challenge of Father Kaczmarek. The church was renovated to accommodate the proper celebration of the renewed Liturgy. New marble altars, pulpit and baptismal font were installed and the church redecorated. This renovation was celebrated with great joy on November 27, 1977, the 60th anniversary year of the founding of the parish.

Mounds of useless rock behind the church were removed to create a parking lot, which then became the site of the parish bazaars, previously held in Ellis’ Market parking lot across the street. With the strenuous manual labor of parishioners, emulating the founders, men of the parish built bazaar stands, a pavilion and an outdoor kitchen.

Under the wise and careful administration of Father Kaczmarek, the bequest of Father Wydra, fundraising activities and parish collections were expertly managed to create a treasury which would not only fund improvements being made but secure the future financial health of the parish.

December 18, 1986 became one of the saddest days in the life of the parish with the death of Father Kaczmarek, who had endeared himself to the parish with his sincere, jovial and friendly manner and deep pastoral concern for his parishioners, all of them known to him by name.

In January 1987, Father Joseph Papka was named Pastor. He began to lead the parish in making further improvements to the church, with its handicap ramp and new equipment in the church kitchen. Most memorably, he undertook the task of the much needed replacement of the old rectory. With the approval of Bishop Timlin and the Diocesan Building Commission, plans were drawn up, contracts signed, the rectory razed and excavation for the new rectory began. On January 15, 1989, the parish was shocked to learn of the sudden death of Father Papka from complications arising as a result of injuries received in an automobile accident the week before.

In February 1989, just in time for Lent, Father James McGahagan arrived as temporary Administrator of the parish, and was named Pastor in July of that year.

Work on the rectory continued according to the original plans and was occupied on December 19, 1989. At the celebration of the Parish Feast Day on September 16, 1990, parishioners were invited to an Open House to tour the newly furnished and decorated rectory, with the Presidents of the Christian Mothers, Ladies Guild and Men’s Club acting as hosts and greeters.

Later a three-car garage was built so that it could serve not only as a garage but as an additional bazaar and storage building.

On June 10, 1990, a new three manual Allen Electronic Organ was dedicated to the memory of all the Bazaar workers at a memorable concert. Liturgical functions are now enhanced by the digitally sampled sounds of actual organ pipes reproduced through speakers in the front of the church. It can also reproduce the sounds of bells, chimes, and orchestral instruments, and it can interface with other electronic instruments, such as the electronic piano added at a later date.

On September 13, 1992, the parish celebrated its Diamond Jubilee, with a Mass of Thanksgiving and a Jubilee Banquet at the Woodlands. In attendance was Father Andrew Bocianski who had been Pastor of the parish sixty years earlier. Auxiliary Bishop Francis DiLorenzo was the main celebrant of the Mass, and speakers at the dinner included Father Carl Prushinski and Father Gerald Blaszczak, SJ, both former members of the parish.

In the early morning hours after the bazaar of 1993, the parish was again struck by fire, as the outdoor kitchen building was destroyed in a propane gas explosion. Volunteers arriving to clean up that Monday morning were shocked to see the kitchen in ruins, with all its equipment destroyed, but they were grateful that the expert and arduous work of the Hanover Township fire fighters had prevented its spread to the nearby buildings.

Because of the replacement cost provisions of the Diocesan Self-Insurance program, the parish was able to rebuild the kitchen on an even larger scale. It was furnished with restaurant equipment making it possible to prepare and serve large quantities of food quickly, after the style of a fast food restaurant. It is now one of the finest outdoor kitchens anywhere.

The parish hall was remodeled with new walls, refurbished restrooms, windows, dual lighting system, hot air heat and air conditioning. With funds from the Christian Mothers and Ladies Guild, the kitchen was remodeled extensively.

The church driveway was reconstructed to accommodate two lanes of traffic, making it safer and more efficient. Parish property was extended by the purchase of two acres of land on the Sans Souci Parkway to serve as additional parking for large parish events, and the paved area of the upper parking lot has been extended.

In preparation for the implementation of the Diocesan initiative entitled ‘Call to Holiness and Mission’ in 2008, Father McGahagan was assigned to St. Boniface and St. Patrick’s parishes, which later became St. Andrew’s Parish. He retired in 2017 from St. Andrew’s, and many of our parishioners were in attendance at his celebratory retirement mass. Father McGahagan was known for his hands-on, pastoral approach, and he contributed greatly to many aspects of the life of our parish, one of which was the expansion and growth of our bazaar. He formed lifelong bonds with many parishioners during his time here.

In July 2008, Rev. Paul Lourdraj Pudhota (Father Raj) became administrator. Father Raj was known for his great spirituality, with one of his contributions being the start of a Bible group. He was also responsible for our new parish sign on the Sans Souci Highway and the Holy Spirit painting in our church. Also, many may remember the very special Palm Sunday mass in which Father Raj rode a live donkey during the procession, marking the start of a faith-filled Holy Week.

The year 2009 brought further changes to our faith community. Several church closures and mergers were implemented throughout the Diocese during this time. In the beginning of 2009, it was announced that our parish would become linked with the nearby St. Aloysius Church, which later became St. Robert Bellarmine Parish. The linkage was implemented in July 2009. Also, in July 2009, Father Raj departed our parish and was followed by Father Andrew Sinnott. Father Sinnott was given the task of moving forward with the implementation of the Diocesan vision for the linkage. With the help of Father Sinnott, the Saint Ann’s statue and tabernacle were given to us from the recently closed St. Casimir’s Church in Lyndwood.

In July 2011, Father Kevin Mulhern became pastor. Father Mulhern continued to move forward with the implementation of the linkage between our parish and St. Robert Bellarmine. Under his leadership, the St. Ann’s statue was dedicated on May 30, 2012, and the tabernacle from St. Casimir’s was refurbished and dedicated on November 20, 2016 as part of the 100th Anniversary celebration.

In addition, Father Mulhern oversaw a number of renovations made to the parish during the end of 2014 in preparation for our 100th anniversary year, including new carpeting and painting in the church, and the addition of the images of two angels in the back of the church by the choir loft. Father Mulhern was also very supportive of the many organizations and ministries in our parish, enabling them to grow and continue in their endeavors. Father Mulhern was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, and thankfully, through successful medical treatment and by the grace of God, he is presently in remission. When Father Mulhern went on medical leave in 2016, Father Richard Cirba filled in as administrator in his absence. Then, the following year, in June 2017, when Father Mulhern was assigned to St. Jude’s Parish, we welcomed back Father Cirba as our current pastor.

Over the past decade, there have been several assistant pastors and senior priests who have contributed to the ongoing growth of our parish: Father Wilfredo Comellas, Father Vincent Dang, Father John Gali, Father Anthony Generose, Father Joseph Kumar, Father Arbogaste Satoun, and Father Maria Suvari Thumma. In addition, our current pastor, Father Richard Cirba, previously assisted at our parish, and as a result, he gained a great affection for our church community prior to becoming our pastor. His warmth and deep spirituality is loved and appreciated by many.

Parish life today includes many societies and ministries serving the spiritual and material needs of the church family. One such organization is the Our Lady of Częstochowa Society, formed when the Christian Mothers and the Ladies Guild joined forces on October 14, 2011 under the direction of Father Andrew Sinnott. The club continues the traditions they inherited both financially and spiritually in building up God's Kingdom in our parish. They participate in the rosary in May and October, and they supported charitable works such as St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen with a yearly donation as well as our Youth Ministry's activities with generous donations. The bench at the St Ann's statue was given by them, and they have donated to many church projects as well asthe Diocesan Annual Appeal. They were responsible for the renovation of the kitchen and upgrading of appliances under Father McGahagan. In addition, the Club gave a generous donation for the recent church renovations, and they have coordinated many socials for church events. Monies raised have been through fundraising efforts such as pierogi making, an annual bingo, and lottery ticket sales. The ladies are a large part of making ethnic foods for our annual bazaar.

The Holy Cross Men’s Club has grown in the past several years to become one of the largest such parish societies in the area. Fundraising events by our Men’s Club include the Tailgate Party, Night at the Races, Big Tent Dance, and a chicken barbeque. With these and other fundraisers, the Club has funded and personally worked on many projects for our church. Projects included the building of canopies over two of the church entrances, replacing the roof on the church, replacing the sound system, putting new windows in the sacristy, and constructing risers in the choir loft. They also enlarged the parking lot, constructed a modern restroom building, and made many other improvements to the bazaar grounds. Each year, the parish bazaar sees countless parishioners and other people in the community and is a most valuable source of income for continually rising expenses. In addition to fundraising and renovations, the Men’s Club contributes to the spiritual and social life of our parish in various ways. The Men’s Club has participated in the Rosary in May and October, and they have delivered poinsettia to the church as well as holiday gifts to homebound parishioners at Christmas. They present the Thomas Tryba Service Award to a graduating high school senior, and they hold a breakfast in June for the graduates. The Club also holds periodic communion masses and breakfasts as well as other social gatherings.

The youth ministry, which was started in 1989 by Diane Bogarowski, contributes greatly to the life of the church and the community. In the spring of 2014, the youth ministry celebrated their 25th Anniversary, with a Mass celebrated on May 21, 2014 by Bishop Joseph Bambera. A plaque in memory of two former youth group members, Donnelle Baumer and Jaclyn Mazur, was blessed by Bishop Bambera during the mass. Also, a prayer garden in the land adjacent to the rectory was dedicated to their memory. Over the past 28 years, youth ministry members have participated in various spiritual, charitable and social activities. Some of the activities include participation in Youth Family masses, visits to area nursing homes, the annual Cookie Walk, the March for Life, the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC), and Diocesan retreats such as ISLI and Up and Over. On a global scale, representatives have attended World Youth Day on two occasions. In 2002, three youth ministry members, Amanda Alberola, Jessica Hudak, and Jaclyn Mazur attended World Youth Day in Canada and attended mass with Pope John Paul II. Then, in 2016, the current youth ministry director, Dominick Costantino, Jr., and youth ministry assistant, Christine Skiro, attended World Youth Day in Poland and attended mass with Pope Francis. Additionally, one of the recent contributions by the youth ministry to parish life is monthly evening Eucharistic adoration, which began in September 2016 and is held throughout the fall, winter and spring. The evening consists of both silent adoration and adoration with praise and worship music and is followed by a social.

The Soup for the Souls committee was formed in 2010 with the goal of raising funds to keep our cemetery maintained. Fundraisers held by the committee include monthly soup sales, book sales, wine and cheese gatherings, the Victorian Christmas Tea, and the Arts, Antiques, and Craft Festival. Also, each Lenten season, the Soup for the Souls Committee holds Gorzkie Żale, which is a 300-year-old traditional Polish devotional service. The service is then followed by a traditional Polish dinner and social. This event draws parishioners and many individuals from surrounding regions each year, some of whom travel quite a distance to attend.

Numerous other aspects of parish life are enhanced by various groups and ministries. The Parish Pastoral Council is an integral part of pastoral planning for the future. The Parish Finance Council meets to advise on financial matters. The Parish Liturgy Committee meets regularly to help plan celebrations of the Liturgical Seasons, Solemnities and Feasts. Thanks to the gifts and talents of a small group of dedicated individuals, our church is always beautifully decorated throughout the year. The Senior, Teen, and Youth Choirs further enhance Liturgical celebrations, all choirs having grown tremendously in recent years. The teachers who dedicate their time to the religious education program have enhanced the faith development of future generations within our parish community. The RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) Team has helped many people to embrace the Catholic Faith through the continuing faith development of those baptized in other church traditions or those preparing for baptism as adults. Other liturgical ministries are provided by the parish such as Lectors, Cantors, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Altar Servers, Adult Funeral Mass Servers, and Ushers. Our church also has a Parish Prayer Circle which consists of parishioners committed to praying daily for specific intentions when requests are made through the parish office. Also, a Bereavement Committee began in 2011 and consists of individuals dedicated to helping those who have recently lost loved ones. The committee holds a Mass of Remembrance each November in memory of all who have passed away the year prior. Overall, the variety of groups and ministries that currently make up our parish has led to the ongoing growth of our church, including the growth of new young families.

We look back with deep gratitude today as we reflect on the dedication and hard work of those original 57 families wishing to provide themselves with a parish where their language and customs could be kept alive along with their cherished Catholic faith. The ethnic foods at our bazaars and the pierogi making today are vestiges of the heritage of those courageous, generous and self-sacrificing people who began this parish. Barely able to eke out a living in the mines, they went beyond what could be expected in order to begin for us a parish where we now live and celebrate our faith. We pray that the souls of those great and dedicated people may rest in peace from their fruitful labors. We also thank the countless other individuals of all cultural backgrounds who have kept our parish alive and growing throughout the century. While many changes have occurred over the years, with devoted people and through the grace of God, we are thankful that our church has been able to continue to grow in faith and to serve our community and world.

With today’s celebration, we look back gratefully and with admiration, we look around us with gratitude for the faithful and dedicated people who make up the parish today, and we look forward to the future years ahead. We give thanks to God for guiding us through the past 100 years, and we ask for God’s blessings and guidance for our church, our community, and our world, as we move forwardto the second century of our existence.