SAINT MARY'S ORTHODOX CHURCH
Saint Mary's Orthodox Church was founded by immigrants coming from the Carpatho-Russian Mountain region of present-day Slovakia and the Czech Republic. These Carpatho-Russian faithful began settling in the Corning area around 1895-1900, coming mainly from the town of Stakcin in what was then Austria-Hungary. Like so many others, they emigrated to better themselves economically, as well as to avail themselves of the political freedoms enjoyed in the United States. Some took employment in the coal mines of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area before coming to Corning, where the car shops of the New York Central Railroad and Corning glass Works primarily offered many jobs opportunities. Typically, young men who landed jobs here would send for other members of their families and also encourage their friends to seek employent here, acting as recruiters for their respective employers.
Besides finding employment, one of the first tasks of these immigrants was to build a church in which they could worship and pass on their faith to their children. In 1895, the Byzantine Rite church of Saint Nicholas in Elmira Heights, now known as Saint Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, was built, and some people worshipped there. (Saint Nicholas considers itself the Mother church of parishes in Sayre, PA, Bath, and Elmira Heights, as well as Saint Mary's Orthodox Church in Corning.) Also, at that time, services were being held in Saint Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Corning, whenever a Greek Catholic priest from Binghamton was available to offer liturgy or perform the necessary baptisms, marriages, and funeral rites. The lives of these new immigrants centered around their beloved Eastern Rite Catholic faith and they surely missed the closeness of their own church.
1910 was a decisive year in the history of the parish, as numerous meetings were held to plan their own house of worship-a Greek Catholic church in Corning. The parishioners began to save money in earnest and made donations to fund the construction of the church, making sacrifices for this most worthwhile cause. In 1916, Saint Mary's congregation was incorporated as Saint Mary's Greek Catholic Austro-Hungarian Congregation. Two lots were purchased on the former Erie Avenue at a location central to members homes, and in 1916 the Corning Building Company poured the foundation and retaining wall to the rear. In 1917 the structure was built on the renamed Sunset Drive. Although priests were not always available, "obidnica" ( A liturgy without consecration and distribution of Holy Communion) was always celebrated by trained cantors as late as 1950. After working a twelve-hour day, the men of the church brought their picks and shovels to the site to dig into the side of the hill to make room for the basement and footers for the new edifice, which was home to the congregation for the next 100 years.
In 1918, a large bell weighing approximately 700 pounds, was purchased from the Meneely Bell Company in Troy, NY and hung from the belfry of the newly completed church. These names are inscribed along the rim of the bell: Vasily Bundza Kosty, Vasily Kapraly, Fedor Dzupinka, Simko Kapraly, Miklos Kucka, Michael Timko, Mike Demyan, Ihnat Telehanics, Peter Timko and Vasily Cjhavalcsak. The spelling of some of the names have changed through the years, but many of their descendants are still communicants of Saint Mary's church.
In 1926, Saint Mary's Orthodox Cemetery, just off Park Avenue, was purchased and consecrated by Bishop Takac.
The church hall was built in 1927-28 and the basement was excavated in1933-34 by the ever-willing hard workers of the parish.
The decade of the 1930's was a time of great change in Saint Mary's parish. The Church of Rome began to enforce celibacy and other "Latinizations" on the uniate Greek Catholic churches. "Uniate" refers to any community of Christians in Eastern Europe or the Near East that retains the liturgy, teachings and practices of Eastern Orthodoxy, yet acknowledges papal supremacy. Such was the case of Saint Mary's in Corning. The parish had been informed that married priests would no longer be permitted, which was contrary to the traditions of the people, and the parish protested in various ways.
There had always been a close link between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox people in Corning. A walk through the two adjoining Saint Mary's cemeteries shows the same family names on both sides of the road that divides the cemeteries. Many of the children of the parish had gone to the parochial school of nearby Saint Mary's Catholic church, and at least one practice of the Orthodox parish and the Roman Catholic parish remained the same for many years. First Holy Communion (sometimes called First Holy Confession) took place at about 7 years of age. Many infants and young children did not receive Holy Communion from the time of their baptism, as practiced in the Orthodox Church. When the split in the parish came, those people in the Orthodox parish who felt closer to the beliefs of the Roman Catholic church went there.
For a period of time in the 1930's a group from Saint Mary's Orthodox parish rented a church in Corning belonging to the German Evangelical church in Elmira. It appears this group hoped to gain enough support to establish a separate congregation that would be under the authority of the Byzantine Catholic church. From our vantage point of the many years that have passed since the events, we can only surmise what occurred, but at least one point is clear: in 1935, one group of Saint Mary's parishioners were holding services at 71 W. First Street in Corning, NY, at the same time that services were being held by the rest of the congregation at Saint Mary's Orthodox church on Sunset Drive.
Originally the West First Street building had been erected as an Episcopal church, at the corner of Walnut Street and Erie Avenue, which is now Denison Parkway. In 1899, after a fire that did a great deal of damage, the building was sold by the Episcopalians to the German Evangelical Church of Elmira. In 1908, that property was purchased for the construction of the post office, which stands on the site today. At that time, the original stone church was reduced in size and moved around the block to West First Street. This church building was rented by the German Evangelical church to several other congregations as well, until 1942 when it was taken over by the present Missouri Synod congregation, Faith Lutheran.
There is evidence that part of the congregation of Saint Mary's attended services in this church that they rented, while the remainder continued to attend Saint Mary's Orthodox church on Sunset Drive. In April, 1935 the baptismal certificate of Helen Kapral Coons was signed by Reverend Basil Stroyen, and the name of the church is given as Saints Peter and Paul, at West First Street. Also, it should be noted that a section of our Saint Mary's Cemetery is called Saints Peter and Paul.
In 2020, the oldest surviving member of Saint Mary's, Anna Chudanic, had a good memory of the details of those years. Her recollection of Father Stroyen was that he came from a Binghamton parish once a month to have liturgy for the group of Corning people who had separated themselves from the church on Sunset Drive and were attending the former Episcopal church that they were renting. Anna fell asleep in the Lord just 3 days after her 98th birthday in February, 2020.
By 1936 there was turmoil throughout the Greek Catholic Church regarding decrees of celibacy and Latinization, which had been imposed on parishes. After there was no response to repeated requests for repeals of the decrees, hundreds of delegates and priests gathered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at a Church Sobor/Council called by Father Orestes Chornock who was appointed administrator of the Diocese being formed on November 23,1937. The Sobor abrogated the 300-year old "Unia" and returned the Carpatho-Russian people to the ancestral Orthodox Faith. The clergy at this Sobor elected the Rt. Rev. Orestes P. Chornock as the Bishop-Nominee of the new Diocese.
The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople accepted the petition and received the Carpatho-Russian Church into Orthodoxy as a self-governing Diocese. On September 19, 1938, the Diocese was canonized by Patriarch Benjamin I, of thrice-blessed memory, in the name of "The Holy Orthodox Church in Christ" under Patriarchal Decree #1379. This was the first Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church since the infamous Papal Unia. It should be noted that Anna Chudanic said her mother, Mary Demyan, served as a representative at the 1938 convention at which Bishop Orestes was chosen to be the bishop.
As happened in other churches, such as Saint Michael's in Binghamton, the segment of the congregation that joined the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese was given possession of the church and property. Although most of the families returned to the church on Sunset Drive after the establishment of the new diocese, several families became members of the Russian Orthodox Church in Elmira.
With the formation of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese, the schism was final. The diocese and each individual parish have continued to recapture their ancestral Orthodox faith in all its fullness. This has been a process of becoming, rather than a simple declaration of faith.
In 1938 the parish purchased a home for its priests on Sunset Drive, along with building a church hall next to the church. Since their beginnings, the parish properties had gone through a variety of renovations. In 1963, renovation of all church properties was dedicated by His Grace, Bishop Orestes, beloved spiritual leader and Diocesan founder. At our patronal feast (Protection of the Mother of God) in 1971, new pews generously donated by parishioners were blessed by His Grace, Bishop John Martin. A number of beautiful stained-glass windows throughout the church were dedicated to family members of parishioners. Biblical scenes painted on canvas were affixed to the side walls of the church between the stained-glass windows, as well as the facing of the balcony. They were the work of Corning artist Walter Young. New Byzanitine-style icons were written by well-known Greek iconographer John Filippakis for the 75th jubilee of the parish in 1989 and blessed by His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas (Smisko).
With approach of the millennium, it was decided that the present rectory on Sunset Drive was too small for a priest and family, and a home was purchased on Chatfield Place in Painted Post, about 3 miles from the church. After much debate and sadness, the people of Saint Mary's parish began seriously to plan relocation of the church. The problems that prompted this decision included the lack of parking space, the 40 steps up from the street for an aging congregation, and the amount of work necessary to repair the erosion of 100 years to the buildings. After a search for a suitable location, the parish purchased a property on Canada Road in Painted Post, with a house already there to be used as a rectory and the church to be built beside it. The original church on Sunset Drive and the church hall next door were sold. His Grace, Bishop Gregory of Nyssa officiated at the ground-breaking ceremony on April 23, 2016, and building began.
During the months before it was possible for the congregation to have liturgies in the new building, once more the spirit of ecumenism was at work in the Corning area. Just as over 100 years ago, when our fledgling congregation held services in nearby Saint Mary's Roman Catholic Church, this church community offered us weekend use of Imacuate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church in Painted Post.
The first liturgy in our new home on Canada Road in Painted Post was November 5, 2017. On May 11, 2018 a traditional cupola and three-bar cross were added to the roof of the building. Over time, improvements have been made to the rectory, and church and rectory have been landscaped, with most of the work being done by the people of the parish. At the present time, services are held in the finished side of the building that will eventually be used as a hall, while work continues on the completion of the church itself on the other side of the building.
Today, the parish faithful of Saint Mary's continue to profess their Orthodox Faith in a manner consistent with what has been given over to them from the Orthodox Church's 2000-year history. The faithful celebrate in worship and live out the faith communicated to them by generations of Orthodox faithful. Saint Mary's honors its past and continues to ask God to bless its efforts in the present day. It welcomes all who are seeking faith in God in an often troubling and doubt-producing time. The heritage of our church reveals a firm and fervent Christian faith, and we invite you to visit us so that this faith in God might be yours as well.
SAINT MARY'S ORTHODOX CHURCH
Through the years, Saint Mary's parish became known as The Pirohi Church. The hard-working women and men of the parish, many after working a full shift at Corning Glass or other jobs, would trudge the 40 steps to the church for an evening of making pirohi. Purchased over time, the specialized machines made assembly-line production possible, and the sessions were another way for parishioners and priest to get together to speak their dialect, to joke and sing. The pirohi were a real treat in the community, with carloads being delivered to the various Corning factories. After many weekday holy days, those in attendance at liturgy would go directly over to the hall and begin work. Sometimes babies and pre-school children would occupy high-chairs and playpens while moms and dads worked on making the pirohi. In addition to making pirohi on a regular basis, the bakers of Saint Mary's were hard at work at Christmas and Easter, making specialty breads and cookies.
In time, these efforts had such a financial impact that the parish was able to undertake many projects that might not otherwise occurrred, and to begin to save toward the construction of a new church, when that project was undertaken.
During the Second World War, many sons of Saint Mary's parish served their country in all branches of the armed services. When "the boys" returned home at last, there was a gala celebration of Christmas in January, 1946 when the old tradition of caroling was revived. A newspaper article tells of the program that included the men's club, mixed chorus, and gayly-costumed "Bethlemci", which were only able to be revived because of the return of the veterans. That Christmas, the Corning Chamber of Commerce loaned a costume to the group, so one of the men could be "Santa Claus"-a first! The article also describes a family's Christmas supper, set in "old country" style, with straw spread over the floor and underneath the tablecloth to symbolize the manger where Christ was born. After dinner, caroling began, following which all would attend midnight liturgy.
Although sadly, this tradition has died with the passage of years, there are many other traditions that our parish still observes throughout the liturgical year, in keeping with the Slavic heritage of our founding fathers and mothers. Although Saint Mary's liturgical schedule follows the Julian calendar and celebrates the Nativity of Christ on January 7, it is still a family day, with people coming from distant places to be together in church. With Theophany, the feast on January 19 when we remember the Baptism of Christ, the blessing of homes throughout the parish begins, and at certain times of the liturgical year there are processions around the church. Since the original church on Sunset Drive was set on a very steep hillside, traveling the path around the church required the stamina of a mountain goat! On Palm Sunday, pussy willows and palms are blessed and distributed. At Pascha (Easter), there is the blessing of eggs ands special foods, with large baskets lining the tables in the hall. On the Sunday nearest Memorial Day, after liturgy, the families of those buried in our cemetery gather for the blessing of the graves of their loved ones. After liturgy on the Feast of Saint Elijah, at the beginning of vacation travel for Summer, the cars of parishioners are blessed. People on Sunset Drive used to be treated to the strange sight of dozens of cars with their hoods and trunk lids up, as the priest and altar servers made their way along the street blessing each car! At the beginning of the school year, or when a student leaves for college, or when a family is about to leave for travel, the priest blesses them as they stand in front of the tetrapod (center table) and prays for their safety and safe return.
These traditions strengthen our faith, and help to bind our people together as a parish family.
For many years, the annual parish picnic was the cause of traffic jams. One of the early venues for the picnic was at a Field and Stream Club in Hornby, north of the city of Corning, and later, the Field and Stream Club in Gang Mills. Participation was not limited to our parish. In fact, chartered buses traveled from as far away as Binghamton and Scranton for the day of eating, dancing, singing and re-connecting with family and friends scattered far and wide. For young people, it was the chance to meet that special someone that Mom and Dad insisted had to be Orthodox.
In the 1960's, the parish became know for " 'dancin' at the Greek". Young people throughout the area would come to the church on several Saturday nights a month for a "jam session". Sometimes, a trio of young men from the parish including Andrew Chudanic, Jr. on occasion provided the music, but more often the music was furnished through recordings. One of the parishioners, Metro Topichak, who owned a store, provided refreshments for the young people, with the proceeds going to the parish. The events were very successful and remembered for years afterwards.
Times change, and we live in a different world from our parents and grandparents, who founded our parish. In following their customs, we honor their memory. It is partly through our customs that our faith survives, and our parish family remains close. We may no longer be related by blood, as the founders of our parish were, but the church, it's liturgy and it's traditions strengthen us, as it did them.