A History Dating Back More Than 100 Years
St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church celebrated its 100th anniversary in May 2006. Now in its second "century" of existence, St. Nicholas continues to build on the principles and traditions established by our forebearers. Although our ancestors came to this land with few material goods, they brought with them a priceless gift – a vibrant faith in the Living God expressed vividly in the rich tradition of Serbian Orthodox Christianity.
Bozo Gojsovic, organizer of St. Nicholas Parish, came to Johnstown in 1889 and through his influence a nucleus of about 500 emigres from the present Kordun region of Yugoslavia settled here. On Dec. 24, 1905, Mr. Gojsovich assembled this group to discuss plans to build a Serbian Orthodox Church in order to preserve the Faith of Orthodoxy for our Serbian progeny.
A Solid Foundation
The cornerstone was laid in May 1906, consecrated on June 17 of that year and the church was dedicated in November 1906. The church occupied two lots at 907 and 909 Broad Street in the Cambria City section of Johnstown. The lots were donated by Bozo Gojsovich. This was the first of seven Orthodox churches that eventually were built in the Johnstown area. Bozo Gojsovic was unanimously elected president and served until his death in 1908.
The first executive board included Milan Glumcich, secretary; Janko Karmarkovich, treasurer; Simo Vuicich, auditing board. A fund-raising committee included: Petar Piljay, Dragich Kekich, Rafailo Goisovich, Marko Zavisic and Marko Peuracha in Cambria City; Nikola Martinovich and Djuro Majstorovich in Conemaugh-Franklin Borough. The church continued to prosper and grow.
Priests serving the parish were: The Very Rev. John Krajnovich (1906-43); Father Dositej Obradovich (1943-45); the Very Rev. George Popovich (1945-46), who reluctantly retired early due to poor health; the Very Rev. Milan Popovich of McKeesport, Pa. served as administrator (1946-47), with the Very Rev. Petar Hajdukovich of St. Petka Church in Woodvale and the Very Rev. John Fedak of St. John's Russian Orthodox Church in Conemaugh serving when needed; the Very Rev. Dimitrije Balach (1947-51); the Rev. Velimir P. Kovacevich (1951-54); the Very Rev. Radisa Purich (1955-77); the Very Rev. Nedeljko Grgurevich (1977-2005); the Very Rev. Adam Yonitch (2005-06); the Very Rev. Dejan Obradovic (Nov. 1, 2006-May 16, 2010); and Rev. Milos Markovic (May 2010 to present).
Archimandrite Nicholas R. Smisko of the Monastery of the Annunciation, Tuxedo Park, N.Y., (now Metropolitan Nicholas) served the St. Nicholas parish in all emergencies during his tenure at Christ the Saviour Seminary, Johnstown.
Although early records were lost during the 1936 Johnstown Flood, the following people are believed to have served as president following Mr. Gojsovich: Rade Musulin; Dragich Kekich; Milic Spanovich; Nikola Banda; Janko Vukobratovich; Eli Velemirovich; Marko Peuracha; Miles Mirkovich; Steve Goisovich; Milan Spanovich; Marko Vuletic; Milos Tumbas; George Svilar; Teddy Pekich; Sylvester Saula; Michael E. Raich; Milan Svitchan; Richard Uzelac; Eli Cvijanovich; and John Russin. Eli Cvijanovich currently serves as president.
In 1935, a series of events happened following the assassination of King Alexander of Yugoslavia. In July, two separate groups of women met and each formed a Kolo Srpskih Sestara, setting in motion the beginning of two church congregations in Johnstown. On September 22, 1935, a group of people met in the Slovenian Hall in Conemaugh and organized St. Petka Serbian Orthodox Church.
Michael Zdelar was the first church president and Mila Gojsovich was the first treasurer. A building in Woodvale was purchased from the Syrian Orthodox Church. Priests who served St. Petka Church were: Archimandrite Peter Zaychenko (1937-38); the Very Rev. Phillip Sredanovich (1938-47); the Very Rev. Petar Hajdukovich (1947-49); the Very Rev. Krsto Roganovich (1949-57); the Rev. Dragoslav Kaserich (1957-60); the Very Rev. Nikola Sekulich (1960-71); the Rev. George Kecanin (1971-75); the Very Rev. Miloje Raicevic (1975-77); Hieromonk Nikodim Pribojan (1978-80); the Rev. George Yatsko (1981-82); and the Rev. Miroslav Markovich (1983-84).
The Very Rev. Nedeljko Grgurevich served several times as administrator of St. Petka parish.
Growth and Expansion
As the faithful membership increased at St. Nicholas in the first 50 years, the need for a larger church became evident. On Oct. 18, 1964, the new church was dedicated and consecrated on 2 ½ acres of land on St. Clair Road and Stanford Avenue at a cost of $300,000.
Prominent leadership during the time was provided by Proto Purich, Milan Spanovich, Michael Raich and Milan Svitchan. Although many others were instrumental in helping with different phases of the work, these men provided the sums of money to purchase various sacramental and liturgical vessels and articles for the new church.
The final Divine Liturgy in the old red brick and sandstone church in Cambria City was celebrated on Oct. 13, 1963.
The unification of St. Nicholas and St. Petka church congregations had long been a goal of many people in both parishes. A first attempt in 1961 failed. But in 1982, serious discussions on unification began with the establishment of committees representing both churches. This effort also failed.
Then, in June 1984 discussions on unification resumed and the process was completed in 1985. On this historic occasion, the Very Rev. Dr. Nedeljko Grgurevich, pastor, rejoiced: "Johnstown has long been faced with a serious decline in population and growing economic distress. The unification is viewed by all as a blessing which assures the continued growth and vitality of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the Johnstown church community." (Quote from a 2002 Tribune-Democrat article)
Since the two churches became one, many good works have continued. Some members have joined all church organizations and all members and organizations are working hand in hand. The congregation has assisted in the rebuilding of Shadeland. St. Nicholas Church has sent many boxes of clothing and other supplies to our needy people in Yugoslavia while also supporting the building of St. Sava Cathedral in Belgrade, the orphans in Yugoslavia, and the Serbian Church Relief Fund.
The parish has supported the work of other Orthodox projects at home, the St. Sava School of Theology in Libertyville, Ill., the Monastery "Marcha" in Richfield, Ohio, and has contributed to the rebuilding of the Hilander Monastery on Mount Athos in Greece.
Our Venerable Clergy
The Very Rev. John R. Krajnovich
The Very Rev. Krajnovich was born in Vrebac Lika, Yugoslavia and attended school there. He came to St. Nicholas Church in October 1906 and served for 37 years until his death on Feb. 7, 1943 at age 62.
A tireless worker for the Orthodox religion, he served on the Bishop's Council of the Judicial Branch as a member of the Diocese. During World War I he reflected his patriotic zeal by organizing a group of volunteers who fought for the Allies in Serbia. He was also very active in the promotion of the Fraternal Lodge of the Serb National Federation.
The Very Rev. Father Abbot Dimitrije D. Balach, D.D
The Very Rev. Balach was born in Staro Selo, Petrinja, Yugoslavia. He first came to Libertyville, Ill., and eventually landed in Johnstown, where he served as pastor from April 1, 1947 to December 1951.
In addition to his pastoral duties, he served as Spiritual Adviser of the Serbian Orthodox Church Youth Clubs of the United States and Canada. He was a member of the Diocesan Board of Education, director of the St. Sava Children's Summer Recreation Camp and president of the Association of Orthodox Priests of Johnstown. A Serbian Orthodox Youth Club was organized locally by Father Balach and existed during his stay here.
The Rev. Velimir P. Kovacevich (now Metropolitan Christopher)
The Rev. Kovacevich was ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 2, 1951 at St. Nicholas Church in Cambria City and served the parish from 1951 to May 1954.
Father Chris, as he was known to all, was the ninth of 12 children of the late Petar and Rista Kovacevich of Galveston, Texas. He and his wife Mildred (Raicevich) had four children: Peter, Paul, Valerie and Velimir. Protinica Kovacevich died in 1970. The Metropolitan is remembered for his untiring zeal in establishing a Sunday School and bringing families back to the church.
The Very Rev. Radisa Purich
The Very Rev. Purich served the parish from May 6, 1954 to Sept. 1, 1977. As reported in The Tribune-Democrat on July 16, 1977 he was an “immigrant, former Detroit autoworker, veteran of the Yugoslavia underground, once displaced person, writer and editor, ecclesiastical jurist, husband, father and fervent gardener.”
He was separated from his family – wife Saveta (Josipovich), daughter Olga and son Steve – for 12 years and served eight months in woods infested by communists and Nazi sympathizers during World War II. All these experiences made the man and molded the priest.
Father Purich came to the United States in 1950 and became a U.S. Citizen in 1956. He was elevated to proto-presbyter in 1956, and in 1965 received the pectoral cross, the highest recognition given to the priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Father Purich also served the diocese at various times as the bishop's deputy, dean of Washington deanery, member of the Diocesan Ecclesiastical Court, member of the Diocesan Council and editor of the Serbian Church newspaper, Path of Orthodoxy.
Proto Purich is recognized especially for his foresight and work in planning and building the “new” church on St. Clair Road. He provided leadership and guidance as well as on-the-spot advice, making a point of being on the work site each day. He took pride in knowing he was working with a group of people determined to have a beautiful and very spiritual church. Proto Purich is credited with seeing needs which brought about the organization of both the Men's Club (to help various projects) and the Mother's Club (to help with Sunday School events).
Proto Purich was also blessed with three cherished grandchildren: Todd, Nate and Lyn. Proto Purich died in September 1987. Protinica Purich died in 2004 and daughter Olga passed away in 1996.
The Very Rev. Dr. Nedeljko Grgurevich
The Very Rev. Dr. Grgurevich served the parish from 1977 through May 31, 2005. He was born in Foca, Yugoslavia, trained in theology in Belgrade and Vienna, Austria, and received his PhD. In Belgrade. He taught at the seminary there until 1969 when he left his homeland for America.
He and his wife, the former Dubravka Kukich, whom he married in 1963, had two sons: Svetozar, born in Yugoslavia, and Stefan, born in Cleveland, Ohio. The family includes Svetozar's wife, Mary as well as grandsons Luka (namesake of Proto's grandfather), Marko and granddaughter Maya.
Before coming to Johnstown, Father Ned served two years as diocesan secretary and served churches in Steubenville, Ohio, and Elizabeth, N.J. Proto Grgurevich's service to St. Nicholas Church was the longest and most complete period in his priestly career. He followed the commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (St. Mark 12:30) and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (St. Mark 12:31). With this dedication, among many accomplishments in this parish, he had an important role in reunifying the people of St. Nicholas and St. Petka Serbian Orthodox churches in Johnstown.
Father Ned was the first dean of St. Sava School of Theology in Libertyville, Ill. He has written and published three books relating to church history/theology as well as other works. He was a humble, yet accomplished man. In 1989 he received the Pectoral Cross, the highest recognition given to the priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Father Ned served as Episcopal Deputy of the Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Eastern America, was a member of the Central Church Council and the Orthodox Theological Society of America, and a faculty member of St. Sava School of Theology. Sadly, Father Ned passed away on July 23, 2009.
The Very Rev. Adam Yonitch Jr.
The Very Rev. Yonitch was born April 27, 1951 in Latrobe, the son of Adam and Irene (Bilky) Yonitch. The oldest of two children, he has a sister, Joanne (Yonitch) Keating. Proto-Presbyter Yonitch received his Master of Science in Religious Education from St. Tikhon's Russian Orthodox Theological Seminary and Marywood University.
He has three decades experience as a parish priest and 22 years in military service as the First American-Serb Orthodox Chaplain in the United States Air Force.
Father Adam has served parishes in Charmichaels (St. George 1976-85) and reservist at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. His active duty in the Air Force (1985-95) included time spent at Offutt AFB in Omaha, Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas, and Ramstein AFB in Germany. He concluded his military service as a reservist, serving at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, from 1995-2002 and F.E. Warren AFB in Cheyenne, Wyoming from 2002-04. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Rev. Yonitch was ordained by the late Rt. Rev. Dr. Sava (Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Eastern America) to the Holy Deaconate on June 20, 1976 at Cleveland's Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava, and to Holy Priesthood on June 27, 1976 at his home parish of Holy Ascension Serbian Orthodox Church in Youngwood. Father Adam married Roberta (Bazala) on May 8, 1976. They are the parents of two children, fraternal twins Damian and Mira.
The Rev. Dejan Obradovic
The Very Rev. Obradovic served as pastor in St. Nicholas Church from November 1, 2006 to May 16, 2010. He was born in Kragujevac, Serbia. Father Dejan attended elementary school “OS 21 oktobar” for eight years. He then was educated in the Kragujevac, Seminary School “St. Kirilo and Methodius” from 1986 to 1991 in Priren, and he attended the School of Theology “St. Sava” in Libertyville, Ill, in 1997.
Father Dejan married Marija nee Domanovic in 1998 in Kragujevac Serbia. That same year Father Dejan was ordained by the late Rt. Rev. Dr. Bishop Sava of Sumadija on November 21, 1998.
Before coming to Johnstown Father Dejan served one year in Kragujevac-Serbia from January 1, 1999 until January 1, 2000. He was appointed as a parish priest in St. George Church in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, until November 1, 2006 at which time he came to Johnstown.
Bishop Mitrophan promoted The Rev. Obradovic to Protonamesnik on April 5, 2009.
At St. Nicholas, Father Dejan had been involved with the Sunday School Program and has held Adult Education classes to teach the traditions of the Serbian Orthodox religon. He is skilled in Iconography and has painted many beautiful icons.