Slovenian-Americans in Bethlehem in the US state of Pennsylvania probably had their last mass on Saturday in their church of St. Jožef, which was supposed to be finally closed due to lack of funds.
Slovenia was represented by a consul Marko Ranchigaj from Washington, and a Franciscan friar officiated Martin Chrysologus from New York, where his church of St. Cirila is also facing closure.
Winner of the Slovenian Order of Merit Stefan Antalics, who as always carried the Slovenian flag before the ceremony, with a broken voice recalled the times when their ancestors built the church with their own labor and money and furnished it with the help of parishes in Slovenia.
He argued for the continuation of the fight and reminded that they had “last” mass before the church was closed 15 years ago, but in 2012 with the help of a lawyer they won an appeal to the Vatican, although the victory was only partial.
The Archdiocese of Allentown tried to close the church 15 years ago, but the Vatican, after an appeal, decided otherwise and annulled the closure. The Archbishop of Allentown took this into account, but allowed the church to be open only for funerals and on the day of the patron saint of the church, St. Joseph.
The board of priests of the church of St. Jožef does not intend to give up and is looking for possibilities to preserve the building as a church, maybe also a museum or for some other purpose, and they plan to preserve at least the glass windows that were donated by compatriots from the former homeland when the church was built 110 years ago.
At the beginning of the year, the parish realized that it no longer had the funds to maintain the church and for the necessary renovation. She assured the committee of the Slovenian church that the offer to buy it at a favorable price – unofficially it is 170,000 dollars – is still valid.
The church was built by immigrants from Prekmurje
The church, which was built at the beginning of the 20th century with voluntary contributions and voluntary work by Slovenian immigrants from Prekmurje, has been in operation since 1914.
The only Slovenian Protestant or Evangelical Lutheran church in the USA also operates in Bethlehem, which is also for sale, but in this case the money from the sale remains with the religious community, which is merging with two Protestant ones to form a common church.
At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, immigrants, mainly from Central Europe, came to Bethlehem to work in the ironworks en masse. Among the Slovenes came especially the people of Prekmur.
Upon arrival, each ethnic community first set up its own church, which was the only place for social life in their language, traditions and customs.