Coaldale Fest Salutes Slovak Traditions

Ss. Cyril And Methodius Catholic Church Party Brings Parish Together.

September 02, 1997|by CHRISTINA M. PARKER (A free-lance story for The Morning Call).

If the savory fragrance of onions simmering in butter didn't draw folks to the Ss. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church festival this weekend, it was surely the laughter of children vying for a chance to win a stuffed animal or the toe-tapping rhythms of the Villagers Orchestra.

Chances are it was the homemade Slovak foods, the blinis fried to a crisp golden brown, the tender pierogie smothered under a blanket of buttery, golden brown onions or the halushki, a rich mixture of noodles, cabbage and onions, that enticed crowds to the Coaldale church festival.

"We started cooking two months ago, making homemade pierogie," said Maggie Petritsch. "Last year, we went through 475 dozen. We also made 1,800 halupki on Thursday."

And the recipes? "They've been passed down, dear, from generation to generation," Petritsch said with a smile.

She headed back to the church kitchen, where several women were gathered around a large square table, putting together roast beef dinners, assembly-line style.

Julia Balish, 79, spooning mounds of mashed potatoes onto platters, said that although her specialty is pierogie, she "just likes to work in the kitchen, no matter what it is."

Mary Rajnic, 80, took a short break from her cooking duties to chat with visitors. "I like being around people and I like to cook. It's fun," she said.

The hard but willing kitchen work was appreciated.

Ann Thomas of Tamaqua brought her children Jessica, 18 months, and Diana, 8, to the festival.

Diana's favorite part of the event was the games. "I won a Coke," she said proudly.

Jessica didn't say much, but her wide eyes and happy smile spoke volumes.

Ann Thomas savored the ethnic specialties.

"I love it. I come over every year for the food," she said. "My favorites are the blinis and the pierogie and the halushki."

The Rev. Frank Baransky said the festival, in its 24th year, brings people together.

"It's always the last festival of the summer. People come from the city to visit their families, so we try to make it sort of a family thing," the parish priest said.

Sexton Joe Derzack showed visitors the church. The interior is illuminated by tall, intricate stained glass windows, striking in their rich hues and fine detail.

The windows, portraying scenes from the life of Christ and the saints, Derzack said, were made by the Frederick Meyer Studio in Innsbruck, Austria.

In 1924, the windows cost a total of $9,346. "Today, they are priceless," Derzack said.

Two of the windows, above the altar, depict Ss. Cyril and Methodius. The saints were Greek monks who traveled throughout Slovakia spreading the Gospel in the 9th century.

Their respect for Slavic culture in turn earned them the respect of the people.

Slovakian immigrants founded the Ss. Cyril and Methodius church, at the corner of 3rd and Ruddle streets, in 1920.

The pride of ethnic heritage continues today. At least one festival-goer sported a T-shirt emblazoned with "Slovak & Proud."

For three young Slovakian men, the festival capped the excitement of a summer visit to America.

Seminarians Marek Forgac and Rado Jendrejcak said they were especially impressed by two American features:

"Nice people," Forgac said.

"And ice cream," Jendrejcak added.

Milan Kobac, a dental student who met Derzack in Slovakia some years ago, said he likes the people. "They are very generous," he said.

The three manned the festival soda stand.

Proceeds from the festival help support the church, a struggling 250-family parish.

"A lot of our people are elderly and a lot of the young people have moved away," Baransky said. "This sort of supplements our income. It's hard to keep a parish going when you have just a limited number of people."