Holy Assumption (of Saint Mary) Orthodox Church - Central City, PA
The history of St. Mary’s goes back to 1917. Many Slavic immigrants made their way to America, finding work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. Situated in the Laurel Highlands, and within the bituminous coal fields of Western Pennsylvania, Central City served as a junction for the railroad lines to Johnstown. The Reitz Coal Company, which operated many mines in the area and employed many of the faithful of St. Mary’s, built company homes, and donated land for an Orthodox Church and cemetery in Shade Township.
There was a strong presence of Central & Eastern Europeans throughout Somerset County, and churches in Jerome (1911), Boswell (1913), and Pine Hill/Goodtown (Berlin area, 1917), were established. Father John Komar from Pine Hill began serving Divine Liturgies at the nearby Cairnbrook Hall. A brotherhood was formed and on July 5, 1918, the articles of incorporation for in the name of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Central City, were recorded in the Somerset County Courthouse.
In 1919, Holy Assumption was constructed for an approximate total of $5,000 and subsequently consecrated.
With mine closures south of Central City, many of the faithful (in Pine Hill, particularly) relocated for work in the auto industry, or moved to the Central City area to work in the mines. The church experienced rapid growth throughout the 1920’s as the mines continued operating. The Great Depression brought with it difficult times, but thankfully many men still had employment. The church maintained its vital presence in the community.
In the first years since its founding, the church went through many changes, including 15 priestly assignments in the first 19 years. It wasn’t until the late 1930’s that stability and consistency was brought to the faithful. During this time, World War II affected the community, and many men of the parish served in combat.
From its humble beginnings, St. Mary’s was consistently under fire as not housing a “legitimate” faith. Many outsiders did not understand the Christian faith of Eastern Orthodoxy, and how it differed from the Western churches. Add the “Russian” element of the church, and our people were treated as Communist sympathizers.
Thankfully, since that time many of the old stereotypes and biases have been dismissed. The people of Central City, under the leadership of many talented pastors and devoted faithful, have come to regard Holy Assumption Orthodox Church as a pillar of the community.
Facing the challenges common to Orthodoxy in the 21st century, Holy Assumption has adopted an “open door” policy of pastoral administration. All people will find in our parish a place to know God amidst good, hard working, hard praying people. There is no doubt that, with hard work, and in the spirit of the divinely enlightened psalmist David, “through God we shall do mightily,” the Orthodox Churches of Somerset County will serve the communities for many years to come.