Friday, February 2, 2018

(202) A Beautiful Byzantine Catholic Experience Last Summer and Christmas Too


Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen, IL near Joliet.

Our Byzantine Catholic 29th Wedding Anniversary
     After enjoying the celebration of the Big 50th anniversary of my brother John and sister-in-law Kathleen, we just had to go to the Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church’s 10th Annual Prairie Fest was going on that same weekend.  Jaga found out about it via their website (  So about 9:30 pm we left to attend the fest that had great fellowship and dancing under the big tent plus games, pierogi and other ethnic foods.   It was on the grounds of the beautiful church built on the top of a hill.  Fr. Tom Loya (cousin Martuka’s oldest son) had an army of volunteers, working through the weekend, but that presented a problem…….how to get them to fulfill their Sunday Liturgy obligation.  Simple!  Have Sunday liturgy for the feast of the Transfiguration at midnight for all of the volunteers after all the patrons went home.

       Since Fr. Tom’s guest room was occupied, he arranged
for a motel.  Jaga reacted:  “We’re here on Mr. Tabor and
you want to go to a motel!”  You can sleep in the motel,
but I’m staying here.  So we slept in the front seat of our 
little red wagon (2010 Chevy Cobalt).  It was a 
beautiful peaceful evening under the moon and the 
stars, a romantic way and cheap to celebrate our 29th 
wedding anniversary on August 13.  We slept well.  At
6 am the rising sun woke us up and we saw this lanky
guy with a beard in shorts picking up the trash with a
nail tipped cane.  Not having my glasses on, I thought that
the guy was some flunky that Fr. Tom hired.  Jaga
said: “That’s Fr. Tom!”  “No way!" I said.  That's 
beautiful humility!  As always, Jaga was right and I'm
out there in the cool of the morning, helping him pick up
the trash and beer cans for recycle.

The interior of Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen, IL

       We attended the regular 10 am Liturgy.  As always, this Byzantine Catholic divine liturgy was beautiful.  A deacon was there when it was over to give explanations of the beautiful icons that Fr. Tom himself painted.  He did it all, inside and outside.  In fact, he’s still painting icons on the exterior of the church.  Before he discovered a call to the priesthood, Fr. Tom was an artist.  I believe that the icon screen was done by Nick of dear memory and Christine who he married on his deathbed.

       We started the afternoon with an ethnic dinner at one of the stands.  We walked around and enjoyed the atmosphere.  A big highlight was the tour of the prairie of several acres that Fr. Tom himself conducted.  It was originally a swamp, a wasteland on the other side of the hill.  The parish let it grow back into its original habitat with typical Midwest prairie vegetation and flowers as “God intended” according to Fr. Tom.  What a beautiful place for reflection and meditation!   We thought we were on a little Mt. Tabor on the Feast of the Transfiguration.  And guess what the name of the prairie is?  Transfiguration Prairie of course.

Constructing a building to house visitors, Annunciation Church could be a retreat center as well as a parish, similar to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pennsylvania which is run by a Polish order of priests and brothers (  The master plan and more detail is on the website at  Everything is environmentally correct and even the runoff rain water is collected in a barrel on the side of the church to water the flowers.  The church and its grounds really follows Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato si - On Care For Our Common Home".  Al Gore would be impressed by it all and Fr. Tom is by no means a liberal.

On the first Saturday of December Transfiguration Prairie briefly wakes up from its winter slumber for a day.  Children learn the real story of St. Nicholas as they walk on the prairie paths.  They even get to meet St. Nick and get a ride on a horse drawn carriage.  There’s frontier era Christmas crafts for children and a homemade Christmas bake sale for the adults.    

Transfiguration Prairie on the grounds of Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen, IL

I’m sure Fr. Tom would love to have members of his extended family and others to visit when in the Chicago area, especially for the Prairie Fest on the second weekend of August.  It would really be worthwhile to attend a 10 am Sunday liturgy in his beautiful church full of his own art and pray on the prairie, restored to the way it was in pioneer days.  Give him a call at 708-645-0242 or e-mail him at or stop by at 14610 Will-Cook Road in Homer Glen, IL 60491 near Joliet. 

     What a great weekend!  Since we celebrated our wedding anniversary that Sunday and Fr. Tom married us on August 13, 1988, we asked him to give us a parting blessing.  Years before he blessed our Stephanie in utero (see her now in the photo below).  And we were off to visit Jaga's brother, Joe Gajda & his wife Justina along with his beautiful daughter Kalina and son MiƂosz.  Time wise we were half way to Poland and it was time to visit the Polish branch of our extended family.  That will be another adventure.  The next day we were over the Atlantic to arrive in Poland in time to celebrate the great feast of the Assumption.

Christmas 2017

Picture taken on Father’s Day 2016 at the Little Sisters of the Poor Nursing Home in Pittsburgh where Naomi worked.  Left to right are Joseph, Naomi, Stephanie, John-Paul, Paul, and Jaga.

       On the morning of December 17 we had an empty nest.  Suddenly, in late afternoon we had an invasion and a full house.  On their way back from Pittsburgh Naomi and her boyfriend picked up Joseph at Ohio State (Computer Science & Engineering) plus John-Paul (Ave Maria University Math & Economics) and Stephanie (Liberal Arts Thomas Aquinas College) at the airport.  They were on the same flight from Dallas, where both are teachers…..John-Paul teaches Math at Faustina Academy and Stephanie teaches 4th grade at Great Hearts Elementary, a great books charter school.  Naomi graduated from Franciscan University last May and is a registered nurse at Montefiore Hospital in Pittsburgh.

     She had no desire to date any guy from rural Gallia County.  But guess what?  In Pittsburgh she ran into a medical student, named John Faro, from Gallia County and they’re close friends now.  They stayed for a few days, but Naomi had to return to work and that included Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the second day of Christmas.  Clearly we couldn’t bring Naomi to us for Christmas; so we took us to Naomi.  Since her three roommates went home for Christmas, we had an empty house all to ourselves for a few days.

       After arriving early in the afternoon and moving in, we went to Mass at 4 pm at the combined St. Patrick/St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in the Strip District, a large and beautiful church built at the turn of the 20th Century.  The pastor, Fr. Harry Nichols gave me a taste of the history.  Once an ethnic Polish church, only traces of its history are left.  It’s amazing how these immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Ukraine, etc. arrived as unskilled workers with practically nothing.  They worked long hard hours under poor working conditions in the steel mills for low wages.  This made it possible for the tycoons to accumulate capital for reinvestment and expansion, leading to the economic takeoff of the United States and our high standard of living.  We are greatly indebted to them.  These immigrants skimped and sacrificed and saved and were generous with their parish.  Thus they were able to build magnificent churches, schools, and convents.  After Mass we walked around among the many quaint shops, including one selling Peruvian crafts.

       On Sunday while Naomi was working, Stephanie wanted to go to both a Byzantine Liturgy and a Mass in Latin.  Both John-Paul and Stephanie frequently attend St. Basil’s Byzantine Catholic Church in Dallas on Sundays and for daily liturgy.  The pastor, Fr. Joseph Wargacki I believe was a deacon for many years and has several grown children, but opted for the priesthood with the new Vatican ruling for eastern rite Catholic Churches outside of Europe.  For the sake of uniformity, the Vatican had ruled in 1925 that priests of all rites had to be celibate outside of Europe. 

Thus we drove to Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church in McKees Rocks.  That brought back memories of Fr. Romza, pastor in the 1940s and 50s.  I dated his daughter, Rita once.  I had a nice talk with Fr. Frank Firko, the pastor.  Within a block is a Roman Catholic Church and also St. John’s Ukranian Byzantine Catholic Church.  I was impressed in the way they cooperate with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, giving hope for eventual Church unity. 

      Then we drove to St. Boniface Roman Catholic Church, once an ethnic German parish.  It consists of two parishes, Holy Wisdom and St. John XXIII, which has all of its Masses in Latin, drawing from all of Pittsburgh and the suburbs.  I thought I was in a time capsule going back to the Pre-Vatican II Church I grew up with.  The members of St. John XXIII Parish love the solemnity, the tradition, the Latin, and the beauty of the Latin chants.  The priest was ordained in the 1970s, but was no stranger to the traditional Latin Mass because he grew up with it.

      We picked up Naomi from her 12 hour shift at Montefiore Hospital and had our traditional Polish Christmas Eve Vigilia dinner.  Again Jaga was queen of the kitchen.  Then we went off to St. Paul’s Cathedral for midnight Mass.  It was packed.  Bishop David Zubik carried Baby Jesus during the entrance procession.  The Choir was instrumental, probably with members of the Pittsburgh Symphony.  A nationally known singer from the Pittsburgh Opera sang a solo.

         It turned out that Montefiore Hospital did their best to discharge their patients in time for Christmas.  Since they had too many nurses, they asked Naomi, the rookie, to take the day off.  Naomi was with us all of Christmas Day after all!  To boot we woke up to a white Christmas.  So far we had a Roman Catholic Christmas, but we wanted a Byzantine Catholic Christmas too.  Afraid to risk driving on the icy streets, we decided to do the half hour walk past St. Paul’s Cathedral to Holy Spirit Byzantine Catholic Church on Fifth Avenue.  It was icy even to walk, but a good workout on a cold Christmas morning. 

Holy Spirit Byzantine Catholic Church on busy Fifth Ave. in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.  Christ is in the center, showing the unity between the prophets of the Old Testament (the promise of the Redeemer) on the left and the saints of the New Testament (the fulfillment of the promise) on the right.

It was a beautiful liturgy.  Msgr. Russell Duker proclaimed: “Christ is born” and the people responded, “Let us adore Him” and he repeated the same in Old Slav: “Christos razdajetsja!” with the response, “Slavite Jeho”.  Ms. Revilak, a native of Slovakia, was the cantor.  She has a beautiful voice, leading the people with singing in English and some in Old Slav.  I remember as a kid how powerful were the liturgies sung in the original Old Slav, led by the deep voice of the cantor.  The beautiful liturgy, originally written for Old Slav, seems to lose something when translated into English.  Ms. Revilak’s two sons were altar servers.  The very musical Revilak family does ethnic singing throughout western Pennsylvania and beyond (<>). 
The magnificent church has icons everywhere, inside and outside too as shown in the photos above and below.  When the Church was built in the 1960s, they had over 200 families and the church was often packed.  Now they’re down to about 60.   Since driving was treacherous on this Christmas morning, not many people attended.  Nevertheless, this shows that many churches are bleeding as many Catholics of all rites are drifting away under the influence of a very secular society.  We have a huge job of re-evangelization.  Everyone can do something big or small……by prayer, example, word, or deed.

Christmas at Holy Spirit Byzantine Catholic Church in Pittsburgh.  We see portrayed the Son of God becoming one of us to begin His great mission of Redemption and in the background His victory over death in redeeming us.

For the first time our family joined the Byzantine Rite in celebrating their three Holy Days of Christmas.  The second day focuses on Mary, the God bearer and the third day on St. Stephen, the first martyr.  

In the Byzantine Rite the liturgy is normally sung acapella, being led by a cantor.  The liturgy emphasizes the majesty of God that inspires awe.  They have a great focus on imploring the mercy of God centuries before St. Faustina and St. John Paul II made it popular in the Latin rite.  Instead of statues the Eastern churches under Greek influence use icons, which are full of symbols.  The focus is on the message of the icons rather than an exact likeness.  The Byzantine Rite is stricter with fasts and the number of holy days.  Through all of Lent, they abstain from all dairy products.  The principal parts of the liturgy are the same in all rites, but each is adapted to a particular culture of the East.  

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