Walking The Distance To Church 1905-1917


The life of the people of the small towns and patches that surrounded the mines was centered around family, church and friends-- of the same ethnic and religious background. People were clannish. Work was competitive. Many could not speak English especially those of Slavic origin who were often misunderstood ridiculed, and even battered. It was predictable then that those of the same nationality would embrace each other.

As towns were formed, one could find the Italians living at one end or town, the Poles and the Lithuanians living at the other end, with the Irish and the Germans in clusters within the town.

Since most of the early immigrants were Catholic and most could not speak English, language was critical. As a result, multiple catholic churches were established within each town. Each had its own priest. Many of the priests were also immigrants. and each priest was fluent in the language of their parish. In the small town of Mahanoy City there were 5 Catholic churches as well as several representative protestant denominations.

These individual clusters with their church and priest represented a parish. In polish and Lithuanian, the words for parish and settlement are the same. With such an arrangement the parishioners felt more secure in their new world. They were able to carry on their specific customs, rituals. and values and in times of sorrow and hardships they were there to support each other.

Even though the patches were small microcosms of the towns, the people were still clannish and associated primarily with those of the same nationality and religion. Discrimination was rampant though not overt. Sons and daughters were admonished not to marry outside their religious and national affiliations.

The patches were too small to support individual churches and those who lived in Morea had to walk five mountainous miles to Mahanoy City.

Attending church was not easy, It took a lot of commitment -- but commitment came easy to people tempered by both hardship and faith. There were no cars; and our family, like most in the patches, did not own a horse and buggy.

On Sundays my Pa and three older brothers were up very early to eat breakfast and walk the distance. The women of the patches rarely went to church. Ma went only a few times that I could remember. She was either pregnant or had a small baby to care for in addition to her numerous other chores. Pa and my older brothers rarely missed church.

As kids we loved to go with Pa --but never in the winter months. Only the most hearty could withstand the cold along with the long trip into town. Those who assembled were men. They had the heavier clothes and the heavy work boots and shoes necessary for walking in the snow.

In summer we walked the distance several times a week for religious instructions that culminated in the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation. These were very special and celebrated family events.

These sacraments along with the sacrament of Baptism acted as mortar further binding individuals of an ethnic group with each other. There were many children and the adults served as godparents etc. to each others progeny.