Centralia. A site of pilgrimage
This year, as last year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, there was no pilgrimage to the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin in Centralia, which has become a tradition for the Archeparchy of Philadelphia since 2016.
Rev. Micheal Hutsko
Patriarch Sviatoslav came here and he was just moved to tears by how beautiful this property is, how symbolic it is, that this church stands looking at the devastation of the mine fire and the former town, and the fact that the church is built on rock. And he said that it is to be a place of prayer. He went back to Kyiv and has sent us a decree saying that it is to be a place of pilgrimage not only for Ukrainian Catholics but for all people. At the end of August, we have a day of prayer, a pilgrimage.
Through all historic twists and turns, the parish has found a reason to live. A reason why they did not end up in town, why the Lord in His own way moved them here, why when everyone had to leave town abandoning their churches and their homes, this place remained. It was to become a place of prayer. The Lord, I believe, had this plan from the start of time.
We had four pilgrimages. We had to cancel because of COVID last year and this year. Hundreds and hundreds of people come from everywhere on the last Sunday of August here to pray. We set up shrines in different parts of the property for prayer and veneration. It has given the parish a new life. We have an older population but also some families with kids in college who come to church regularly. They still come back; it is still a home for them. It is their heritage.
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic church in Centralia, PA was founded in 1911 and celebrated its 110th anniversary this year. On August 15, 1911, a committee decided to form its own parish and build a church. Construction finished in 1912 and the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated by Reverend Yosyf Bernatskiy from Keiser. A building to serve as a parish school was also acquired.
The town of Centralia rapidly developed during the coal mining era and suffered greatly during the Great Depression. Perhaps the most dramatic change, however, occurred on May 27, 1962 when a fire spread from a surface mine to underground seams and kept burning. More than 1,000 people moved out and 500 structures were demolished.
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the last of Centralia’s seven churches. The others include First United Methodist Church (1863-1985), Holy Trinity Episcopal Church (1866-1966), a Presbyterian church (1867-1954), St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church (1869-1995), First English Baptist Church (1887-1917), and St. Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church (1916-1986).
The Ukrainian Catholic church was also at risk of being destroyed. However, Archbishop Stephen Sulyk ordered a survey to be conducted under the hillside church, and solid rock rather than coal was found, so the building was saved.
In November 2015 the head of the UGCC, Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk, visited Centralia during a tour of the US. He was so impressed by the church that he designated it a pilgrimage site. The first pilgrimage took place in August 2016.
Annual Marian pilgrimage draws hundreds to abandoned town, Centralia Pa.