The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

March 24, 2014

Church was haven for Hungarian immigrants

SHARON — On Sunday Bethlehem Presbyterian Church in Sharon said, “bucsu.’’ That’s Hungarian for goodbye.

Despite surviving two world wars, the Great Depression and countless recessions, the 111-year-old church with its Hungarian heritage found it couldn’t weather local demographic changes. With the outflow of ethnic groups in much of Farrell and Sharon, the congregation’s numbers dwindled to just a few score.

Founded around 1903, about as near as remaining members can figure, some close-knit Hungarians, also called Magyars, met to worship God in their native tongue. With no church building for services, the group gathered in an unlikely place – the executive offices of Sharon Steel Hoop Co. in Farrell, which eventually became Sharon Steel Corp.

The same year that those Sunday services began at the mill, the group was invited by First Presbyterian Church of Sharon to worship in its building. The Presbytery appointed the Rev. T.W. Swann to help Hungarians in the Shenango Valley organize a church.

The Rev. Zoltan Domeny, who immigrated to Sharon from Hungaria in 1904, pooled 105 locals of the Hungarian Reformed faith to create the beginnings of a church.

With the help of the Presbytery, the group laid the cornerstone of its first church at Darr Avenue and French Street, in what is now Farrell, in August 1905. By 1927, members decided a major upgrade was needed on the building, but the contractor went bankrupt and $5,500 of personal notes signed by church members for the project was lost.

Undaunted, parishioners toiled away to get their financial affairs in order, and by 1935 their debt was cleared.

As time passed, the fabric of the church slowly began to change. As late as 1942, while most of the parishioners spoke English, their service was conducted in Hungarian. Eventually, members decided they wanted to build a new church, and on Dec. 27, 1951, the dedication service for the new church at their current site on Carnegie Avenue was held.

By 1982, the first non-Hungarian pastor was installed on an interim basis. Previously all pastors were fluent in Hungarian and led services in the mother tongue. The tradition returned two years later with the appointment of the Rev. Istvan (Stephen) Slakovitz. He was the last Hungarian pastor called to the church.

While the pastors who followed didn’t speak Hungarian, church members said they worked tirelessly over the years to maintain as many Hungarian traditions and customs as possible, including singing Hungarian hymns and holding numerous chicken paprikash dinners.

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