January 11, 2019

New icon tells story of St. Nicholas and coal miners of Pennsylvania


The icon “St. Nicholas Day Pass Over 1907,” which was presented at Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Carnegie, Pa.

CARNEGIE, Pa. – A new icon, “St. Nicholas Day Pass Over 1907,” of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker was presented by Michael and Marijka (née Borszcz) Jula in memory of their daughter, Tatyana Helena Jula, and unveiled on Sunday, December 2, 2018, at Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Carnegie, Pa.

Ms. Jula unexpectedly passed away in 2014 after suffering a brain hemorrhage at age 37. The icon was written by iconographer Michael Kapeluck, proprietor of Archangel Icons in Carnegie and an art teacher of Tatyana. The icon was presented on the 111th anniversary of the Monongah Mine (Marion County, near Fairmont, W.Va.) and the Darr Mine (Van Meter, near Smithton, Pa.) disasters of December 1907.

On December 6, 1907, the feast day of St. Nicholas, miners of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox faith, along with miners of German and Dutch ancestry, attended liturgy at a Roman Catholic church that observed the Gregorian calendar, since there were no nearby Eastern Catholic or Orthodox churches. They were spared of the explosion in the Monongah Mine, which killed 362 miners – the worst coal mine disaster in the history of the United States. 

Significantly, on December 19, 1907, other miners at the Darr Mine decided to keep the St. Nicholas feast day (according to the Julian Calendar) despite the loss of a day’s pay for not working and threats of firing by the mine boss. A couple of hundred miners were attending church services celebrated by a circuit-riding Greek-Catholic priest from Leisenring, Pa., at Jacobs Creek School when at 11:30 a.m. there was a tremendous earthshaking explosion. Officially, 239 men and boys perished in the mine, which was the worst mine disaster in Pennsylvania history. 

A few years afterwards, St. Nicholas American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church in Jacobs Creek and St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church in Perryopolis, were founded and named in thanksgiving to St. Nicholas. Interestingly, Barbara (nee Pantalo) Spak, wife of Father Deacon Myron J. Spak, who serves at Holy Trinity Church in Carnegie, grew up attending St. Nicholas Church in Perryopolis.

Estimates of those passed over thanks to attendance at services are at least 60 at the Monongah Mine and 200 or more at the Darr Mine. The lack of definitive records of miners (such as undocumented child laborers helping parents) have resulted in varying numbers of those saved by the intercession of St. Nicholas, but it cannot be denied that many were so passed over.

In 2007, a centennial service in memory of the deceased Darr miners was concelebrated by Metropolitan Nicholas of the American Carpatho-Russian Church and Metropolitan Basil of the Byzantine Catholic Church at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Jacobs Creek. The icon, “Miracle of St. Nicholas at Darr Mine” written by iconographer Philip Zimmerman was presented. 

An earlier icon, “The Funeral of St. Nicholas and the Saving of the Miners” is located in the St. Nicholas of Myra Chapel close by the offices of the Greek Catholic Union in Beaver, Pa. 

Although the three icons mentioned above have a similar theme, each was written by iconographers under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and highlights a different perspective in iconic interpretation.

The Rev. Jason Charron, pastor of Holy Trinity, in his homily asked the children and youth to come forward to view the new icon. He taught them, and all others present, that the saints in Heaven look after the faithful at all times. He asked the young parishioners whether they would obey God (as by observing the Sabbath command) or the commands of men. They all responded, “God.”

The new icon, which brings home the history of coal mining in the Carnegie area, is on display during this Christmas season and will be on the church’s wall thereafter. Those wishing to see it may attend Divine Liturgies on Saturday at 4 p.m. or on Sundays at 8:30 a.m. (Ukrainian) and 11 a.m. (English) at Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church, 730 Washington Ave., Carnegie, PA 15106, or call 412-279-4652 to arrange for a viewing. 

Author’s note: This article is based on extensive research by Michael Jula and Internet sources. See especially http://zubackfamily.blogspot.com/2009/04/darr-mine-disaster-article.html?m=1 by Christina Duranko, and http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/modern=miracle/#i_655.