Part IV: The Slovak Community of Cleveland


This brief study of the Slovak presence in America naturally brings us to some concluding or summarizing observations.

The open doors and the great heart of the United States received several hundred thousand Slovaks from an oppressed homeland into a haven of freedom, opportunity and democracy. For this hospitality and unprecedented humanitarianism, the Slovaks responded not only with an abiding sense of profound gratitude and undying devotion but, true to their native instinct of generosity, they gave this new homeland of theirs a liberal donation of all that they had to give.

In the tapestried design of this “nation teeming with nations,” (in Walt Whitman’s words), their traits and contributions are woven into the glorious whole and they enjoy the consciousness of being Americans among Americans and the offspring of forefathers whose past is rooted in the history of age-old Slovakia.

Their earliest contribution was the brawn and muscle of their physical strength: the calluses, sweat and stamina of long hours in mines, at steel forges and iron foundries, in factories and in construction work. Many paid in mutilation through occupational accidents and many were part of the sad statistic recorded by Steiner thus: “Twenty-three thousand lives have been sacrificed in the coal-mining industry in the United States in about ten years. Read it again: Twenty-three thousand people had to give up their lives for the heat and speed which we enjoyed in the last ten years.”[1]

Even at great cost early Slovak immigrants became a resourceful part of the tremendous force of labor that helped to develop American industry at a time when the United States needed it most.

As America accepted this gift of hard work, long hours and sheer exhaustion, there was a reciprocation, for while the diligent immigrant who had been so long downtrodden labored wholeheartedly and became aware of his earning potential in a free country, he acquired a new sense of worth and personal dignity. This intangible far outweighed all the material benefits that came to the willing Slovak worker as the fruit of his application and exertion.

It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that it was only in this sense of promoting the industrial growth and the physical progress of America that Slovaks have helped advance the growth of the United States. Immeasurable contributions have also been made in cultural fields. In many instances the net benefit resulted from the composite effort of many who worked collectively for a common goal.

Often enough there were individuals as well, who distinguished themselves in a specialized work or endeavor, and although it is not possible to mention all outstanding achievements, it is in place to mention at least some representative individuals — and to offer apologies to the many who happen not to be included at this time.

The collective gift of outstanding value that was made to this country by millions of Americans of Slovak origin is in the imperishable domain of the spirit. Over 300 Catholic churches and more than a hundred Protestant churches in America attest to the faith of the Slovak people. Out of their firm conviction that loyalty and devotion to the Almighty comes first in their lives there springs their patriotism which puts love of country and homeland next in the order of priorities.

Close to the church is the parish school and the concept of cultural institutes for enriching the spirit. The Slovaks in America have built and maintained with private contributions and support about 200 elementary schools and over a dozen secondary schools. Among specialized Slovak American cultural centers the most noteworthy are The Slovak Institute Library at Cleveland, Ohio (The Slovak Benedictine Fathers); Jankola Library at Danville, Pa. (The Sisters of SS. Cyril and Methodius); and Jednota Museum at Middletown, Pa. (The First Catholic Slovak Union). Rich private collections of Slovak art and craft works are also the pride of Mr. Joseph Smak of Dillsburg, Pa. and Mrs. Mary S. Kozusko of Sewaren, N.J.

Besides concentrating on developing cultural centers under ethnic auspices, Slovak American scholars and fraternities have contributed to many worthy collections of Slovakiana in various American universities, colleges and public libraries. Some of these are: The New York Public Library, The Cleveland Public Library, The Immigrant Archives at the University of Minnesota, The Carnegie Library in Homestead, Pa. and The Balch Institute of Philadelphia.

For more than fifty years the Jednota organization maintained an ideal home for orphans in Middletown, Pa. It was administered by the Sisters of SS. Cyril and Methodius who cared for over four thousand children who needed care and education and prepared them for a useful and satisfying life as citizens of the United States.

The first boy admitted to Jednota Home was Philip Hrobak. He became a gifted high school coach and teacher but his most brilliant career was as long-time editor of the Jednota and an inspired leader in Slovak American life. Many others who spent childhood years at Jednota Home built upon the early training that they received here and served God and country well as happy and useful citizens, as teachers and specialized professionals, as priests and religious.

Four modern homes for the aged are in full operation under Slovak American sponsorship and there are plans for other similar facilities.

Scholarship programs are offered by all the major Slovak American societies, providing financial aid and encouragement for continuing education on behalf of young American citizens.

Apart from these institutes and programs there is an even more valuable cultural force in the ranks of the Slovak American clergy and the membership of men’s and women’s religious communities. There were first the immigrant priests devoted to pioneering work among pioneers. Over the years they were succeeded by thousands of young men from Slovak families imbued with American idealism and an awareness of their ethnic roots. Out of the ranks of the clergy there have been two Slovak American bishops, several protonotaries apostolic and scores of prelates.

Religious congregations are represented by six orders or congregations of men and nine of women. These include the Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans, Vincentians and the unique congregation, Sisters of SS. Cyril and Methodius, a sisterhood founded in the United States in 1909 by Rev. Matthew Jankola specifically for an apostolate in works of education and charity and with prospects of eventual expansion into broader fields. In all history, they are the only religious congregation of purely Slovak foundation.

Fraternal organizations which promote American and Slovak idealism and provide their members with mutual benefits include: The National Slovak Society (1890), The First Catholic Slovak Union — Jednota (1890), Zivena Beneficial Society (1891), Slovak Evangelical Women’s Union (1891), The First Catholic Slovak Ladies Ass’n. (1892), The Pennsylvania Slovak Catholic Union (1893), The Slovak Evangelical Union (1893), The Slovak Gymnastic Union Sokol (1896), The Ladies Pennsylvania Slovak Catholic Union (1898), Ladies Pennsylvania Slovak Catholic Union (1898), Slovak Catholic Sokol, First Slovak Wreath of the Free Eagle, and Presbyterian Beneficial Union.

Noteworthy in a special sense is the Slovak League of America which represents a culmination of organizational vision. The spirit of American democracy inspired the newly arrived Slovaks to look to their immediate needs and to find an American way for mutual aid. Out of this awakening there rose many separate societies, each working for its own needs as it felt best. Sometimes there were differences of opinion and ideological conflicts among them. Sometimes they worked in harmony and mutual understanding. Sometimes they bickered and fought. When a common cause needed Slovak American support, however, they put petty animosities aside and had the capacity to face a threat or a danger with all the strength of the American way of life and the Slovak spirit of devotion for a long cherished heritage.

This is what essentially makes the Slovak League of America the great body that it is. This is what has made the history of its achievements so remarkable. The action of Slovak Americans under the auspices of the League is what helped win redress for Slovaks abroad especially when they were denied political and social rights. Of special note are the following:

The defense of Monsignor Hlinka and other political leaders who were imprisoned and persecuted for promoting Slovak participation in politics and government;

The movement to attain not only fairness and equity in political dealings, courts of law and socio-economic situations but also to secure Slovak statehood or independence from a dominating power;

The concerted action of Slovak Americans to stage rallies publicizing and protesting barbaric Magyarization tactics;

The establishing of a substantial National Fund on behalf of meeting court expenses and other needs to aid the Slovak cause in the homeland;

Undertaking effective action to introduce on the 1910 U.S. Census forms and reports a correct identification to make it clear that although many immigrants to the United States came from Austria-Hungary, they were nevertheless Slovak by national origin and spoke the Slovak language;

The sponsoring of many undertakings, especially on behalf of bringing the truth to light (as on the occasion of Count Albert Apponyi’s visit to America in 1911 and Count Karolyi’s similar visit in 1914); its sponsorship of Slovak literature and the great contribution made through its official English publication Slovakia which is welcomed by English-speaking professionals as well as by the general Slovak American public; and

The tremendous war effort launched by Slovak Americans under the aegis of the League in World War I and World War II when more than fifty million dollars of war aid was raised in war bond sales and donations from Slovak Americans in addition to the voluntary donation of many ambulances, defense vehicles, training planes, the four-engine bombers named “The American Slovak,” “The Greater Cleveland Slovaks,” “The Scranton Anthracite American Slovak,” “Slovaks of Wisconsin,” “Slovak League of America, Chicago District No. 1,” “Slovak League of America, Chicago District No. 2,” “Slovak League of America, Chicago District No. 3.” There were also at least three donated training planes named “Spirit of the Slovak League of America” and four Liberty Ships named in honor of Furdek, Murgas, Stefanik and Kocak.

The Ladies Auxiliary of the Slovak League of America also distinguished itself by the scope and generosity of its volunteer work, often joining other established agencies like the American Red Cross and the National Catholic Welfare Council.

In terms of manpower, it has been recorded that Slovak American families gave 25,000 men in World War I and 85,000 in World War II, besides a large number of volunteer women for military service. In the horrors of war, many gave their lives, many merited awards and honors of various kinds and one is immortalized in the famous sculpture group of six American men planting the American colors at Iwo Jima. He is Michael Strank of Franklin Borough, Pa., who came to America from Spish in 1922 when he was just three years old. He was one who made the supreme sacrifice.

Another important Slovak American contribution is the Slovak press in America which has always been effective and faithful to its task of informing, inspiring and educating. A number of newspapers and periodicals that are published in our day for Slovak American subscribers are bilingual in order to satisfy a greater number of readers of diversified backgrounds. Slovakia, which is the official publication of the Slovak League of America, and Furdek, an annual of the Jednota, are published in English. It would not be practical to catalogue all the contributions that the Slovaks have produced in the United States through the press alone. K. Čulen has compiled a 192 page encyclopedic work on Slovak newspapers and magazines produced in the United States since 1886. The richness of this survey leaves one astounded at the prolific output that flowered outside the native environment when free and favorable conditions were granted to a people whom America received when so many of them had little formal schooling.

Some representative works that continue to enrich the American press are the following:

Name of Publication Address Classification
AVE MARIA Slovak Benedictine Fathers 2900 E. Boulevard Cleveland, Ohio 44104 Catholic — Devotional — Monthly
BRATSTVO 9 East North St. Wilkes-Barre, Pa. 18702 Official Organ Pa. Sl. Cath. Sokol — Monthly
CHILDREN’S FRIEND 205 Madison St. Passaic, N.J. 07055 Official Organ Jr. Cath. Sokol — Monthly
DOBRÝ PASTIER 205 Madison St. Passaic, N.J. 07055 Official Publication Slovak Cath. Fed. — Bi-Monthly
FLORIDSKÝ SLOVÁK 463 Jergo Road Maitland, Fla. 32751 Private Ownership K. Belohlavek
FRATERNALLY YOURS (Ženská Jednota) 24950 Chagrin Blvd. Cleveland, Ohio 44122 Official Publication ICSLA — Monthly
FURDEK 3289 E. 55th St. Cleveland, Ohio 44127 Official Eng. Annual ICSU
JEDNOTA Jednota Printery P.O. Box 150 Middletown, Pa. 17057 Official Organ ICSU — Weekly
JEDNOTA KALENDÁR Jednota Printery P.O. Box 150 Middletown, Pa. 17057 Official Slovak Annual IKSJ
KATOLÍCKY SOKOL 205-7 Madison St. Passaic, N.J. 07055 Official Organ The Slovak Cath. Sokol — Weekly
LISTY SV. FRANTIŠKA 232 S. Home Ave. Pittsburgh, Pa. 15202 Catholic — Devotional — Monthly
LITERÁRNY ALMANACH SLOVÁKA V AMERIKE Ed. Dr. Jos. Pauco Ridge Ave Middletown, Pa. 17057 Sponsored by SLOVAK V AMERIKE
MOST Slovak Institute 2900 E. Boulevard Cleveland, Ohio 44104 Independent — Quarterly
NARODNÉ NOVINY 516 Court Place Pittsburgh, Pa. 15219 Official Organ Sl. Nat. Soc. — Twice Monthly
SION 628 Grant St. Pittsburgh, Pa. Lutheran — Devotional — Monthly
SLOVÁK V AMERIKE P.O. Box 285 Middletown, Pa. 17057 Dr. Jos. Pauco — Owner, Publ. — Weekly
SLOVAKIA 303 Ridge Ave. Middletown, Pa. 17057 Slovak League of America — Annual
SLOVO 628 Grant St. Pittsburgh, Pa. Lutheran — Devotional — Monthly
SLOVENSKÝ HLÁSNIK 1601 Beaver Ave. N.S. Pittsburgh, Pa. Organ of Lutheran Jednota — Weekly
SLOVENSKÝ KALVÍN 1341 Fry St. Lakewood, Ohio 44107 Organ of Calvin Society — Monthly
SOKOL TIMES P.O. Box 468 Perth Amboy, N.J. 08862 Sokol U.S.A. — Fraternal & Physical Fitness — Semi-Monthly
SVEDOK 1201 Ingham St. N.S. Pittsburgh, Pa Lutheran — Devotional — Monthly
ZORNIČKA (MORNING STAR) 315 Oak Hill Drive Middletown, Pa. 17057 Ladies Pa. Slovak Cath. Union — Monthly
THE ZION 46 Spring St. Danbury, Conn. 06810 Slovak Zion Synod of the Lutheran Church — Devotional — Monthly
ŽIVENA 218 West Main St. Ligonier, Pa. 15658 Živena Beneficial Society — Monthly

Čulen lists almost 30 annuals which were welcomed into Slovak homes in the United States and even found readers abroad. Some were sponsored by fraternal societies or by religious denominations. Others were produced by publishing houses or by private investment. They may be of unequal quality but in most of them, as in a host of souvenir and memorial booklets, a researcher of today can find historical and biographical material at least in tidbit form if not in a thorough study. In this sense they may be a gold mine of information.

Surprisingly, a number of bookstores were established (K.V. Cihelka, E. Nyitray, P. Kadak, M.N. Soboslay, V. Galik were some of the early ones) and their catalogues and book lists give some indication of works that were published here and were in popular demand. Among them are Bucko’s Dictionary of the English and Slovak Languages, Nyitray’s Slovak-English and English-Slovak Dictionary, religious and devotional works, adventure tales like Rinaldo Rinaldini and Robinson, the tale of Dr. Faust, simple works on grammar and letter writing, collections of wit and humor, translations from Jules Verne, Dumas et al., the horror tale Dracula, Indian stories, the memoirs and adventures of Maurice Beňovský, model speeches for all occasions, some poetry collections, and song books and verses for children. Very little was produced by the early immigrants themselves but that is understandable. The wonder of it is that they produced literary works at all. G. Maršall-Petrovský, P. Kadak, J. Porubský, S. Furdek, M. Mlynarovič, I. Gessay, A.J. Ferienčik and Andrew P. Slabey helped to blaze the trail for Slovak writers in America. Down through the years the Slovaks in America did develop writing skills and came into publication with writers like Philip Hrobak, Peter Hletko, Joseph Husek, John Pankuch, Peter Yurchak, Thomas Bell and others.

If one were to summarize the religious communities, it would be in place to mention at least these: Benedictine Fathers of St. Andrew Svorad Abbey, Cleveland, Ohio; Slovak Franciscan Fathers, Pittsburgh, Pa.; Franciscan Fathers of Uniontown, Pa.; Franciscan Fathers, Valparaiso, Indiana; Franciscan Fathers, Columbiana, Ohio; Franciscan Fathers, Easton, Pa.; Benedictine Sisters, Oak Forest, Illinois; Sisters of SS. Cyril and Methodius, Danville, Pa.; Sisters of St. Francis, Pittsburgh, Pa.; Sisters of St. Francis, Monocacy Manor, Bethlehem, Pa.; Daughters of St. Francis, Lacon, Illinois; Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Pittsburgh, Pa.; Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Bedford, Ohio; and Daughters of the Holy Redeemer, Gary, Indiana.

Over the years the Slovaks have been impressed by the immeasurable benefits that America has given them. In a spirit of profound gratitude they gladly expressed this appreciation whenever there were opportunities for such manifestation. In peace and in war they are ever eager to serve the United States wholeheartedly and to contribute to its enrichment as well as to support its noble efforts.

The long and fruitful history of flourishing fraternal organizations and mutual benefit societies together with a remarkable program of Slovak, English and bilingual publications; the activity of numerous elementary and secondary schools, the careers of countless professionals, sportsmen, technicians, priests, brothers and sisters — all these are a tribute of Slovaks to the American spirit of democracy and opportunity. Through these opportunities they found it possible to make some return for the gifts they have received.

Slovak Americans continue to serve and cherish this country that received their oppressed ancestors many years ago. In today’s world they are the equal of other Americans who live the American way of life in every type of career from industry, business and finance through communication and fine arts interests, education, sports and entertainment, scholarly pursuit, medicine and science, creative arts, space exploration and homemaking.


Parade in Cleveland (1920) (From Western Reserve Historical Society Collection)
Parade in Cleveland (1920) (From Western Reserve Historical Society Collection)

  1. Edward A. Steiner. The Immigrant Tide. N.Y.: Fleming H. Revel, 1909, p. 240.)


Slovak Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland Copyright © by Cleveland State University . All Rights Reserved.

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