Driving through snow-covered forests on a sunny day is lovely; the light glistens and sparkles through the woods and puffs of snow drop to the road from overhanging branches. Sunglasses are a must, and the dazzling white scenery raises our spirits. This year we're resolved to take our winter days slowly and wait for snowstorms to pass before continuing on our way. We were rewarded by a display of welded outdoor sculpture that looked all the more unusual in the crisp snowy woods. We do not know what drives welders to create sculpture, but we have run into it all over North Welded sculpture America!
Slovakia is a country with cold snowy winters, too. The Tatra mountains, which lie on the border of Slovakia and Poland, rise to 8,000 feet, and give rise to plenty of winter sports. The Tatras are home to hundreds of hot springs, too, so Slovakia is a traditional destination for travelers taking healing waters, externally or internally.
If you haven't guessed, we're planning a trip to Slovakia next year, and we've been boning up on our history and geography. Danville, Pennsylvania is the home of the mother house of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saints Cyril and Methodius, founded in 1909. Cyril and Methodius are the patron saints of Slovakia, and the Pennsylvania coal-mining district attracted Slovakian immigrant miners.
Methodius and his brother Constantine (who later took the name of Cyril) were monks from Thessalonika. Sent to Slovakia as missionaries in the year 863, they flew in the face of traditional Church scholarship by giving the mass in the vernacular, a practice which was subsequently approved by the pope. This one achievement made today's nation of Slovakia possible, for it gave legitimacy and authority to the Slovak language.
Actually the custom of using Latin and Greek as the sole language of the
educated class also allowed the Slovak language to endure; for the Slovak people
remained in the same geographical location, and their language was not considered
a threat to government until 1800. Over the centuries Slovakia was part of the
Kingdom of Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Republic
of Czechoslovakia, the German Empire (although it had nominal independence from
1939 - 1945, Slovakia was controlled by Berlin), and the Warsaw Pact satellites
of the Soviet Union. The modern Republic of Slovakia was founded just twelve
years ago, when the USSR collapsed, and Czechoslovakia was split into two countries.
Perhaps the hardest of these times was the nineteenth century, when Hungarian became
the official language of that kingdom, which then included present-day Slovakia.
Slovaks were relocated, Slovak schools and universities were closed, and all
municipal business was conducted in Hungarian. Even modern Czechoslovakia paid
only lip service to the Slovak nation within its borders, and Czech (a distinct,
Ss. Cyril and Methodius
mother house and basilica though closely related language) was the principal language of government, business and foreign affairs. Slovakia has just over five million citizens, many of whom are ethnic Hungarians, Czechs, Ukrainians, or Carpatho-Rusyns. So the emergence of independent Slovakia owes much to the 1.5 million people of Slovak ancestry living in the United States and Canada. Besides Pennsylvania, large Slovak communities are found in New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Ontario.
Although St. Cyril developed the Cyrillic alphabet used for the Russian language, Slovakia uses the Roman alphabet, and considers itself a Western country, as evidenced by its immediate affiliation with the European Union and NATO.
One of the most significant Slovak presences in this country, as far as we have learned, is the Congregation of the Sisters of Saints Cyril and Methodius, here in Danville. Their mission has been to educate Slovakian-American children without forcing them to give up their language or culture. They founded St. Cyril's Academy in the 1920s as a girls' high school. The school closed in 1999, but the Order is still hard at work here in the beautiful buildings located on a prominent hill, where the tower of the basilica is the tallest, loveliest and most impressive building in the area.
Today, the Congregation has a variety of missions. It operates housing for seniors, including long-term care and an Alzheimer's unit. The Sisters continue to run a pre-school program for both boys and girls, and they work with priests and other religious people helping them to learn English and to express themselves clearly in English. They have a fine museum of Slovakian history and culture, which includes a variety of handcrafts, including embroidered garments, corn-silk dolls, pottery, china and crystal. The museum also contains some extraordinary Bibles with hand-tooled and decorated bindings, and covers of ivory and silver.
Naturally we were fascinated by the Jankola Library, the largest collection of Slovak reference books and materials on this continent. The Sisters' devoted attention to the library over the past century has resulted in the conservation of newspapers, church and association publications, and other works produced by Slovak-American immigrants as they made their transition to their new homes in America. In addition, as the small Slovakian publishing industry has developed, they have added books about the country, including travel books, picture books, histories, cookbooks -- an all-round library collection. They welcome researchers wishing to read these materials, most of which are in Slovak and most of which are only available here.
We spent a magical afternoon with Sister M. Catherine Labouré and Sister M. Alfred, the latter a tiny 90-year-old wonder who trots from room to room with the energy of a teenager. Both Sisters have recently been given the responsibility for the maintenance of the library, and are currently engaged in inventory, so Winter beauty in Pennsylvania they were well aware of its contents. After warmly welcoming us and giving us a tour of the building they invited us to explore the library, although we aren't yet prepared to do any reading in Slovak. Seeing this, they gave us a collection of books including a history, a bilingual book of aphorisms, two grade-school readers and a book of photos with English translation.
We toured much of the mother house and marveled at the preservation of Slovak culture in the architecture and decorations. Every element of the building is a tribute to the history and beliefs of the Congregation. In the Basilica, the Stations of the Cross are inscribed in Slovak, and the bright and beautiful stained glass windows include scenes with special meaning to the order, including a portrait of the bishop who established this school, and a miner representing the Slovak immigrants to Pennsylvania.
We're hoping to have a group of travelers accompany us to Slovakia in October; we invite any of you who might be interested in accompanying us to contact us. You don't need to have any Slovak ancestry to appreciate the beauty of Europe's newest country!